Now Is the Time for Innovation
by Marc Staut, Chief Innovation & Technology Officer
How many virtual conferences have you attended in the past few months? For most people in our profession, Summer and early Fall are conference season. But the pandemic has made traveling around the country for conferences less compelling. As a result, many organizers have moved their events online.
I’ve attended my share of virtual conferences and events this year, and it’s clear that some organizers are swinging for the fences while others are content with base hits. Of course, there are times when base hits are exactly what’s needed. But whether you’re planning your own event or just looking for new ways to deliver services to your clients, I believe now is the time to be innovative.
4 Types of Innovation
Greg Satell’s Innovation Matrix identifies four types of innovation and suggests organizations should have a portfolio of innovation strategies for different kinds of problems.
Sustaining innovation. Most innovation happens here because it’s about getting better at what we already do. You’re improving your existing capabilities in existing markets, so you have a clear idea of the issues to be solved.
Breakthrough innovation. This type of innovation is focused on problems that are well defined but incredibly difficult to solve. It often requires calling in diverse specialties and skills.
Disruptive innovation. This is what most people think of when they hear the word innovation. Think of how Uber disrupted taxi companies. In these cases, best practices like listening to your customers and investing in continuous improvement can be lethal. When technology or the marketplace shifts, it’s easy to get better at things people want less.
Basic research. This results in the essential building blocks of innovation to come. It might not have a lot of practical application now but will play an essential role in the technologies, processes and systems of the future.
While most firms are aiming for sustaining innovation, I believe firms need to focus more on breakthrough innovation and even basic research.
Even after the pandemic ends, many events will continue to be virtual, and firms will deliver engagements remotely. The ones that are doing the same thing as everyone else won’t be sustainable. The ones that challenge “best practices” and take chances with new technologies will differentiate themselves from the competition.
Innovators and Laggards
The Rogers Adoption curve is a model that classifies adopters of innovations into five categories, based on the idea that certain individuals are more open to adaptation than others.
Innovators. Roughly 2.5% of the user base for a new product or service are innovators. They’re the first to adopt something because they like experimenting with new toys.
Early adopters. Around 13.5% of the user base are early adopters. They also invest early in new technologies because they’re curious about how to apply it to their lives or work.
Early majority. Just over one-third of users (34%) are part of the early majority. They’re happy to wait until the technical standards have materialized under the influence of early adopters. They like to make sure there are solid agreements about what and how we do things.
Late majority. Another third of users (34%) are part of the late majority. They’re more risk-averse than the early majority and prefer to wait until new products and services have been further designed and developed to be more user-friendly for the mass market.
Laggards. Finally, roughly 16% of users are laggards. They’re technology averse and resistant to change. If they invest in technology at all, it’s because the tech has become so pervasive that they almost have no choice.
I believe most firm leaders fall into the early majority or late majority buckets. They’re willing to try new technologies, but like to see other firms go first so the innovators and early adopters can shoulder the responsibility for experimenting and working out the kinks.
The problem with waiting is that you need new tools for working with your clients now – not a year from now once other firms have tested the daylights of them.
At Boomer Consulting, we’re not just talking about innovation. We’re actually doing it.
One of our largest events of the year is the Boomer Technology Circles Summit. This event brings together firm management professionals, IT professionals, Lean Six Sigma leaders, and solution providers from around the country for a mixture of networking, keynotes, panels, and large and small group discussions.
We’ve been holding many of our smaller Circle meetings over Zoom, and we could have adapted the Summit to fit the Zoom platform. But we didn’t want to go for a base hit. We wanted to swing for the fences and try out a new platform that could more closely replicate the experience of being at the event in person. After considering several different solutions, we selected VirBELA. It provides a virtual expo hall, breakout rooms, an auditorium, and features allowed for everything from keynote presentations to small group discussions and one-on-one conversations.
Was it perfect? No. But our members and sponsors understood that we were using a new platform in strange times. We rolled with the occasional hiccup and had fun experimenting with our avatars in the virtual world. Just check out the #BTCSummit2020 hashtag on Twitter for proof.
Create an Innovation Advancement Committee
So how can you unleash innovation in your firm? Consider creating an Innovation Advancement Committee. This is a cross-functional group that is focused on supplying input for the firm’s overall innovation strategy and program.
When selecting people for your Innovation Advancement Committee, look for people who:
Are out-of-the-box thinkers and willing to change the status quo
Have client-facing roles at the manager, director, and partner level
Have at least 10 years of career “runway” ahead of them
Empower your team to take considered risks when coming up with new ideas or solutions to existing problems. Don’t just look for solutions that take what you’re doing virtual, but ones that question current assumptions.
Don’t just think about now. Think about what comes next and look for better ways of doing things. Remember that success requires experimentation and even failure. Empower people to take risks. If you’re happy with base hits, that’s exactly what you’ll get. But if you swing for the fences, you just might create something amazing for your firm and your clients.
Want to learn more about the Boomer Technology Circles?
Boomer Technology Circles can help break down the walls between firm and IT leaders and bring clarity and strategy to your firm’s technology. Complete an interest form today and one of our Solutions Advisors will reach out to schedule a short call to discuss your needs.
Marc Staut, Chief Innovation & Information Officer at Boomer Consulting, Inc., helps meet the growing needs of CPA firms by leveraging his experience to provide strategic technology assessments, planning, visioning and coaching. He feels that “technology should be an enabler – something that’s approachable, aligned with and integral to the success of each firm.”
Marc is a regular speaker, author and panelist on technology in the accounting profession, cloud computing, mobile technology, leadership and vision.
Prior to joining Boomer, Marc most recently was Principal and CIO at one of the nation's ten largest accounting, tax and advisory firms. With 17 years of experience in accounting technology, he has held many roles and advised firms of all sizes as an industry thought leader.