Throughout my career, I have been able to observe that one of the major keys to success, from both a company and career standpoint, is the ability to constantly improve through an undying commitment to innovate.
Brian Davis, ‘97, finance, poses with his Aggie avatar. (Image Courtesy Brian Davis)
Innovation is what sets good companies and individuals apart. Innovation is the lifeblood of both new and established ventures.
As Apple CEO Steve Jobs said, “Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.”
I’d like to briefly outline two major ways we can innovate to enhance our careers and distinguish ourselves as coveted business leaders.
My company makes lifelike electronic people called avatars that can be downloaded and introduced into online communities where they can be controlled to interact with other people who have also created their own avatars. Your avatar goes into a world of alter egos where life can be very different than what we know. For example, you can manipulate your avatar to make yourself instantly fat, skinny or muscular. With the development of new technologies, avatars are becoming more lifelike. In fact, good 3D artists can develop avatars so realistic that their images can be mistaken for real photos.
Through our innovation, we will bring the use of avatars from a niche group of markets (artists, 3D hobbyists) to mainstream applications (games, virtual worlds, enterprise applications). It is our vision that someday, in the not too distant future, the majority of individuals who use the Web will have a digital identity.
Similarly, as individuals we must have a vision of where we want to take our careers. What do we truly find interesting? What gives us passion for the day when we wake up in the morning? What trends are we seeing in the marketplace that are enduring? To be truly successful, it is not only critical to immerse ourselves in solid industries that show growth and have staying power, but we must also engage in activities that are interesting and exciting. When was the last time you excelled at something you didn’t like? Envision where you want to be, formulate the plan to get there and then pursue it relentlessly.
Change is inevitable, and because of change we must innovate. In a dynamic, fast-moving economy, those who don’t accept and manage change are doomed to failure. As GE’s former CEO, Jack Welch declared, “change before you have to.”
The importance of accepting and managing change is highlighted in the context of the major revolution the photography industry has experienced in the past decade with the advent of digital cameras. As a photographer, this technology may cause a certain amount of angst due to the wave of new, amateur photographers looking to steal market share.
While recognizing that this technology will produce change in the industry, photography professionals who innovate will realize that the potentially disruptive technology may actually provide new opportunities to differentiate services, highlight core competencies and more distinctly define competitive advantages. An innovative photographer will ask the question of how they can compete in a way that amateurs simply can’t. In short, innovators will view the technology as an opportunity to accelerate and refine their business. Those who don’t innovate will wither and eventually go out of business.
The same principle applies to professionals in all fields. Change is inevitable and may ultimately have a disruptive effect on your career. What differentiates highly successful business leaders from the ordinary ones is their ability to not only accept change, but to address it and formulate ways by which the change can actually be beneficial to them.
In a global economy, the competition among business professionals has become fiercer than at any other time in history. While this competition can be daunting, the market will always place a significant premium on business leaders who are willing to be innovative. In our careers, if we are visionary and are willing to embrace change, we can adapt and even thrive in today’s fast-paced, competitive global marketplace.