Saturday, January 26, 2008

 

How a recession could stifle innovation

Innovation is inherently based on taking risks. It typically requires stepping out from what's known, what's comfortable, and instead trying something that very likely could (or will) fail.

The most innovative companies in the world - 3M and Google among others - fail a LOT. They foster an environment with a fundamental understanding that failure is a part of the creative and innovation process.

How could a recession stifle innovation? By creating fear.

Fear that diverting from what's known and comfortable will accentuate the possibility of sinking profits and lost market share. Fear that failure in one's job could lead to layoffs.

Fear can cause people to simply stick to what they know, what's comfortable, what they already understand will generate success - vs. trying something completely different that could result in a breakthrough for themselves, their companies and their customers.

The mere threat of a prolonged economic downturn could cause companies to hunker down, brands to stick to what has always worked in the past (even if it doesn't work anymore), and individuals to stifle their own creativity for fear of sticking out, demonstrating less initial progress, and therefore putting their jobs at risk.

I hope I'm overthinking this, but I've seen it before. Even in the midst of robust economic conditions, companies and brands in vertical industries find themselves in chasms between growth periods, and those chasms too often foster fear, uncertainty and stagnation.

In these conditions, it can be difficult to turn fear into courage. But in our businesses and as individuals within them, that's what we need to do.

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