Luke Williams fights against “innovation fatigue.”
Williams, who will keynote America’s Credit Union Conference/World Credit Union Conference in Denver July 12-15, says many business leaders start rolling their eyes whenever they hear the word “innovation.”
For many, “innovation” is just a “marketing term” or “superficial buzzword,” he says. But innovation is incredibly important to future organizational success.
With his 2011 book “Disrupt” and through speaking engagements, Williams attempts to codify innovation and make it practical for businesses to innovate on a day-to-day basis.
“Innovation is a skill that can be learned by anyone regardless of their background,” says Williams, who speaks with an Australian accent.
Williams grew up in Melbourne, Australia, before moving to the U.S. to work for Frog, one of the world's most influential innovation companies.
In addition to serving as a fellow at Frog, Williams is the executive director at the NYU Stern School of Business.
Innovation is not high-risk
“The feeling that disruptive ideas are high-risk is erroneous,” Williams says.
Businesses that innovate correctly risk time, not resources. By the time you have thought a disruptive idea through and brought it to a point where it is ready to implement, the benefits should be crystal clear, he says.
Real-world innovation must be done in the context of keeping the existing business moving. Williams likens the process to working under the hood of a car with the engine on.
“At the same time you are keeping that engine running, you need to find a way to change the fan belt,” Williams says.
Williams recommends managing a portfolio of unconventional strategy options that balance out the standard portfolio of incremental strategy options—the pipeline of improvements you’re already planning.
Leaders should review these unconventional options on continuously and then conduct small experiments to see if they can be scaled up.
For organizations to thrive at innovation, they must empower employees.
“It is far more important for an organization to have a culture that is full of people that are willing, able, and ready to contribute new ideas than it is for them to have one successful new product every one or two years,” Williams says.
But keeping people interested in contributing ideas can be difficult because no organization can green-light every idea.
“You have to find a way to reward effort and not result,” Williams says.
Williams says he hopes to change how credit union leaders think about innovation during his keynote before the industry.
“I want to get them excited about the possibilities for change,” he says, highlighting three objectives for his talk:
1. Build awareness. Every industry faces an accelerating pace of change. And change in one industry affects other unrelated industries. Think about the effect of smartphones on a myriad of industries from entertainment to taxi services.
2. Adjust attitudes. The “spot and change” approach to innovation—where companies try to remain agile to adapt to new trends—is a step in the right direction, Williams says, but it is a “dangerous approach.”
That approach only addresses the most obvious symptoms of change. Instead, you have to fundamentally rethink the most cherished assumptions of your business.
“Your attitude must be one of leading disruptive change,” Williams says.
3. Offer an approach. “I want to leave credit union leaders with some takeaways with approach,” he says.
That means asking the right questions about their business, the consumer, and the competition. The idea is to teach leaders how to innovate using all the ingredients available to them.
The credit union industry is seeing a lot of change, Williams says, and a successful future depends on innovation.
“Credit unions are at this point where they have to challenge some of those past conventions and really commit to leading the disruptive change in their industry,” Williams says.