Stop Trying to Innovate With Your Content

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“Innovate! Disrupt! Your company’s future depends on it!” To me, this ubiquitous advice has always sounded as doable as, “Leap that tall building in a single bound!”

What a relief, then, to hear someone widely recognized as one of the most important voices in content strategy say, “Stop trying to innovate.” Kristina Halvorson wove that message into her talk at Content Marketing World. Instead of aiming for innovation, here’s what Kristina advises marketers to do:

Improve on what you’re already doing with your content. Then improve on it again. That’s where your competitive advantage lies. That’s where your success lies.

Listen. Improve. Repeat.

Now there’s something a mortal marketer can do.

How do you decide which content-related improvements to make? And how do you track your progress as you make one improvement after another? The rest of this article explores those two questions.

Look for ‘adjacent possibilities’ for improvement

Kristina’s message isn’t new. Product designers and manufacturers have followed the principles of continual improvement (popularly but less accurately called continuous improvement) for decades. The idea is that innovation comes not from striving for breakthroughs but from making one incremental change after another.

Expressing this idea in a memorable way in a talk at the Delight conference for user-experience designers in 2014, Forrester Research vice president James McQuivey said:

Don’t try to build the future. Build an adjacent possibility. Build the next thing people need. Let the future find you.

Adjacent possibilities. In two words, James pegs innovation as an evolutionary process. In fact, in an article in Harvard Business Review, he points out that the man who coined the term was an evolutionary biologist.

In the same article, James gives business strategists this advice:

Direct your team to obsess about today’s adjacent possibilities, not tomorrow’s distant improbabilities … There is no way you will anticipate all the adjacent possibilities that will have to combine (over the long term) to accurately predict what products you will sell or how you will sell them that far out. That’s not for lack of intelligence on your part. It’s because most of those adjacent possibilities on which you will ultimately depend have yet to emerge from the combination of other adjacencies on which they will depend.

In his intro to a recent This Old Marketing podcast, discussing the difficulty of making long-term predictions, CMI Chief Content Adviser Robert Rose said something similar:

Instead of looking out for (what’s) coming over the horizon … we can succeed more by really getting good at identifying … trends that are here. Because then you’re not standing in the intersection trying to predict what’s the next kind of truck that will come around the corner and mow you down in the street. You’re looking at what’s in front of you and to either side and becoming better at crossing the street.

What kind of adjacent possibilities – possibilities right “in front of you and to either side” – might you explore today to improve your content processes? Kristina essentially answered that question when she suggested that marketers identify content strategy activities…