Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Change - innovation: what is the difference?

As a consultant working with companies or as a coach working with individuals it is important to help clients understand how they move forward. Let us begin with an individual. One of today’s most discussed personal problems is obesity or overweight. There are many products on the market that promise you will loose weight before swim suit season, in two weeks or in a month. Most of these work on a few, but fail for the greater majority. Another group of weight loss writers speak about a lifestyle change. What they mean, but don't say because it is too loaded is that a lifestyle change means a change in how one uses his or her brain. The brain must be taught to think long-term instead of giving in to instant gratification. It means taking responsibility for ones self and making decisions about products. It means learning more about how the world works, spending more money on food and taking responsibility for ones self.

This is a huge "change". After commitment to the new direction there are many “innovations” that will help the individual. Information from informed people who talk about more than food, they also speak about exercise, good mental health, understanding ones own body and its peculiarities will suggest innovations in each area that can enforce the new lifestyle.

In many companies and organizations a commitment to providing customers with products and services that are sustainable and provide ones workers with fair salaries and working conditions represents a huge “change”. It is not a change because they think these goals are inherently wrong, but that they appear go against the maximization of profit. If one is mandated by law to earn a profit for the sake of shareholders, it is much harder to make the change. The two seem incompatible.

However, a number of companies are slowly trying. Of course, none of them will truly make the change until they are released from the need to maximize profit in order to pay stockholders or if they remain small and or private. The idea of local and small companies is taking hold in some areas. The large Wal-Mart’s have been denied building permits in some towns. The trend of the dying mom and pop businesses is slowly reversing itself. One of Sweden’s largest and most successful business is IKEA. It has gone international but is not listed on the stock exchange because it’s owner and founder has refused to go public.

Remaining small and private are “innovations” that will lead us to a very different business paradigm. For a long time big business (that is stockholder held international conglomerates) will continue to make profit, but in the long-run, they will fail. They already have divested themselves of large numbers of employees, an innovation that serves the dying paradigm. This is an interesting point. One can innovate within the existing world view with the idea of extending its past glories longer into the future or one can adapt the new worldview and innovate to give life to and assure success in the new one.

If you are consultant to a company do they want help extending the old world view, or do they want help with actualizing a new one? Which type of work do you prefer to do? Are they up for a large change to a new paradigm, or are they just interested in innovations which lengthen the status quo?