A wise man once said, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.” Profound advice from Charles Darwin and a sentiment that many brands have either run with, or run from. In fact, a company’s openness to innovation  can prove the fundamental ingredient in securing a successful future.

So what is it about innovation that’s so important? To best answer that, you need to understand the concept itself. A quick Google search returns a plethora of bumper-sticker statements, instagram hashtags and self-help soundbites. The term has grown from simply being about developing new ideas and processes to now focusing more on the value gained from adapting.

You don’t have to look too far back in history to find victims fallen foul of the ‘Adapt or die’ principle. Certainly not the only reason, but Blockbuster’s failure to innovate mean’t the company closed it’s doors in 2010. Once a household and high-street staple, Blockbuster and its rental DVD service commanded a substantial customer base. But, with the rise in DVD postal services such as LoveFILM, Blockbuster failed to recognise a change in market behaviour. Perhaps, overconfidence or just through lack of understanding, Blockbuster assumed users were buying in to the ‘store experience’. In fact, customers actually placed value on just the experience of watching the film itself. And then came their biggest mistake. In 2000, a fledgling start-up called Netflix approached Blockbuster with a opportunity to sell their company. At the time, Blockbuster didn’t see the value in streaming and passed up the opportunity to acquire Netflix. Cut to 2018, Netflix recorded its biggest every day of streaming and the final credits have long since rolled on Blockbuster.

In contrast Burberry can be seen as a shinning example of how taking risks and keeping on top of industry trends can pay dividends down the line. In fact, innovation is in Burberry’s DNA right from its conception in 1856. Regarded as one of the most prestigious fashion houses in the UK, the company has never shied away from change. It quickly cottoned on to the value digital and specifically social can play in understanding and influencing its audience. Burberry also recognised the value in data collection and has amassed vast quantities of information, which it rewards it’s customers for submitting. Burberry has even adopted AI and machine learning to help protect its products from the counterfeit market.

There is however, a big but when it comes to innovation. At its core, innovation should set about solving a problem, or seek to improve an existing idea. The standout case study for this would of course be Apple and how it revolutionised the mobile phone industry, delivering a product that harnessed new technology and changed the way the people communicate. Or GoPro, who reimagined the way users can capture all of life’s adventures, and they haven’t stopped at hardware either. A quick scan of their patent portfolio shows GoPro are more eager than ever to branch in to new and exciting frontiers.

So, innovation equals success right? Wrong. Understanding the reasons to innovate is key to making sure you are not making change for change’s sake. It is essential for businesses or brands to truly understand their customer base. What are the key issues or pain-points customers face when they engage with your brand, product or business and how innovation in technology, process or otherwise can address this.

Fundamentally, innovation, regardless of industry should answer a real customer need. Silicone Valley is awash with novelty ideas that never took off and history suggests that ideas and innovations are most likely to succeed when they tap in to our habitual nature as humans. Google CEO, Larry Page coined the ‘Toothbrush test’, which asked the question of new products “Is this something I will use once/twice a day?”, those that did generally went on to be widely adopted. The same can be said of innovation in process too. Typically, changes that are easy to implement and simple to follow are more likely to withstand the test of time.

In summary then Darwin was right (when is he not?), those who adapt to change will prosper. Innovation should look to accumulate the advantages of new ideas whilst eliminating the inferior; a 21st century, digital version of natural selection.

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