10
Jan
10

Branding and Stifling Innovation

Innovation thrives in free-flowing environments. Ideas come to the surface, find enthusiastic supporters, and face a minimum of resistance as they come to fruition. It’s a relatively messy process – filled with energy, creativity, and real-world success and failure.

Managers have a hard time handling these environments and the freedom they require. The loss of control and power in these situations drive them crazy. Their response is to create bureaucracies and rules to slow change, control resources, and consolidate power.

I hadn’t thought of it before, but branding may be one of the ways managers stifle innovation. Strong brands are necessary to create a promise of value in the marketplace. Consistent messages and appearances make it possible to compete effectively across markets and establish defensible positioning. That being said, the rules – both codified and not – restrict innovation and the ability to try new ideas without interference.

It seems that it has always been that way.

Harvey Cox, TheologianI’m reading a terrific new book, The Future of Faith by Harvey Cox. In it, Cox describes the early Christian church. It was a messy collection of congregations, with a free flow of ideas, energy, and beliefs. The community was banded together by one absolute: they were followers of Jesus. There was little organization or centralization, and new ideas and people were welcomed with open arms.

As the church spread its geographical reach, some of the leaders worried about “the consistency of their product” across regions. They wanted a strong, uniform brand. These leaders created legends and justification to connect their brand to the original Apostles. Creeds were written and institutionalized in order to standardize beliefs, and power was consolidated by controlling the flow of limited resources. The brand was established and the course of Christianity was largely set for the next 1,700 years.

The results of this Biblical branding? The free-flowing, inclusive church gave way to a standardized brand of Christianity, filled with a rigid hierarchy and set of absolute creeds. The non-conformists with new ideas were branded heretics and excommunicated from the church. Power was consolidated in a few people and the brand was established.

Strong, consistent branding has its upside. The Christian church has a long, powerful history, rich in traditions. The downside can be rigidity when addressing modern issues and opportunities. Can you grow and flourish in new ways using techniques that are more than a millennium old?

These struggles happen in our companies every day. Managers reach to old solutions and traditions to solve new challenges. Innovation and creativity can be smothered by company creeds (policies) and the excommunication of non-conformists. It becomes difficult to enter new markets or address competitive threats because of the rigidity of company views of the world. The inclusive environment necessary to build diversity and new ideas is lost in the desire for standardization and tight control.

Is strong branding killing your company’s innovation?

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