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Driving Innovation and Vision in a Rapidly-Evolving Industry

Marc Crawford
Posted by Marc Crawford
on 08/10/17 03:11 PM

Marc Crawford is the CEO and Co-Founder of Educational Measures and sets the strategic direction for the company. Prior to working at Educational Measures, Marc was a management consultant at Keane Consulting Group. He received his Bachelors of Business Administration degree from Loyola University in Maryland and his Masters in Business Administration degree from the University of Colorado. Marc was recognized in 2012 as a Top 5 Most Influential Young Professional by ColoradoBiz magazine and is Six Sigma certified. Marc is an avid runner and he also enjoys designing and making his kids' halloween costumes every year.

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Success in any industry hinges on innovation. Staying current and adapting to change is the formula for survival—especially in the technology field.

At EM, we approach innovation through our established R&D department, but in the beginning, this was not the case.

When we were a young and scrappy company and a customer requested a new feature or different functionality, we scrambled to deliver. We wanted to please everyone all the time, but ultimately this made us more like short-order cooks, not chefs with refined cuisine. 

Strategic vision is essential for effective innovation. Without it, companies lose identity in the frenzy.

As a result of early failures, we developed a process to approach innovation in a way that benefits both our company and our customers.

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Where does innovation come from? 

Many companies exist in a vacuum of practical application. They engineer solutions from afar, but rarely have the opportunity to see what is happening on the ground.

As a software company in the live meeting space, our best ideas come from the road. From salespeople to meeting technicians, our people bring fresh ideas from seeing our technology in use every day.

In addition to their official roles, they act as scouts, easily identifying changes in the market and evaluating ways that we can improve our own platform. They can also see the needs of our customers up-close which allows us to develop better solutions.

Beyond this first-hand experience, inspiration can strike in a number of other places. From internal research to web searches and trade magazines, we are constantly on the hunt for new ideas that can elevate our core competencies.

How do we pursue it?

We are a company made up of creative thinkers, so we are not lacking innovation. But even brilliant ingenuity grows best within limits.

In order to distill the great ideas from the merely good ones, or the good but not good for us ones, we needed a formal process that infused strategy into that inspiration.

We developed our own version of Ash Maurya’s “Lean Canvas”, a process that first places the burden of vetting on the person with the idea. From technicians to executives, no one is exempt from this system of checks and balances. If we chased every idea that came along, we would be distracted from our core competencies, spinning our wheels and spending our resources on concepts that do not provide ultimate benefits 

In this framework, people must spend enough time with their concept to determine if it fits with who we are as a company and aligns with what we are trying to do.

If the idea endures this initial gauntlet, we put it through R&D to be explored further. Here, internal and external people bounce ideas off one another to further refine the concept.

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Even if an idea makes it through R&D, it is not a definitive addition to our platform. We learned this the hard way.

Several years ago, we developed a SaaS product. It seemed like a great idea and our whole team was excited. After investing significant time and resources into building and officially launching it, we realized more than a few problems that we had overlooked. 

In our rush to make this great idea a reality, we failed to recognize the level of maintenance it would require. Updates to hardware and ongoing customer support would drain our resources as a company and demand attention that would ultimately distract us from what we really do.

Although painful, we discontinued the product. From this experience, we recognized just how extensively we need to research ideas and pilot them before making them operational.

Innovation is exciting and necessary, but it must be pursued in the right way.

You can be good at many things or great at a few. In business, creative ideas offer a constant temptation to do everything for everyone. It takes self-control to know that just because you can doesn’t mean that you should.

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