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Innovate or Disappear: 4 Strategies for Embracing the Future Through Innovation

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By Pam McDonald

Attendees at last month’s California Assisted Living Association’s (CALA) conference received a serious heads up about the future of senior living from Robert B. Tucker, an internationally recognized author, speaker and leader in the field of innovation.

Formerly an adjunct professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, Tucker is President of The Innovation Resource, a consulting group in Santa Barbara that is exclusively devoted to assisting companies to improve top and bottom line performance through systematic innovation.

Tucker notes that in 10 years only 40% of current Fortune 500 companies will still be here. He presented four strategies that senior living companies can use to step up their innovation game and avoid becoming one of the once-great businesses that failed by simply not changing fast enough.

Strategy 1: Embrace the Opportunity Mindset

Tucker points out that each of us has a different mindset, and that companies have collective mindsets, which are typically referred to as “culture.” Innovative cultures don’t make excuses; they make lemonade out of lemons. They work to stimulate their collective imagination and look for opportunities.

But, he says, there are three challenges that obstruct this strategy:

  1. The Growth Challenge – not being able to entice investors

  1. The Differentiation Challenge – their product is pretty much like anyone else’s. Then it become all about price

  1. The Disruption Challenge – their product loses its relevance; like MySpace, cow’s milk, and Yellow Page directories

Until now, Tucker says, one-third of all inventions came about by accident or serendipity; for example, the microwave, Viagra, sticky notes, FedEx, and NutraSweet. But, he warns, the world is changing so rapidly, companies have to figure out how to be better at innovation. He says, there’s no one-size-fits-all, but it’s got to involve the whole organization and be built by the people in the organization.

Strategy 2: There’s gotta be a better way!

Tucker puts it simply: “You have to assault your assumptions.” A company can’t be proactively innovative if it takes the position: “That’s not the way we’ve always done it” or “We tried it, it didn’t work.” He provides the following recommendations to assault assumptions:

  • become aware of your own assumptions

  • encourage people to think bigger

  • ask for a third option

  • look for solutions outside of your industry

  • ask different questions

Strategy 3: Focus on the Future

Tucker offers the following metaphor for this strategy: “Steer the car and look farther up the road. The road is the activities that are required day-to-day, while seeing further ahead requires tracking of trends.” A current example is that people will spend more on experiences right now. Also they’ll spend more for great customer service. He recommends looking for trends involving

  • regulation

  • lifestyle

  • technology

  • consumers

  • demographics

Strategy 4: Fortify Your Idea Factory

Tucker encourages senior living leaders to ask a number of foundational questions of themselves and their companies:

  • How can ideas be given to decision-makers; to implementers?

  • What is your personal idea factory? What gets your creative juices flowing: the shower, driving, the early morning hours? What allows you to get 3 or 4 new ideas daily?

  • The favorite question of an Innovator of the Year: What do you think we should do so this never happens again?

Taking a “Doug” Day

Tucker tells a story about a colleague named Doug who, one day a month, doesn’t hold any meetings, make or take phone calls, or use his computer or other devices. Instead, with his “My Idea Notebook” handy, he opens his mind to new ideas. Tucker highly recommends all company leaders “take a Doug day.”

To paraphrase Nielsen’s June 2016 “Breakthrough Innovation” Report, an industry that fails to remake itself in line with emerging consumer tastes, technological realities and business models of the 21st century will:

  • see growth stall and margins erode

  • lose the battle for world-class talent

  • watch its innovation capability collapse, and

  • join
 the ranks of companies that become dinosaurs

What Successful Innovators Do

To avoid this fate, Tucker advises senior living leadership to take up the following 5 things innovative companies do well:

  1. Make innovation a strategic imperative; a focus

  2. Implement a management system so no innovation gets lost

  3. Collaborate with customers and strategic partners. You want to know their present needs, but more importantly, you want to identify unmet or unarticulated needs

  4. Cultivate risk-taking cultures; risk-averse cultures end up being more dangerous. They discourage ideas and breed disengagement

  5. Involve everyone in the enterprise.

Download a Fact Sheet here to discover what Robert Tucker believes Baby Boomers will want from assisted living that the industry does not yet provide:

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