Innovation starts with people, not tools

Many businesses struggling with how to grow digital revenue decide “we need (insert CapEx investment here)”.  Sometimes they are right. I consulted with a B2B publisher who wanted a new CMS, because their existing CMS was an unmitigated disaster, and actively impeded their ability to grow revenue or traffic.

In their minds, the new CMS would deliver workflow efficiencies and SEO benefits (and it did) and increased revenues would follow, as if by magic (they did not). The new CMS certainly made it possible for them to innovate faster and more cheaply, but it didn’t actually supply them with the market-specific product innovation they needed.

The perception that some tool or technique will by itself open up a profitable world of new traffic, new leads or new revenue is depressingly common. Would you expect a new saw to make you a master carpenter? First you need to develop competence with the tool. Then you need to actually exert some hard work and creativity to build something. That expensive tool won’t guarantee a great result; the person wielding it is the only one who can do that.

Here’s my point from another perspective, from a session at TechCrunch Disrupt:

Levchin said that we have all this technology that allows us to churn through ideas quickly, but “hard” is what often correlates to value, and startups today aren’t addressing enough “hard problems”. If you’re trying to find a new wrinkle to disrupt on Angry Birds, you’re not solving those hard problems.

Hire smart people. Invest in quality training. Reward action over tenure. Push for meaningful over incremental progress. That is the path to profitable innovation.


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