How to Innovate in an Uncertain World

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How to Innovate in an Uncertain World

By Don Longo, Convenience Store News - 02/14/2014

MIAMI -- After discussing the future of convenience stores, customer-facing technology and alternative fuels for two days, this year's NACS Leadership Forum concluded Wednesday with a mind-expanding session on strategy and innovation in a world of uncertainty.

The final presentation by Dr. Roch Parayre, senior partner, Decision Strategies International, was the perfect ending to the three-day event as he examined the impact of social changes, technology, regulation and other externals factors that impact company growth.

"In the traditional world, traditional ways of planning and acting were sufficient," Parayre said. "In today's world, we have to think differently about how we plan for the future."

Parayre said that most companies plan as if things were not going to change, even though history tells us to expect big and fast changes. He cited the case of one-time technology leader Sony and how it achieved that position by making many small investments in up-and-coming techno-startups. "The more volatile the environment, the more valuable is optionality," Parayre said.

By taking small stakes in close to 2,000 start-ups, Sony was always able to maximize the up-side of any new technological trend. At the same time, Sony's culture was disciplined enough to walk away from ideas that didn't work, he noted.

Another trait shared by innovation-driven companies is the ability to celebrate failures as learning experiences. He noted that 3M was famous for awarding failed experiments, as long as they learned something from those failures. "If you didn't fail well, you didn't try hard enough," said Parayre of 3M's approach.

"For too many companies, uncertainty is a four-letter word," he said, noting that companies shouldn't think of uncertainty as a risk but as an opportunity.

He gave numerous other examples, from consumer product goods companies like Johnson & Johnson and Procter & Gamble to tech firm Google.

He reminded the audience that "making mistakes is not the problem. Not learning from your mistakes is."

Next year's NACS Leadership Forum will again be held in Miami Beach from Feb. 11-13.