5 Innovations That Could Save Your Company’s Life

Avoid the "death march" of corporate sameness.

Robin Hensley | UPS

Robin Hensley

Robin Hensley

There are few more dangerous places for a radical idea than at a company where group think is allowed to run roughshod over innovation.

Let’s face it — a strong company culture can be a difficult environment for a new concept. There’s good reason for that dynamic.

In order to maintain itself, a corporate culture requires constant reinforcement. Stability, history, tradition – these are important values in corporate life.

But when held sacrosanct, those very characteristics impede innovation. Now more than ever, major companies are facing business disruptions and new ideas are needed to stay relevant.

It’s time to undercut sameness and over support creativity. Those people at your company with strange ideas? The ones who might seem like “non-team players” – what if they are actually our future heroes?

Let me tell you the story of the army ants.

Stepping Out of Line

Group think, blind allegiance and conformity got you down? Meet the army ant.

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Those people at your company with strange ideas? The ones who might seem like “non-team players” – what if they are actually our future heroes? 

Army ants are blind. To survive, they follow each other via a pheromone trail.

Sometimes an ant will lose the scent of the pheromone trail and wander away from the rest of the group. The ants behind it will follow and eventually form a continuous rotating circle. They will march like this without stopping, even to their death.

But on occasion, an ant manages to break away from death march, perhaps even by accident. She steps off course, creating a new path for the ants to follow. Her radical departure ends up saving the entire group as they break out of the death march.

Just like the army ants, it’s important to realize that when we blindly follow a business as usual, traditional course, without exploring new paths and new technologies, we are in danger of joining a death march.

We are all at risk of being outdated or replaced and need to develop and implement innovation. Here’s how.

[Also on Longitudes: Six Words That Can Hurt Your Company]

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Stop following the pheromone trail and step off course. It just might lead to innovation.

Five Ways to Avoid the Death March

1. Know your competitors, especially the small competitors. Look for competitors outside of your industry. A competitor that operates on a small scale today could put you out of business tomorrow. What are they doing that you’re not thinking of?

2. Listen to ideas from all levels in the organization and don’t restrict ideas to certain roles. For example, a technological idea does not always come from the technology department, and a marketing idea does not always come from the marketing department. Leaders should encourage collaborations across departments to brainstorm new ideas.

3. Determine the trigger events or tipping points for your business that would cause you to make a change. It could cause a turn around. For example, if you would not invest in a new technology such as mobile devices because of the price, at what price point would you consider it viable? Or, if you are thinking about investing in creating a social community for customer self-help and feedback but do not have a good return on investment model for it, would the ROI change if you experienced a product recall event requiring immediate, broad customer engagement?

4. Create and review a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis on your business. How can you take more advantage of your unique strengths? For example, if you have unique data about a specific neighborhood or part of the world because your sales and service teams are there daily, what else could you do with the data? Could it become another revenue stream? Do you see any immediate threats that need attention? This question can also be phrased as, “what keeps you up at night”? Revisit the list at least monthly because the market, technologies, and customer expectations are changing quickly.

5. Imagine what the business looked like if it was 100% digital, including every customer touch point. How would it change your business? How would it impact your business if your competitor was 100% digital? Raise that question in meetings, and watch people open up to new ideas.

To embrace innovation, we must stop being frightened or offended by new ideas or processes that may disrupt our thought processes or work life.

Stop following the pheromone trail and step off course. It just might lead to innovation. goldbrown2

Robin Hensley is Sr. Director & Applications Manager, Customer Relationship Management (CRM)

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Reprinted with permission of Longitudes, the UPS blog devoted to the trends shaping the global economy.


  1. Kenneth Mayer

    I’ve seen the ‘death march’ described again and again as I’ve had the opportunity to visit with businesses from various industries. I’ve seen it most often when senior leadership controls business functions so closely that the management teams they’ve hired are empowered to do little more than maintain spreadsheets. It’s a two-edged sword because often these dictatorial leaders have reputations for getting the job done well but there is little room for innovation. I recall making observations and offering recommendations to companies, even simple ones, to mid-level managers only to be told that what I’m suggesting makes total sense but that the senior leadership would never agree to it because of some real or perceived business rule maintained by a senior leader. The fear of mentioning a better way of doing something stops them from even making the attempt; the sad thing is they’ve learned to respond like that for their own self-preservation. On the other hand, where senior leaders trust their teams they are rewarded for innovation. Those are the companies that are happy to escalate recommendations and they thrive. They seem unstoppable.

  2. Lonzell Wilson

    The answer to the question as to why we do something should never simply be…because we have always done it this way. If we can’t constantly explain the methodology behind a process, maybe we should look for a new process that can be explained….
    Robin – thanks for the reminder.

  3. Niels

    So true, group think is a dangerous thing when innovation is amhst to survive these days. Research shows thatMentally Tough individuals show less group think

    Food for thought!
    Niels van Hove,
    Mental Toughness Master trainer

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