Producing Results Blog

Reactive vs. Proactive Innovation

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As I work with organizations to help them become more innovative, I see two primary types of innovation: reactive and proactive. The process for each is similar, but the mindset is completely different.

If you're a video person, I lay it all out in the video below. If reading is more your thing, skip the video and hop straight to the transcript below!

Hey there, Bill Stainton here with Turning Creativity into Money™, and you know when I work with organizations, and study organizations, and look at organizations with regard to their innovation, I basically see two kinds of innovation being practiced. I'm talking about on a macro level. On a macro level I basically see two kinds of innovation.

I see reactive innovation, and I see proactive innovation.

I see more reactive innovation than I see proactive innovation, but i see them both, and let me, let me tell you the difference.

Reactive innovation, as the name might suggest, it means that you're reacting to something that's happened. There's been some impetus. Uh, maybe it's a problem, a challenge, could be an opportunity, something happens. Maybe it's a global pandemic. Okay, that requires an innovative response. Maybe it's all of a sudden a new market has opened up, so it's an opportunity. Okay, that requires some innovative thinking. Okay, how can we best take advantage of this? But something happens and you think, "You know what this needs? This needs innovation." You're reacting to a situation that's happened.

Proactive innovation is really more of a process, more of a mindset. You're always being innovative. It's just, it's in your blood. You, your team, your industry, your organization. You're always looking for those opportunities. And that way you become the, the inciting incident that somebody else now has to react to—the competition. When you're proactively innovative you're coming up with things that all of a sudden they now have to react to. It's a more comfortable place to be.

Now, both of these are valid. Because, you know, there are times where you have to be reactively innovative. Things do happen, things that you may not be able to anticipate happen. Okay, and you need to be, you need to be able to react to that. You need to know, "How can we innovate quickly?" If you need help with that, I'm more than happy to work with you and your team on that.

Proactive innovation means it's kind of, it's now in our culture, being interactive, or being innovative rather. And I can help you with that also.

Let's let's take a concrete example. Let's, let's talk about customer service. Okay, and let's talk about examples of both reactive and proactive innovation regarding customer service.

Well, a reactive innovation would be like one of your major customers has a complaint, like they've, something went wrong and now you have to react to that. Okay, and that happens to all of us from time to time. "Okay, we need an innovative way to respond, to react, to fix that problem," because that's what innovation really is. It's about solving problems. It's about seeing something that's not as good as it could be and asking, "How can it be better?" We've talked about this before. That's one of the magic questions for innovation: How can this be better? So sometimes that's in response to something. A customer has a complaint, and you have to think, "Okay, how can this be better?" That's the first step to innovation.

Proactive innovation is if you are continually looking at your customer path, your customer journey, your customer experience, and without waiting for something to happen, you're continuously, continually saying, "How can this be better? You know what? How can we improve the customer's journey through our website? How can we improve our billing system to make it easier and friendlier for the customer? How can we improve the look of our brick and mortar store to make it more attractive to the customer?" You're being proactive, make sense?

And look, these are both valid. Reactive and proactive innovation, they're both valid. You need to be, you need to be well versed in both. You need to be able to do both kinds of innovation.

I mean really, once you get into the innovation part the process is the same. The difference is just the mindset.

The one is a reaction to an incident; the other is it's, it's kind of baked into your, to your, to your company culture, your team culture, your organizational culture. So there is a difference there.

Now when you're proactively innovative, you then have the opportunity to become that incident that the competition now has to react to. Because you, you may come up with something that all of a sudden becomes their problem. It's like, "Ooh, now we have to react to this." So it kind of becomes this vicious or virtual circle depending on which side of it you are. Are you the one who has to react, or are you the one who are causing them to have to react by being proactive?

So become well-versed in both, understand the difference between both, but try and create a mindset within your team of proactive innovation. That this is who we are. We are innovators who do whatever it is you do for a living. Not, "We do this for a living and occasionally we innovate, if something forces us to." No, "We are innovators who do what we do for a living." That's the key to getting to being proactively innovative.

When you think of yourself as an innovator who does what you do as opposed to somebody who does what you do, and, "If I have to, I'll innovate." So, try and lean a little bit more towards proactive and cause the others to have to react to your innovations.

I'm Bill Stainton. I'll be back next time with more ideas about how you can Turn Creativity into Money™.

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About the Author:

29-time Emmy Award winner and Hall of Fame keynote speaker Bill Stainton, CSP is an expert on Innovation, Creativity, and Breakthrough Thinking. He helps leaders and their teams come up with innovative solutions — on demand — to their most challenging problems.
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