Ten Innovation Resolutions for 2012

Let’s face it: Last year was a tough one, by all measures. The sluggish global economy and European debt crisis curtailed our confidence, Congress’s behavior scared us all, and the twin trends of a shrinking tax base and runaway health-care costs made it hard to envision a turnaround.

This is precisely why innovation is so critical at this moment. Maneuvering through these uncharted waters requires much more than traditional efforts. Resolve to follow these 10 innovation resolutions that I think you will find valuable for 2012.

1. Spend some of that cash. USA Today recently reported that corporations are sitting on approximately $3 trillion in cash, yet management teams are acting as conservative as ever, trying to squeeze ever-more productivity from their organizations. Has anyone ever heard the expression, “you can’t shrink your way to greatness?” The marketplace doesn’t sit still and neither should you. Don’t ignore the need for systemic innovation if you want to be a leader—and recognize that there are costs attached.

2. Expand your business model. Resolve to uncover one new way to make money per month and you will find yourself with a healthy portfolio of innovation projects to keep you busy all year. You can find inspiration by studying emerging companies that use the power of networks to scale quickly. (What better way to spend some of that cash?)

3. Make a plan to export. According to the U.S. Commerce Dept., less than 1 percent of America’s 30 million companies export. The U.S. lags behind all other developed countries in this regard. With growth slow here at home, why not find new markets in other parts of the world worth your time and attention?

4. Automate. Whether they are personal or business matters, technology exists to automate anything that can be reduced to an algorithm. Consider the opportunity to drive convenience and delight for yourself or your customers by making time-consuming activities easier to manage.

5. Explore a greater number of future scenarios. In a world where “black swan” events seem to happen fairly regularly, you should invest time in looking at how alternate realities could affect your results. Futures modeling that uses a variety of extreme trends can really put you in touch with what could happen—both good and bad.

6. Do a few things very well. Most companies want to do too much. In the process, they starve good ideas by funding marginal ideas at the same time. Steal a play from the Apple book: Pick one thing that matters to your customers that your competitors do miserably and own the world-class solution to it.

7. Become a wizard. Invest time in training yourself on something you find vexing to understand or manage. Social media? Design thinking? Open innovation? Emerging markets? You’ll find no shortage of topics to master if you want to stay ahead of the pack. Treat yourself to some new wisdom.

8. Fight for labor reform. I’ve noticed a common denominator in industries where the U.S. lags in terms of innovation and customer experience: the existence of strong labor unions that have fought to maintain the status quo in the face of dramatically changing market conditions. The health-care, education, and public transportation industries rank among the worst when it comes to putting customers before workers. If we are to stay competitive, these workforces need radical transformation—sooner, rather than later.

9. Hire more millennials. The super-smart, high energy, socially minded, can-do people aged 21-34 are experiencing a very high rate of unemployment at the moment. If you want to revitalize your company with positive energy, look no further for fuel for the fire.

10. Stop doing unproductive stuff. Make room for doing new types of productive things by jettisoning ones that aren’t helping you move ahead in a significant way. Meetings, people, processes, and “duties” all make good candidates for reform or elimination.