Friday, December 12, 2014

Traditional Innovation...

"Science and technology revolutionize our lives, but memories, tradition, and myth frame our response"
                           ~ Arthur M. Schlesinger
As I was driving through my neighborhood this past week, I noticed that I didn’t see many houses with Christmas light strung along the eaves.  

Oh sure, there were some people who went "all-out", decorating their houses, lawns, and windows with lights, Lightsinflatable Santas, and manger scenes... but for the most part the neighborhood seemed to me, a little less "lit" this holiday season.

This passing thought about exterior lighting then started an avalanche of other thoughts in my head as it related to holiday traditions.

Traditions like decorating Christmas trees, hanging stockings in front of the fireplace, roasting chestnuts, singing Christmas carols and opening presents on Christmas morning have stayed with us for decades... if not centuries.

We keep these traditions because they are an integral part of our fond memories of our youth.  They make us think of simpler days as children when we had no responsibilities and everything was larger than life... and as parents we hope to instill that same wonderment in the lives of our children.

It was a magical time where we still believed that Santa left toys under the tree and that he ate the cookies and milk that we left beside the fireplace.

Traditions are a special way to connect with your own family, clan or tribe.  They hold special meaning for those who experience them year after year.

The memories turn into lore which is retold over and over through the generations.  It becomes our family’s nostalgia and a part of our history.

Family traditions are not only for Christmas.

My mother still sings a special song to each of her kids and grandchildren on their birthday... even though her oldest children are now in their 50’s.  Yes it’s silly... but it is our family tradition and I wouldn’t want it any other way.

Many of the companies or organizations we work for also have certain traditions.

Holiday parties, summer picnics, Monday morning sales meetings and celebrations after strong sales months are traditions that have permeated the corporate world for decades... although in the work place we call our traditions "precedence".

In my position at OptiFuse, I have the opportunity to visit many different companies... suppliers and vendors alike.  

Many times my visits (especially on an initial visit) will include a tour of their facilities or manufacturing floor.

Having a high level of curiosity, I will often ask a series of questions of my tour host, specifically asking why something is being done in a particular fashion or what is the reason for doing something in a certain way.

My questions, many times, are answered with the same response...

...because we’ve always done it that way... it’s our way of doing it... it is our tradition... it is our history...

If tradition is the way we’ve always done something, then innovation is the polar opposite of tradition.

Innovation is doing something that has never been done before.  It is constantly changing products, processes, and systems by taking them into uncharted waters or creating art on a blank canvas.

Sometimes innovation enters the workplace because the technology behind the traditional way of doing something simply is too old to be supported any longer.

At OptiFuse, this is the case with our current phone system.  We are now looking at new state-of-the-art phone systems to replace our old system (which has work just fine for many years now) but is so old that we are now unable to get replacement parts. 

For us, we’d rather keep what we know and what had worked for us rather than explore new and better ways  to make and receive phone calls... but now that decision is being forced upon us.

There are many other examples of this same thinking... just in our own company.

A company may spend years perfecting a great system that absolutely works for them.  They live by the old adage, "if it isn’t broken... we don’t need to fix it".

But as any modern business leader will tell you, if you’re not innovating... then you’re dying.

A company needs to continually update its products, services, and processes otherwise they will quickly fall behind in the race to innovate.

How long should we stick to what is working or when should we transition into a new methodology or technology?

It’s an age old question... one frankly that I really don’t have a good answer for.

One might argue that it really depends on the industry as to whether or not tradition or innovation wins out.

However, one needs to look no further than the travel industry.  

The travel and tourism market is estimated to be $1.4T (yes... trillion) including transportation, lodging, food, entertainment.  This market segment represents 9% of the world’s GNP.

Until the last 5 years, very little innovation has occurred in the industry as a whole... sure commercial airlines were introduced in the 1940’s... greatly shortening the time it took to get from one place to another... but other than that... innovations have been far and few between...

Today, a few upstart technology companies are turning the travel industry on its head.

Companies like Airbnb and Uber/Lyft/Sidecar are creating utter havoc in the once very traditional and stable environs of the hotel and taxi businesses.

Unlike a regular hotel, Airbnb doesn’t own any of its own rooms.  Airbnb provides a service that links people who have an extra bed with those people looking to rent a bed (or room or house or tree house or castle).

Airbnb is currently booking more than 200,000 rooms each and every day in more than 100 countries and expects to double that number by the end of 2015.   It’s no wonder that the large hotel chains are lobbying the government hard to try and stop Airbnb from taking away their customers.  It has revolutionized the industry. 

Lyft (and other similar companies) offer the same types of service as Airbnb - only with car rides instead of hotel rooms.  People have been frustrated with the level of service provided by taxis for years but have not had an alternative service until recently.

These new upstart companies have turned the travel industry upside down by offering the services, aided by technology, that people have yearned for ages (now if there can only be a new alternative to the airlines... only in my dreams).

It reminds me of the story I once heard about a drill bit salesman.  The drill bit salesman erroneously thought that he was selling drill bits to his customers... but his customers weren’t really buying drill bits... they were buying holes... and the moment a new technology came along that provided a better way of making holes... he would be out of a job.

Traditions might be good for families and friends during the holidays, but in business, innovation is paramount and without it all businesses will eventually perish.

We need to continue looking at the things we do and strive to make improvements in ourselves and everything we do...

...only then will we prepare ourselves for the road ahead...
Thank you for your continued support of OptiFuse where we encourage people and companies alike to make innovation the new tradition.

No comments:

Post a Comment