There are many obstacles to successful business innovation, but time and resources are the ones we tend to focus on most.
- Do I have the creative talent?
- Have I secured financial backing?
- Do I have the brain space and time to focus on innovation while still generating revenue?
- Which tools and technology do I need to support my ideas?
The list goes on.
But successful innovation in business requires another very important factor—one that all of us here should be concerned about.
No need to raise your hands class, just call out the answer ….
That’s right! Communication.
Communication is a crucial part of innovation.
From start to finish.
Within the organization and to the external world.
Let’s look at all the ways we must effectively communicate innovation to ensure success.
- Internally an organization must communicate a vision—one that might be very blurry or scattered at the start—to a team tasked with innovation. We must use words to translate the idea into a plan.
- Throughout the innovation process, there must be a plan of who, what, when, why, and how to communicate with the larger team.
- At the conclusion of innovation, there must be an onboarding communications strategy to effectively introduce, transition, and manage the launch of the innovation and associated change across the organization.
- Externally, we need to explain the innovation to customers in a way that resonates and helps them see it as a positive addition to their world view and daily life.
- There must be a go-to-market strategy with all nuances and tactical details associated with that.
None of these efforts are easy.
Especially if the words we have to communicate can’t accurately express the idea we are trying to translate.
Innovation in Business and #FirstWorldLanguageProblems
Let’s look at our very own industry as an example.
Communications have grown and changed tremendously over the last several decades.
Twenty years ago, had you asked someone in our industry what the PESO model was, they’d assume it was some sort of Mexican economic model.
Likewise, what do we even call ourselves anymore?
Are we communicators?
Should we call ourselves marketers?
Are we digital?
Maybe business consultants?
Every single one of us calls ourselves something different and none of those things clearly indicate what we do for our clients.
Speaking of which, what the heck do we do?
I mean holy frijoles.
We are the people tasked with communicating what businesses do for their customers and we can barely communicate what we do—to ourselves or our clients.
What Do You Do Again?
Even more troublesome, the words we might use internally to describe what we do, often mean nothing externally.
If you talk to a prospect and say stuff like “integrated communications,” or “PESO model,” people may look at you with blank stares.
Have you ever heard a prospect say, “we love your ideas, but aren’t there yet,” or “that’s more than we had in mind,” after you present an integrated communications program?
Their reaction is most likely not because they “aren’t there yet”, but because they don’t fully grasp what you’re talking about.
They “aren’t there yet” because there is a language gap.
They (and/or the C-levels/board they need final approval from) are fluent in the old PR language.
We speak a completely new dialect now and it hasn’t been fully introduced or translated in a way that businesses understand.
The creation and adoption of innovation (both our clients’ and our own) stalls simply because it’s lost in translation.
Language Lags Behind Innovation in Business
I read a fascinating article years ago about Netflix’s struggle to define their original series.
They weren’t really “TV shows” or “episodes” because they were released all at once, but they served the same purpose, just in a different way.
They only way to define them was by using archaic language, and it didn’t fit.
Many of us are stuck in this trap.
We use old language to try and express new operations and concepts.
Likewise, we use old icons to visually communicate new concepts (a magnifying glass to search, floppy disk to save, envelope to “get mail”).
It’s a catch-22.
Innovation in business requires language to express it, but the language requires innovation to adapt.
It’s very hard to change a habit, a system, or a process if we don’t have the language that anchors that change.
And therefore, the old language is an obstacle to innovation.
As the article’s author states:
“The words and images we use to describe things affect our thinking. What if the words we use are limiting the solutions we can create?”
Language Anchors Connection
At the same time, because words are, for the most part, all we have to create understanding and really allow things to exist, we can’t totally abandon old language to describe new concepts and innovation in business.
We must use outdated language as an anchor to create a framework that resonates and provides connection.
So back to the example of the PR industry—we have to use language people know to give them an anchor for who we are.
This helps them with the initial classification.
Three Steps to Communicate Innovation
But we can’t allow ourselves to be trapped in other people’s classifications.
That’s why the responsibility is with us as communicators to translate what we do in terms of things that are important to our audiences.
Here are three steps to help us achieve that:
Speak to Results, Not Process
You can’t sell someone a system they don’t yet know, trust, or understand.
What you can sell is an outcome they desire.
And then work backwards to help them understand why that outcome is associated with your innovation.
Likewise, it’s important to understand the incentives which might motivate behavior change.
In general, incentives can be classified in three ways:
Understand how your innovation provides an incentive in each of these categories and which might take priority for your target consumer.
Consider Cognitive Bias
There are several cognitive biases that come into play when communicating innovation.
Take time to consider what they are and how you can develop a communications strategy to overcome or work with them.
How do you deal with translating innovation in business when confined by words not created to describe it? Share your thoughts in the comments.
Image courtesy Pixabay