• Phil Roos

Innovation & Growth in a Tumultuous Age

After a tumultuous year that saw the Brexit vote and a paradigm-shifting U.S. election call into question common assumptions, I’ve been thinking a lot about the disruptions we all face – global, national, local, and within organizations and industries that drive our economy and future. And confronting this reality brought renewed purpose to my life and the role of the firm I started two years ago, leading me to a clear point of view and approach:

Disruption is going to happen to us all, and we should plan on it sooner rather than later. One of the core elements driving these changes is technology, so it is fitting that Silicon Valley represents both a key source of disruption and a model [even if imperfect] for how collaborative innovation can keep us on the right side of transformation. Many industries are lagging behind in adapting to this new world, but GrowthWorks is devoted to helping organizations navigate a rapidly changing world.

Whether or not you dismiss “disruption” as a buzzword, I assure you challenges to the status quo are coming. There’s hardly an organization out there – public or private sector – that doesn’t need to dramatically rethink how they approach innovation. GrowthWorks is dedicated to helping everyone, large or small, for-profit or non-profit, not simply survive the coming changes but thrive on them.

By analyzing innovation-rich areas like Silicon Valley that led industry transformation through consumer-minded technological developments, we’re left with the conviction that many of the sectors and organizations nearest and dearest to us are lagging far behind. It won’t be easy for anything so entrenched to alter course, but from today forward we are laying out a path to help achieve just that. As a first step, that means harnessing technology and the power of collaboration to innovate more efficiently and effectively.


We’re living in an inflection point in human history. I’ve shared five key dynamics changing the world, our economy, the way we relate to one another, and – closer to home for GrowthWorks – the way in which organizations innovate and grow. Of these, the pace of technological change in particular has had an accelerating impact on the others, not only through the more efficient production and movement of goods, but also by facilitating human interaction. The ways in which recent technological advancements have shifted both the means of discourse and access to information is profound. And we’re feeling the impact, be it in politics, business, or leisure.


If there’s one area that has come to represent innovation today, it’s Silicon Valley. It’s not that this region has pioneered some magic approach to innovation as an isolated endeavor. Rather, the culture and mindset permeating all aspects of business create an ecosystem where innovation flourishes.

Silicon Valley has modeled a new way of doing business that led to arguably the most powerful industry ever known. Much has been documented about the tech industry that began in that stretch from San Francisco to San Jose and the role that venture capital and proximity to top universities as a source of talent and ideas have played, but there are several intangibles evolved over time to facilitate unprecedented innovation:

  1. Willingness to take on measured risk, using beta testing and “failing fast” as approaches to quickly get to a successful innovation

  2. Thinking big, pursuing not only scalable platforms, but also visions that cross industries and aim to change the world

  3. An “open source” outlook on innovation, sharing platforms with others in the industry to foster simultaneous competition and collaboration that makes things happen faster (and better)

  4. Willingness to tap other industries and what I’ll call the “creator/maker” market to fuel innovation – e.g. creative individuals who’ve created an explosion of products and solutions (think of the App market and Kickstarter) that companies could never have accomplished on their own.


While Silicon Valley’s ecosystem is difficult to replicate, the principles that ecosystem is built upon could benefit countless other industries if they have the courage to let go of their old way of thinking. Silicon Valley is a more than a location or set of successful companies. It is a mindset, a culture, and it’s this intangible quality that gives it such endurance in a rapidly transforming world.

Industry transformation has been most pronounced where a new competitor entered using an innovative approach built on the principles outlined above. In many cases, leveraging technology platforms made products and services available more quickly and cheaply than existing offerings.

Many companies and platforms associated with disruption, have masterfully tapped the source of arguably the most cutting-edge and authentic innovation: the creator/maker market. Depending on the industry, that may mean indie artists, craftsmen or artisans, individual operators (as with Uber, Lyft and AirBNB), proprietors or chefs e.g. (in food service), or software developers. They’re the people trying new things on a small scale, experimenting with more future-forward ideas that may well play a role in shaping the way we live in the coming years.


