"Why Iteration is not Innovation"

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How do you drive digital innovation in a down economy?

We might not be entering a recession for sure, but the economic indicators are still all out of whack. Layoffs across industries, regional banks collapsing, enterprises pulling back, budgets shrinking… Even if we don’t enter a true recession, many businesses are acting as if we will so they can protect against worst-case scenarios (and who can blame them after 2008, 2020, etc…). But you also can’t just batten down the hatches and tread water until the storm subsides either — you still have to innovate, improve and attempt to put yourself on better footing for the future. So how do you drive digital innovation in a down economy?

The secret to driving digital innovation during a recession begins with…

Companies who can invest during a down economy often capture outsized market share when their rivals pull back. And when the economy invariably rebounds, those that had the courage to invest during the recession tend to bounce back faster and higher than their comparative set who stood pat or pulled back.

But how do you decide what to invest in? How much to invest? When do you cut bait?

For the most in-depth answers to those questions, check out the live webinar we recorded last week below.

For those that want the Cliff’s Notes, though, read on.

Strategy 1: Channel Your Inner Bootstrapper

Picture this: you’re bootstrapping a startup. Every dollar spent feels personal, almost painful. This is the exact mentality we need to adopt — even in large, prosperous companies — when the economy hits a rocky patch.

Of course, we can’t just throw half a million dollars around to evaluate digital innovation options. It’s about making our decision-making window narrower and faster. That’s also not to say we can afford to skip our homework. Feasibility studies and validation gates are essential, but we must streamline them, focusing our time and energy only on ventures that show real promise, and tighten the windows in which you can assess how much promise a given project might contain.

Strategy 2: Aim High, But Take Small Steps

Imagine our innovation process is a bit like archery: We need to pick our shots carefully and increase the frequency of validation gates – our targets. Let’s shrink our steps into bite-sized chunks that are easier to manage so we can reduce both time and financial input.

You have to be clear-eyed and honest with yourself — if you miss a validation gate, you need to acknowledge it and adjust accordingly.

Prioritization is another key player here. We have to be purposeful about what we’re choosing to focus on, ensuring it aligns with the wider goals of our organization. The bottom line: Focus on small, incremental steps with crystal clear validation gates that align with broader organizational goals.

Strategy 3: Trust the Process

Having a well-structured digital innovation process is like having a reliable roadmap. It guides us to our destination with greater efficiency and speed. I’m a particular fan of design thinking in this regard — it’s fantastic for quickly sizing up potential opportunities, whether digital or otherwise.

Another crucial aspect is documentation. It’s like having a step-by-step recipe that you can follow every time you cook up a new project. It makes the process more efficient, faster, and yields better results each time.

Yes, it can be a drag to be documenting stuff all the time, but the annoyance is wellll worth it in the end.

Strategy 4: Flexibility is the Name of the Game

Stretching in-house resources too thin is like trying to cover a queen-sized bed with a twin-sized sheet — it just doesn’t work. Sometimes it’s better to bring in an external partner, someone who has specialized knowledge and processes already in place, to give your innovation efforts a boost. Or maybe you need a specific skillset that you can pick up via a freelancer?

Either way, working with a partner can also offer more flexibility in terms of commitments and costs. And let’s face it, who doesn’t like having a helping hand that’s accountable to you?

Strategy 5: Harmony Among Stakeholders

When belts are tightened and budgets are cut, getting a unanimous “yes” from all stakeholders can feel like winning a lottery. The more people on board with your project, the more likely it is to get the green light.

To achieve this, you have to involve stakeholders in the decision-making process right from the start. This way, everyone understands and agrees on the project’s scope, timeline, and budget from the get-go, setting the stage for smoother execution.

The Bottom Line

Times of economic hardship require us to reassess and adapt our innovation strategies. It’s in these trying times that we’re tested and tempered. Focusing on tighter evaluation, prioritization, a clear process, flexible staffing options, and stakeholder alignment may not seem revolutionary on their own, but together they form a resilient, proactive, and efficient approach to innovation.

If you’re interested in talking to someone who has the experience and flexibility to help you innovate during a trying economic time, give us a shout. We’ve built hundreds of digital products over the years, and we have a tried-and-true framework for both innovating and verifying every step of the way.


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Jeff Francis

Jeff Francis is a veteran entrepreneur and founder of Dallas-based digital product studio ENO8. Jeff founded ENO8 to empower companies of all sizes to design, develop and deliver innovative, impactful digital products. With more than 18 years working with early-stage startups, Jeff has a passion for creating and growing new businesses from the ground up, and has honed a unique ability to assist companies with aligning their technology product initiatives with real business outcomes.

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