When should you be innovating?

When should you be innovating?

When should you be optimizing, taking advantage of what you’ve already got?

Innovation and optimization are companions. They’re complementary. You innovate something new, something untested, and then you see how it works. In the beginning, you test. You put in a lot of effort and the results you get are promising, but nothing to write home about. Maybe it’s the first day you sign up for Twitter. Maybe it’s the first time you install Google Analytics.

You start to see some better results as you gain proficiency with tactics, tools, and methods. Now you’re getting results that pay for themselves by most metrics, indicators that the thing you’re doing has momentum. Now it’s time to optimize.

You optimize and get stellar results, but as the easy gains are taken off the table, you have to become more effective, more strategic, more capable with the tools and tactics in order to keep seeing the same levels of growth and same results.

After a while, no matter how proficient you are, you start to see diminishing returns for your efforts. At a certain point, the diminishing returns cause growth to plateau. You can’t possibly throw more money, time, or energy at your new thing in order to make it grow. This is also the point where many people get frustrated and burnt out. Banging your head against a wall is no fun, nor is it productive.

When is it time to optimize? When is it time to innovate? The easiest way to make that determination is to look in your metrics, in your analytics. Keep track of time or budget, then using a basic spreadsheet, plot the results you get against your resources expended. You will likely have a chart that looks like this after all is said and done:

The Innovation Optimization Lifecycle

If you don’t have any real way of plotting effort expended versus results driven, there are emotional indicators on the chart that roughly correspond to how you might feel at any point in the cycle. You’re much better off with real metrics, though. Even if you just plot traffic to your blog vs. time spent blogging & promoting your blog, that’s a far better objective metric than gut feeling.

The most important part of this chart is to recognize when it’s time to innovate. If you innovate too soon, you leave juicy gains on the table. Abandoning ship makes no sense if the ship isn’t sinking. If you innovate too late, you burn yourself out or you burn your team out and then getting them restarted in order to innovate requires herculean effort.

Take the time to assess where you are with your efforts in any one particular method, whether it’s Twitter, mobile marketing, Facebook Fan Pages, swordfighting, gearing for PvP in World of Warcraft, whatever. Take the time and see where you are in the innovation-optimization lifecycle, and you could spare yourself an incredible amount of frustration and get yourself on track for the innovation you need to succeed.


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