While creator/maker-sourced innovation has been transforming many industries, for some, entrenched ways of doing business have slowed adoption, such as the industry where I cut my teeth: CPG, or consumer packaged goods. In many segments of CPG, the fastest (sometimes only) growth segment is the artisan, gourmet, healthy, or sustainable arena owned or inspired by the creators/makers. “Big CPG” has shown itself largely incapable of developing these products internally, leading many to launch their own in-house venture capital groups to buy creator/maker businesses that are more responsive to the emerging needs of consumers.

I could write a book about the barriers to Big CPG doing inspired, market-driven innovation on its own – from entrenched and antiquated distribution channels (particularly in food and beverage), to clinging to the remnants of a disappearing “big brand advertising model” that was in vogue in the 1960s and 70s, from the risk aversion that leads to line extensions and not “big idea” products or broader platforms, to a “closed-source” approach to innovation that worries more about competition than collaboration. But, suffice it to say that Big CPG has not been successful in tapping the sources of inspired innovation that will change the world for the better and give consumers what they are desperately seeking.

If they will not provide that change, there are others who have already begun to do so. Amazon shook things up by taking bricks-and-mortar out of the equation, only to disrupt things again by reintroducing physical retail outlets such as Amazon Go and Amazon Books. And they’re not the only ones transforming grocery shopping. Whole Foods continues to change the game for both customers and suppliers. Walmart is trying to stay competitive by acquiring Jet.com but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Other online suppliers are offering experiences through curated subscriptions or boasting better value by cutting out waste and middlemen (think of Harry’s razors, leading to Unilever’s acquisition of the Dollar Shave club in response). As once strictly digital brands are exploring new possibilities in bricks-and-mortar, retailers of cars, electronics, fitness clothes, books, coffee, and watches are frantically re-crafting a raison d’ȇtre around retail as an experience rather than consumption as an end in itself.

CPG is not the only one with barriers to a more expansive approach to innovation and growth. In a number of industries in which we work, including areas as disparate as health care, retail, automotive, non-profit and governments we see a slow pace of change even as many of those industries are already in the midst of disruptive change. I see many non-profits pursuing truly inspirational, positive missions that are stuck in old ways of thinking, unable to make the most of open-sourced, collaborative approaches that tap the inspired genius of their own version of creator/makers. I see government institutions and cultures created over decades (and in some facets, hundreds of years) not surprisingly struggling with ways to be responsive to the critical needs of their citizens in a world of changing economics, a climate crisis threatening our existence, and the potential for individuals or small groups to inflict massive destruction.


Over time, we have a grand vision for playing a major role in helping organizations to transform the way in which they innovate and strategies they follow in order to grow, realize their own purpose, and make their own mark in the world. In the near-term – and I mean right now – we are ready to bring our clients a new approach to innovation we’ve been piloting over the past couple of years. It’s inspired by some of the best practices from Silicon Valley, but adaptable to any industry. It leverages technology where it makes sense, but maintains a human, hands-on approach as well. Importantly, it expands the network organizations can access when they seek new ideas and innovation – including the creator/maker market, entrepreneurs, investors, designers, experts, and many other sources of expertise and inspiration.

So, plan on experiencing disruption – now or sometime soon. Plan on old rules for doing business no longer applying. Plan on needing to change the way you think, grow, and innovate. It’s happening everywhere, and if it hasn’t happened to you yet, it will. The GrowthWorks team is dedicated to helping organizations navigate and benefit from disruptions. We believe helping organizations to not merely overcome, but thrive on the changes facing their world and their industries/sectors is a worthy endeavor. It gives us our sense of purpose, and we’re ready to accept the challenge.

We want to hear your opinions and any questions you may have. Let us know what challenges you are facing. We are here to help.