As I watched a Rudy Giuliani press conference on Saturday, I was transported back nearly 20 years to the closure of a small chain of Boots Wellbeing stores.

Giuliani’s press call was at the Four Seasons in Philadelphia. No, not the luxury hotel, but Four Seasons Total Landscaping, a small gardening business located in a suburb of the city, between a cemetery and a sex shop.

It was clear that someone had made a ‘slight’ error in the booking. Undaunted, however, Rudy and his colleagues ignored that fact and, like the band on The Titanic, continued to play their tune as the press conference sank.

Which brings me back to Boots Wellbeing. The lesson is this: if something is not working, stop. And then fix it, quickly.

Back in 2000, Boots, in a bid to differentiate itself from UK grocers, had invested in an initiative to offer customers a range of Wellbeing services, including dentistry, physiotherapy and homeopathy in some of their larger stores.

I thought that health and wellbeing services was an interesting idea for Boots to pursue – and still do. Early results were not encouraging, however, but rather than pause investment, fix the issues, change the business model and try something more suitable, Boots’ management simply opened more locations. In the end it took a change in CEO and a £100 million write-off to bring the project to an end.

Boots is not alone. Ten years later, for example, Tesco burned over $1 billion on its failed US brand, Fresh & Easy, which it had continued to invest in for several years despite the brand’s consistent failure to meet its trading targets.

Hubris, arrogance and a desire not to lose face are perhaps one of the biggest risks to innovation (and political press conferences). Not everything will work. In fact, most new ideas won’t, at least not in the first set of iterations.

As a result, humility, honesty and a commitment to rapid cycles of testing, learning and improving are critical to the success of any innovation initiative.

And that’s true, whatever the season.

Off The Record: Let’s Hang On (To What We’ve Got) by Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons (of course!)

Let’s hang on to what we’ve got

Don’t let go, girl, we’ve got a lot

Got a lot of love between us

Hang on, hang on, hang on – to what we’ve got

Fixing The Innovation Gap

Though 80% of CEOs believe innovation is critical to their organisation’s success, only 6% are satisfied with what’s being delivered. Fixing The Innovation Gap gives you practical steps to improve your organisation’s ability to develop and run an innovation system that works.

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© Stuart Cross 2020. All rights reserved.