Is Innovation a Part of Your Organization’s DNA?

It’s been a brutal period for retail firms since the global financial crisis hit.  Despite this, I’ve spoken recently with the CEOs of four different retail firms (Lorna Jane, Unit, Di Bella Coffee and The Cloakroom) that have all more than doubled their sales in that time.

[Note from the Vision Room Curator: If you’ve read the first paragraph and think this doesn’t apply to your church because it’s about retail, you would be wrong. Read on for three common factors of retail stores that can also be applied in your church.]

What do they have in common?  A few things.  All four CEOs are founders, all of them are very passionate about what they do, and all four firms have innovation embedded in their DNA, as Phil Di Bella put it.

This is expressed a few different ways. The common factors among them are:

  • A strong culture of experimentation.  Experimenting is central to innovating effectively.  All four firms are great at this – having an idea, and trying it to see if it works.  If it does, they scale it.  For this to work, you also need to support the experimental approach with a strong learning culture – there’s no point in testing ideas fail if you don’t learn from the ones that fail.
  • Their passion is driven by a shared purpose.  Phil appears to be personally affronted by mediocre coffee.  Lorna and Bill are committed to helping women live healthier lives, Paul and Ian want Unit to change the sports they support, and Andrew and the Cloakroom gents are deeply committed to helping men dress well.  More importantly, this message is shared by everyone that works at these firms.  I’ve spoken with people on all four shop floors, and the message is very consistent with what I’ve heard from the top.Here is how Nilofer Merchants puts it:
    In the social era, purpose precedes scale. And as we discussed in part two of the series, shared purpose allows many communities to engage with you — without you having to invest resources in controlling their actions. When TED unleashed TEDx, they created a force multiplier. Shared purpose aligns people without coordination costs.
    Purpose is also a better motivator than money. Money, while necessary, motivates neither the best people, nor the best in people. Purpose does.
  • Their people are empowered.  This goes hand-in-hand in with the previous two points.  Even if people have a shared purpose, and the organization has a culture of learning, you can still kill innovation if there is no autonomy.  To take advantage of purpose + experiments, everyone needs to feel as though they are allowed to test out ideas as they have them.

Lorna Jane and Unit are also both exceptional at social media – I saw the social media tracking boards at Lorna Jane last week, and they are amazing.

When times get tough, it is easy to go for efficiency. Stefan Lindegaard outlines what happens when you focus on efficiency at the expense of innovation:

No one wins this battle. The employees are taken as hostages, the customers or end-users lose out on the benefits of innovation and in the long term the shareholders will suffer. The latter is true because there is actually one winner. That is the competitor that decides to become competitively unpredictable through innovation and gets this right.

These are tricky times for retail (and for many other sectors as well). In addition to widespread economic problems, Tom Fishburne’s latest post addresses one of the factors unique to retail:

Fishburne describes what happens when a retail store focuses on efficiency at the expense of innovation:

The last time I shopped at Best Buy, I ended up buying at Amazon, but not because of price. I really wanted to buy from Best Buy, particularly after I’d invested the time to travel there and preferred to have the product the same day. But the store experience was so transactional and it was so hard to find a knowledgable sales rep that I gave up. Best Buy could have won me over with a better retail experience, but they dropped the ball. They were trying so hard to be like Amazon on price, they didn’t excel at what could have made them different.

What makes the successful retail shops different?  Passion.  Purpose. Experiments.

Innovation is part of their DNA.

Read more from Tim here.

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Tim Kastelle

Tim Kastelle

Tim Kastelle is a Lecturer in Innovation Management in the University of Queensland Business School. He blogs about innovation at the Innovation Leadership Network.

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comment_post_ID); ?> I am a senior citizen who has lived in many areas of the US, the farthest south being Virginia DC area. There are several church plants in the area--some failed, some doing well. One of the sadist failures was a plant in NW Washington near a large Presbyterian Church (I had been an elder in the church, so I knew the area) where changes in church doctrine was driving many away from the PCUSA churches. There were many mature Christians who lived in the area who were very willing to participate and give generously to the church. Its failure was a loss. The pastor and his wife lived in a VA suburb, wanted something that would appeal to their tastes, which included "praise music". There was a professional piano teacher and several people who had sung in choirs in the area. Their suggestions were completely ignored. Forget that there was joyous participation in singing hymns and silence by many for the praise music. The experienced church leaders that were attending were expected to seek the wisdom of the pastor who did not live in the area rather than have any role in leadership. There is another church plant in Northern Virginia that seems to be going the same way. My take: the pastors should get past their high-school and college days culture and get to know and appreciate the people of the community. Do not try to reproduce Intervarsity or Campus Crusade. Hymns are not a sin and "uneducated" (never graduated from college) should not be ignored as uninformed or stupid. People who have served in and/or live in the area are needed in leadership and not just to serve coffee and give. We all need to pray together and serve God in the community in which there is to be a plant. Glenna Hendricks
— Glenna Hendricks
comment_post_ID); ?> I like it Mac and do agree with your opinions on the matter. Thanks much
— winston
comment_post_ID); ?> In this era, we have the opportunity of professional church staff today who utilize their gifting to shape the image and atmosphere of the church organization. But the 100% real impact on the church visitors is genuine evidence of changed lives by the gospel and the active growing discipleship (just as it was in the first century church). One demonstration is financially rich believers ministering equally together with poor believers (how odd, and incredibly miraculous; all humble and bow at the foot of the cross.). It is the awesome contrast of church members vocations, race, gender, age, maturity, gifting, humility that demonstrates to visitors "there is a Spirit in the place". That first-time guest list of 10 are "physical excuses", not spiritual excuses. Those don't tell the story. The condition of facilities and publicly greeting people have zero to do with it. The power of God in and through believers lives dedicated to impact other people with their relationship bridge-building of acceptance of the lost around them. Empowered believers are infectious, loving, helpful, giving, self-less, dynamic, compelling, bold, Christ-filled. As I have been in many church settings domestically and internationally, the facilities can be poor, and yet the fellowship can still be rich. We need to operate with first church humility. People come to Christ on His terms, not on our human abilities of hospitality. A huge catastrophe in a community, disaster relief brings lots of people into churches – many come to the church in those terrible conditions no matter the physical condition of the local church. Off the condition of facility, and onto the condition of God's people (living stones).... and everything else will grow.... and the other physical issues will be corrected by the staff.
— Russ Wright

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