When to Call an Innovation Firm

Change is difficult, and changing for the better rarely happens out of virtue. When prospects reach out we know only one fact: They want to change something in their organizational mix and grow and want help. Often the need is an unexpressed and even unconscious urge for the company or nonprofit.

Sometimes the board demands innovation. Other times, Wall Street needs to see innovation in the pipeline to ratchet up the market value. Often, a new leader brings the discipline to an organization that has never had a formal innovation process. Usually, organizations hire an innovation firm after suffering a lack of genuine growth for too long. They want a new way out of the predictable rut in which they find themselves. Many companies yearn for real growth results. Many organizations long to reboot into something more active, vital and viable. Yet, they are stuck, unable to crack the code of growth.

In short, they want change, a new path to creating new value. But the very idea of change can bring up its own negative shadows – fear and rigidity.

In many cases they lack the learned soft skills to face hard truths. These hard truths may include that their business model is broken, growth has stalled for an unknown reason, most talented employees leave after a short stint at the organization, a new competitor has entered out of nowhere and has quickly changed the way the category operates, or newly launched products and services fail to thrive in the market. Perhaps distributors will not allow high-margin growth? Maybe a whole category has become a commodity, signified by a price war, the rise of private label, and a lack of meaningful sales with innovations?

All of the above symptoms convey a type of crisis. As a rough guess, 99 percent of our clients are in one of these crisis states. In most cases, the firm is stable overall, but one brand or product line isn’t performing either as expected or as well as it has historically. Something needs to change.

Change requires a guide into new, unknown territory – think of hiring an innovation firm the same way you would hire a Sherpa to lead an expedition. The Sherpa knows the path, the pitfalls, knows what tools to bring, and has the mix of soft and hard skills to navigate the journey.

Although you will most likely go out into the field to gather insights, most of the journey, as with any journey, is mental. It is important to trust the process and the guide. True, it’s hard to shift mindsets – and get out of the realm of day-to-day business and into seeing new possibilities. Put another way, it’s hard to turn off the analytical preset filters and see new models and ways of being in the market.

Facing such predicaments requires courage, willingness and the core capacity of seeking truth. If you have accepted that old behaviors will not fuel growth, seek innovation help.

Michael Graber, managing partner of the Southern Growth Studio, can be reached at southerngrowthstudio.com.