On The Courage to Innovate

I’m a brand strategist, working primarily with large consumer packaged goods corporations in the US. I’ve always regarded these companies as innovators who deftly created products and brands that became irreplaceable in our lives and grew to become the backbone of the marketplace. But lately, I’ve come to a daunting realization: what exists today within these same organizations is a just a shadow of the entrepreneurial spirit that made them great.

Brands today must do much more than be useful and accessible; they must elevate our bodies, minds and spirits through whole, clean ingredients. They must strive for the greater good, positively impacting communities and reaching people wherever they are, online and off. A new generation of start-ups is doing just this. And at the same time, they are disrupting the original innovators who sadly became complacent after years of success.

Today I’m observing a lot of entrepreneurial experiments at large corporations as they work to regain their footing in the marketplace. But in many cases it’s not a true rallying cry. As Dan Sullivan, the renowned strategic coach says, there are four tenets to successful entrepreneurialism. He calls them the four C’s:

1. Commitment: to move forward

2. Courage:to do something that is scary, frightening

3. Capability:ability

4. Confidence:which comes with success

I believe the core attribute lacking in most big companies is COURAGE. Granted, courage is not often fun and it doesn’t necessarily feel good. It means facing fears head-on, dealing with them honestly and making changes accordingly. Courage also means facing uncertain outcomes. Big companies often try to mitigate failure by relying solely on “big data” to provide guidance or answers. It’s prudent to seek knowledge, but it takes guts to look at things clearly and make tough decisions.

One company that has shown COURAGE is PepsiCo. It’s actually helping those of us trying to get over the soda addiction (yes I’m a Diet Pepsi addict), with a new brand called Drinkfinity. Drinkfinity is “the new shape of water” as Fast Company says. It’s regular water with flavor pods and to develop this new brand, PepsiCo “broke with the formula it has used to create new recipes and products for more than 100 years,” according to Fast Company. It pulled its team out of corporate headquarters, installing them in a co-working space, it altered its usual testing protocol, which inspired key design changes, then solicited feedback from more than 4000 employees. It also launched on its own e-commerce site in February, rather than launching in the traditional grocery channel.

As Drinkfinity demonstrates, courage can help us reconnect with our original commitments and guiding principles. It can allow us to reassess our abilities and seek alternative solutions to previously successful methods. And most importantly, it’s courage that helps us to be confident, transparent, and to approach our work with something that makes all the difference: whole-hearted enthusiasm!