Why Companies Should Never Stop Innovating: Lessons in ‘Becoming’ Versus ‘Being’

JAN 09, 2014

Do you know what you want to be when you grow up? Adults sometimes joke that they are still trying to figure that out. When your parents asked you that question when you were a kid, you probably had a pretty quick answer. You might even still remember what it was.

For most of us, when we “grew up” those dreams of our youth often got thrown out because of the need to be more practical or make money. The problem is that it leaves many of us with that feeling that maybe, just maybe, we settled.

The same is true of tech companies. They may have a rough sketch of where they are going — and they may even have some blockbuster products or solutions — but without an eye toward the future, and a strategy for meeting the needs and challenges of tomorrow, they will cease to be relevant.

While the rules of business are more complex than how our childhood career dreams have played out today, there are some fundamental lessons that still apply. Companies are founded with a specific goal in mind, or a market challenge that they seek to address. Maybe this is a new solution to make sense of big data, or a more effective use of cloud, a new approach to enterprise mobility, or security, or any number of other technologies or problems CIOs wrestle with on a daily basis.

Companies generally fall down when they get too comfortable and stop innovating, when today’s problems are replaced with new ones that we can no longer address. When this happens, we have a choice of whether to “become” something else, continue “being” something comfortable, and familiar.

Just ask Kodak. Ask DEC. Ask SUN Microsystems. Ask Google or Apple or Yahoo. Watch what Netapp, Riverbed, and F5 do. Look at EMC, VMware, Cisco, and Symantec. Look at Silicon Valley. Which companies are happy “being” who are they, and which ones are always focused on “becoming” something more in order to meet tomorrow’s challenges, and stay relevant and competitive in a changing landscape.

In working on a recent speech for my company, I started really thinking about what my answer was to the question: What do I want to be when I grow up? Then I wondered, what if I’ve already achieved this goal? What next?

I would imagine that many entrepreneurs and business leaders who have sold companies they were once passionate about have experienced the dread that comes with asking “what next”?

You see “being” something is totally uninspiring. It implies that there is an end to purpose when the goal is accomplished. I struggle to be happy just “being.” I want to become something and to continue “becoming” something.

Upon reaching this thought of “Becoming” versus “Being” I started to try testing the truth of the idea. You might have reached your goals and are super busy every day going to work and “being” something. You might be one of the absolute best at “being” in your whole office/company.

Maybe you have learned all you need to learn to master your specific craft. How many people do you think would want to work for you? How many people that are currently working for you do you think are inspired by you?

What about a company? Is the company you are working for or running focused on “Being” something or “Becoming” something? If you were hunting for a job right now and the only criteria you could make the decision on was “being” or “becoming” which company would you pick?

I am not saying which is better; I am trying to constantly challenge myself and my peers to learn more about leadership. I want to “become” a great leader. I want my company to focus on adding value with our new offerings and becoming more relevant to our clients.

I would choose to work at a company that is focused on becoming something. I think “A” players want to work and mentor under people they can learn from. I think they are inspired by people that are constantly striving for greatness.

I work at a company that by most all standards is wildly successful, even through many ups and down. That said, I am pretty sure the company will be out of business in three years if it does not become something more. It needs to evolve.

Hayes Drumwright, founder of Trace3, leads fundraising for Project Hope School.

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