How to Innovate with a Compass, Not a Map

October 14, 2015 Jiordan Castle


Before the internet, much of our technology was based on predictions — if this, then that; variations on existing technology designed to beget better, future technologies. The larger institutions with proven methods of delivery and the financial means to make them a reality monopolized innovation for years and years. It didn’t necessarily make for a better Customer Experience for their customers, but it did keep them ahead of the competition.

And then the internet happened. A shareable ecosystem of information was suddenly available to everyone, which enabled new and different groups of people to share knowledge. It transformed the way we had formerly innovated. We all know this, and yet many companies today still find it difficult to break away from the rigid structure of traditional innovation.

Living in the now: a new era of innovation

Joi Ito, director of the MIT Media Lab, talks about the ways in which the internet has changed our means of communicating and innovating in his TED talk: Want to innovate? Become a “now-ist.” “The internet caused innovation — at least in software and services — to go from an MBA-driven innovation model to a designer/engineer-driven innovation model,” Ito says, “And it pushed innovation to the edges, to the dorm rooms, to the startups, away from the large old institutions — the stodgy institutions that had the power and the money and the authority.” Ito advises us to become now-ists, not futurists.

Easier said than done though. Many companies’ Customer Experience teams are already more focused on fixing their existing problems than on innovating for the future. Is that what being a now-ist means? Well, not quite. Innovating in the now means assembling teams and acting on ideas as they occur, and not waiting for approvals or guaranteed, safe success.

A 3-time college dropout, Ito explains that he values learning over education. “They want you to learn the encyclopedia before you’re allowed to go out and play,” he says. The main pain point here is that knowledge is only being received, not redirected, repurposed, or shared. “Education is what people do to you. Learning is what you do to yourself.” Learning is about being fully aware, fully present, and connecting with others — not just being a receiver for established information. Though neither education nor learning happens in a vacuum, only the latter delivers tangible results.

Know when it’s time to scrap the map

Want to deliver an exceptional Customer Experience? Cultivate strong leaders, not micromanagers, and give your employees the technology and know-how they need to tackle real-time problems. Take customer service reps, for instance; this means providing reps with both the knowledge and authority to handle problems, not a script and a superior — a compass, not a map. Tech entrepreneur Josh Linkner explains, “Management-by-operating-manuals worked fine back in the days when markets were local, customers were homogenous, product cycles occurred over decades, and complexity was minimal. Workers didn’t need to think all that much on their own, as long as following the map would ensure their safe arrival. Boy, has the world changed.”

Scripted responses and a simple “Let me get my supervisor” were crucial before the internet, before a wealth of information became clickable. But now that we’ve arrived in an age of tech-first thinking — consulting our smartphones rather than phonebooks, Googling a term instead of pulling out a dictionary — customer-facing employees need the autonomy and modern technology required to deliver a great Customer Experience. The truth is, your employees expect the same consumer-grade technology your customers do. And if you don’t provide it, your forward-thinking competition will.

There’s a saying that goes, “The future belongs to those still willing to get their hands dirty.” Now-ists aren’t wasting time and money; they’re actually ensuring future successes by acting fast and trying new ways of doing things. You can learn more about technology’s role in Customer Experience from our ebook, The Digital Customer Experience Strategy Guide.



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