21/11/2013 06:14 GMT | Updated 25/01/2014 16:01 GMT

Avoiding 'Second Album Syndrome'- Innovation Lessons From Creative Industries

Whether you are a businesses, a band or a creative entrepreneur, sometimes when you start off with a big hit it can be hard to reach the same highs the second time around. It's the classic so called 'second album syndrome'. It is always a challenge to follow up a great success in any sector, whether it's in entertainment, a high street store or business to business software.

So how can you avoid the so called curse of the follow up and keep innovating successfully?


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Whilst people crave the 'shock of the new', the reality is that firms don't always need to constantly tear up the rule book. But it is true that "if you want something new, you have to stop doing something old," as Peter Drucker said.

Take Apple. It can be said that they've taken a few big leaps in design followed by many small hops in evolution. Even the big hits were an amalgamation of technologies that Apple showed whose time had come. Apple's innovation was to identify, package and deliver them in a truly innovative way. There are different types of innovation. And as Steve Jobs said, "Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower."

Not everything does, can or should 'break the mould' every single time, as long as there is a demonstrable improvement. Sometimes what people want is 'more of the same, just better' (Steve Jobs once said, "It's really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don't know what they want until you show it to them").

After disruptive or discontinuous innovation often comes continuous innovation. If you have a winning formula backed by good people it can be these smaller incremental steps that build loyalty and long term success. New iterations demonstrate stability and give a business' staying power based on remaining close to the needs of customers.

Any firm in the business of selling goods or services that run on a theme or lie in a series faces the same challenge. If the first offering was a hit people want it to retain the core features that made it a success, but they also want it to build upon that foundation in new ways. And sometimes they say one thing but really want another! Squaring that circle is a never-ending challenge.

Continuous innovation is a way of staying relevant to your customers, taking them on a journey with you and not alienating them with frequent or extreme changes that they'll need time to adjust to. Many businesses work in this way to some degree, whether or not they know it.

Success in continuous innovation is about putting a process in place to maintain the delivery of innovation. When a business rewards fresh ideas and makes them easy to incubate by putting the best processes in place they create a strong culture of innovation. A great example of this is at Bose where Dr. Amar Bose encouraged creativity and research and allowed great ideas to be incubated for as long as it took the technology to mature, leading to high quality goods in diverse fields.

One process that Sage holds to is to 'keep talking to your customers'. Similarly, the entertainment industries have their play testers, focus groups and test screenings. It sounds simple, but managing the right amount of communication to customers, soliciting feedback and informing them about new solutions and offers, legislative changes and so on, is a challenge. You don't want too little or too much communication, it needs to be just right.

But businesses also need to remember that everything can be changed and sometimes it should be. Sometimes it can be the most innovative move to decide on a brave new direction, when the time is right. And right now, many software firms are keen to bring out online versions of their software to allow customers to work in new, flexible ways. Depending on the solution, some of these are more disruptive and some are more 'continuous', but each shows a process of innovative care and attention when done correctly.

With good processes, the right people and a love for innovation in all its forms, businesses can deliver innovation that continually delights customers - and online or cloud software has become a big part of how innovation occurs in many businesses.

All entrepreneurs should note the power the cloud brings to those who want to deliver continuous innovation, continuous customer communication and, when done right, continuous success.