Getting Started with Innovation
Innovation is often used to describe the act of doing something new, creative and risky. This definition - especially the part about risk - may not align with traditional accounting ideals. But consider this, if you are not the disruptor, you will likely get disrupted. Innovation may seem risky, but ignoring it could prove fatal. Given the magnitude and speed of change throughout the world, innovation is a necessity for your career, your clients and the profession. Done well, embracing innovation can help reduce risk as you cast a keen eye on what lies ahead rather than hold on to the past. Let’s explore three simple steps (plus a bonus step) to get started with innovation.
Step 1 - Look Around
Notice and observe some of the macro-level trends and changes affecting you, your firm and/or your clients. For example, mobile computing is growing faster than desktop computing; the sharing economy, which includes Uber and Lyft, is rapidly growing; and demographic shifts are underway as Millennials make up an increased percentage of the workforce.
Identifying and assessing the effects of these trends and others on your clients or business can help you better understand where the future lies. The renowned hockey player Wayne Gretzky is attributed as saying, “I skate to where the puck is going to be, not to where it has been.” Heeding this advice in business may help you find the best opportunities.
Step 2 - Focus
Effective innovations are focused and strategically important for your stakeholders. They hone in on specific problems or opportunities related to a specific audience. Innovations that do not solve a problem or address a customer need often fail because of lack of relevance. Innovations that try to be everything to everyone often fail due to lack of specificity.
Consider where your business is going, its mission, its vision and its strategic priorities. What problems do your customers have? What jobs do they need to get done? What are the growth priorities of your business? What does your business want to be known for? Focus your innovation efforts on these answers.
Step 3 - Experiment
The crux of innovation is to create value. For your client, your firm, society, yourself. Value may be in the form of saving time, saving money, increasing revenue, increasing customer satisfaction, making a specific task easier or less repetitive, etc. Coming up with new ideas by itself does not create value. Value is created when ideas are implemented and a problem is solved.
Breaking through the fear of failure to implement new ideas can be difficult, even for seasoned professionals. So rather than trying to implement an idea all at once, consider doing short, quick, inexpensive experiments. This allows you to fail early, learn, and then conduct the next experiment with the newfound knowledge. This build-measure-learn cycle is how many Google products were built. For example, the first version of Gmail was built in just one day and has been continuously improved upon ever since.
BONUS Step - Share with the Profession
People learn from each other. As someone working in the accounting profession, with an interest in innovation, you have a unique perspective on the future of accounting. The profession needs to hear from you!
Harkening back to the macro level trends, we see several big challenges facing all of us, including hiring and retaining top talent, adoption of blockchain and artificial intelligence, transformation of the finance roles, keeping up with increasing regulatory complexity and adapting to major demographic shifts. What are your thoughts on how the profession should proactively address these?
The AICPA Innovation Team is looking for up to five accounting professionals to speak at AICPA ENGAGE about a topic of their choice relating to the future of accounting. Are you a visionary? Do you have bold, inspiring, thought provoking and actionable ideas about the future of the profession? Check out IdeaAcct for details and to enter your name for consideration as a speaker. The conference is scheduled for June 12-15 in Las Vegas.
Mark S. Brooks, Senior Manager-Innovation, Association of International Certified Professional Accountants
Emma Sadowski, Analyst-Innovation, Association of International Certified Professional Accountants