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Change is mandatory; growth is optional: The case for business model innovation

Many people think about innovation in terms of a radical change that disrupts an industry. While many of us dream about disruptive innovations that totally change the way we do business with our clients, the reality is that many of us engage in the practice of changing and improving the way we do things‹we are innovating our business models every day without even realizing we¹re doing it. .

W. Edward Deming once said, ³It is not necessary to change. Survival is not mandatory.² Companies that fail to innovate will fall victim to irrelevance, and ultimately to extinction. Such examples abound in the business world. Just think about Sony¹s Walkman. The once indomitable brand, introduced in 1979, became synonymous with portal music players. Yet, the iconic brand was eventually discontinued in 2010 as the iPod and the Apple Music Store upended the music industry.

Netflix, on the other end, is a good example of a company that changed with the technology and consumer tastes and constantly reinvented itself. It began as an online, mail-order video rental store. As the video streaming technology matured and audience¹s viewing habits changed, Netflix transformed itself into a streaming service. And now, it has reinvented itself yet again to become a media content provider and a legitimate alternative to TV and cable TV. Surveys and studies across different industries show that small businesses are most concerned with growing their business. Not surprisingly, this is true in our industry, as well. Business model innovation is necessary when either we feel that the existing model is not working (obviously), or when we feel that the existing model is not creating enough value or not creating value fast enough.

Yet, change is scary. Change introduces to the unknown. To make a change when revenue and margins are declining is one thing. To make a change when the business is healthy and prosperous takes courage‹the courage to do what is necessary.

The conventional wisdom is, ³don¹t fix what¹s not broken². I propose to turn the conventional wisdom on its head. Fixing what¹s not broken is not only necessary but also desirable. It is not change for change¹s sake, but the aim to change for the better.

As business owners and executives, we must embrace the unknown and be willing to fix a problem that has yet to happen. To paraphrase Deming, for us as business owners and entrepreneurs, change is mandatory; growth, on the other hand, is optional.

Business model innovation is not an exercise of throwing darts in the dark. There are sound, proven methodologies for facilitating and managing change. One such methodology is the business model canvas. The canvas is effectively a framework to gather and mix a palette of ingredients needed for success. These ingredients include, among other things, customer, revenue stream, resources, channels, value proposition, and cost structure. By taking a structured, methodical approach to business model innovation, language companies can increase their prospect for introducing positive changes.

Steve Chu is the President of Treehouse Strategy, an integrated management consulting firm specializing in helping translation companies grow and get to the next level.

Steve will be speaking on the second day of the 2016 Language Industry Summit taking place in London 22/23 September.

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