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Why Innovation is all about ‘as well as’ not ‘instead of’


I love the debate around ‘the next big thing’ versus ‘tried and tested’.  There are passionate advocates in each corner (you know who they are in your organisation I’m sure), but mostly I like the debate because one side can never completely win if an organisation wants to stay successful.

A little friction can actually be hugely motivating if channelled correctly.

Light bulb moment

Jeff Brooks writes an interesting blog this week positing that ‘the next big thing’ in fundraising really isn’t as big as all that.  And probably won’t ever be.  I don’t believe Jeff is decrying innovation but he does offer a warning not to lose focus on the things we already do that work.  In a broader marketing and communications sense, I wholeheartedly take on board the key point but it’s not quite so black and white when we’re talking about either changing behaviours or trying to leverage new technologies.

For example, just think about what we wouldn’t have today if we had stuck to the tried and tested;

  • Crowdfunding
  • Online giving
  • Mobile giving
  • Twitter campaigning from and for far flung places
  • Serious government debates driven by e-petitions
  • Personal music players… (the Sony Walkman started it all off boys and girls with no quantifiable market opportunity at all)

But as one of my favourite, real-world innovation thinkers, Lucy Gower explains;

Innovation should be about delivery of a good idea that achieves a strategic business need or solves a business challenge, for example developing more effective processes, selling more ‘stuff’ or raising more money.

In Kevin-speak; new ideas for new ideas’ sake are probably just an indulgence.  We should focus on innovation that we at least have some evidence will help us to meet our objectives.

But if we don’t know whether that latest idea will bring us fundraising, campaigning or communications success, how do we know whether to invest time and money into it?  I think the answer is twofold:

  1. Having evidence doesn’t mean needing a 100% guarantee of success.  In fact I don’t believe this exists in 2012 in our context.  What we need is enough evidence to convince your decision-makers that innovation X represents a risk but it is a calculated and controlled risk (as far as possible) which is worth taking to meet your objectives.
  2. Take an ‘as well as’ not an ‘instead of’ approach to mitigate the risk.

The mantra of ‘as well as’ not ‘instead of’ wherever possible is not about being greedy or over-indulging.  It’s about acknowledging that both the tried and tested AND innovation have a role to play in maintaining success in whatever we are trying to achieve.  I’m sure fundraisers who successfully tried online and mobile giving platforms didn’t stop asking their regular supporters for donations via direct mail, regular newsletters or e-updates.

Good media teams will still develop relationships with editors and journalists whilst using social media to get their stories out there.

If we look at the organisations, and individuals in many cases, typically accredited with being significant innovators, they have all followed this approach.  Apple always has stable product lines underpinning the company which enable it to take calculated risks and Sony was selling millions of TVs whilst it developed the Walkman.

So, I think my mantra for 2012 will be ‘as well as, not instead of’.  This way I hope to be able to take advantage of all kinds of new ideas but not to the point where I get distracted from the core activities that currently underpin our success.

How will you do it?

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