4 excuses business owners use to maintain the status quo

I know some of you may be a little tired of hearing the “I” word already. We hear this being bandied around almost everyday here in Singapore as the government exhorts its businesses, especially SMEs, to be more innovative and not rely on cheap labour to do everything. To do that, they have raised the cost of foreign labour to such an extent that it may cause economic contraction before the market corrects. This got me to speaking to several SME bosses, especially to those who don’t innovate, to see why they are still moving along with business as usual, and I gathered 4 main reasons (also known as excuses) why they don’t innovate. If you’re not innovating, maybe one of these four may be your “reason”?

“I don’t have time”

This is the classic excuse for not innovating. After all, they say, business is still doing well, we are still profitable, we can still afford a good life, why change what’s working, right? Wrong! I just spoke about the need to break things when things are going well (see related article) and won’t repeat it here; but suffice it to say that the best time to change is when you can afford it. Even if you are busy, you need to carve out time for innovation. Of course, you could wait until your business failed; then you'd have all the time in the world!

Related: If it ain’t broke, break it then fix it!

“I don’t know how”

This is more honest. I agree that there is a need to learn how to innovate and if you didn’t know how to, then learn! I know it sounds simple, and it really is. But deep down, I believe this is still an excuse. After all, when you first started your business, you had to learn how to do it right? So if you need to reinvent it now, you must relearn.

“Innovation is not guaranteed”

Nothing ever is. Even the oldest company in the world, Kongo Gumi in Japan, which started business in 578, (yes, that’s 1400 years ago) and remained in business without cessation until it hit upon hard times in 2006 and was bought over by Takamatsu Corporation, which, thankfully, continues to operate Kongo Gumi as a subsidiary, couldn’t guarantee its posterity. The truth of the matter is that we all need to change, and innovation brings about that change.

“I can’t afford it”

Many people think that innovation is expensive. For some it can be; yet for many more, innovation is taken on as an experiment, a find-your-way-as-you-go-along process. Experiments, as opposed to research, are designed to be cheap. They take a certain hypothesis, test it on a small scale, and then scale it once there is traction. The mantra for it is “Fail Fast, Fail Cheap”. If you think you cannot afford innovation, can you afford business failure?

Related: Making positive change with the hypothesis-driven process

It’s all in the attitude

You will notice that all these excuses boil down to attitude towards change and a fear of failure. These two major anchors weigh down on people in all situations. And there is another one – the propensity for pain. Apparently, we can take a beating and come back for more, and more, and more. The story of the underdog absorbing punishing blows and then coming back up to deliver a one-two knockout punch is a famed story that is replicated over and over again in Hollywood. And there is good reason – we identify with it. But reality is seldom so rosy and the rain of blows normally knocks us out! So, instead of absorbing the painful blows of the status quo, we should just side-step and use our opponent’s force against it. That’s the Eastern way of managing change; and no wonder that Japan has the most number of oldest surviving companies than all the rest of the world put together. Perhaps it is their Samurai and ninja nimbleness that allows them to weather the storms that other, larger and more status-quo-protecting counterparts can’t do.

Innovation affords you that ninja-nimbleness.

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