01/23/2013 02:05 pm ET Updated Mar 25, 2013

Innovation: Learn to Move When You're Under Stress

There is an old adage that references "a deer being caught in the headlights." The saying refers to what happens to a deer on the road when it's about to get run over by a car -- it freezes dead in its tracks, instead of running out of the way. When we look at many of today's businesses, we are seeing the same exact reaction -- companies, fearful of making a wrong move, freeze innovation in their organizations, dead in its tracks. The assumed hope is that something good will happen if they just wait. But, like the deer, these companies watch themselves get slammed. Companies then react with a flurry of actions meant to repair the resulting damage. So why do companies freeze innovation when they should be moving it further?

The act of innovation is a strange animal. Innovating something is not actually an act in literal terms, but a mindset -- one which guides a person to think in terms of what improves, enhances, streamlines, or fixes problems. Innovation is taking what already exists, and leveraging it towards something better. With all the positive aspects which come with innovation, one would think that companies would be standing in line to get innovation running in their organizations. But to the surprise of many, innovation is seen as more of a buzz concept, meant for only the smallest and most flexible of companies. This theory can be immediately offset just by looking at groups like Apple, which innovates regularly, even though it is a world wide organization.

The fear that companies have about innovation is that the concept is just that - a theoretical, non-tactile, touchy-feely attitude that is difficult to verify, and has no tangible metrics to it. Innovation is not a number, or a rule, or a standard; it is a thought process which, when acted on correctly, generates improvements and enhancements which enable the company to do things better/faster/cheaper. This in turn translates into a better product or service, that is easier to get to end users with a shorter lead time. It is essentially the win-win of business 101.

In times where the economy becomes a vast wasteland of markets which are no longer the fruitful fields of sales and marketing that they once were, companies need to stay flexible and active with respect to innovation. Instead of riding out the storm, companies should be running for higher ground, so that they can survey the fields around them for signs of safe passage. Keep innovation flowing freely in your organization, and leverage it to enable your business to become more adept at handling the changing tides of the economy.

Staying still when the economy is slow, is like a deer waiting for a slow-moving big rig to run it over. Innovation is the key to making your business more attractive to end users, and your bottom line more achievable. Take the initiative to bring innovation to the forefront of your organization, instead of burying it in bureaucratic rules and regulations. Innovation is key to the success of any business.

Because like a deer in the headlights, it only takes a second of standing still, before your business goes from success, to roadkill.