Amazon is innovating at breakneck speed. What are you doing to catch up?

By Jeff HanhausenJeff_Hanhausen1

What used to take decades now takes days. The pace of change, and the type and sources of change, are unlike anything before in our history. This is creating exciting opportunities, confusion and challenges, and perhaps even fear and uncertainty. Working to compete in this marketplace is anything but normal. Working to apply preexisting practices and knowledge to these situations is ineffective and costly.

These changes are affecting our lives all around the world. Every day brings new ways of interacting with technology and using it to produce better outcomes. Amazon continues to change the face of retail business. The company is innovating at a pace that is unprecedented, and willing to experiment continuously to see what works and what does not work.

I can learn about best prices and place orders all without leaving my home. But just in case I want to leave, Amazon is also investing in a new physical store concept that eliminates the need for queuing and checkout. It’s called Amazon Go and has the potential to become another disruptive introduction to retail operations.

I call this type of innovation a “radical” innovation because it changes consumer habits and the way we do things. Never in our history have we seen the number of radical innovations we are seeing today.

Keeping up with Amazon

Amazon is setting new standards for investing in innovation and the pace of experimentation and change. Let’s look at recent cross-category and consumer-facing innovations. First, Amazon invested heavily in original television programming ($2.6 billion in 2015) to strengthen the Prime platform. Second, the company launched a new product line of private-label men’s apparel to strengthen its margins in fashion retail. Third, the company is experimenting with a live TV show to showcase particular products for purchase, combining its retail and television expertise. Fourth, Amazon opened a set of physical bookstores to extend its market reach. Any one of these would be big news, but look at the number of experiments that Amazon is willing and able to make. Where is everyone else?

What is missing first for most companies is the intention to design and innovate. I don’t mean focusing on designing something two years out, but new innovations and offers every 15 minutes. What is your staff doing? Are they making new offers and looking for new ways to blend technology and practices? It’s no longer enough to neutralize competitive offers — you must exceed them and set new standards to capture customers’ attention.

Product and services enhancements come with collaborative efforts both internally and externally, and this requires attention to building powerful networks of help. The old military style of top-down leadership is dead and gone. The need for agility and speed is here. Therefore, you must build an organization that can move quickly with change, produce new and innovative ways of doing things, and set new standards. There is no other way.

So let’s get moving — mobilize and challenge your organization to be innovative. Connect to outside help and resources that are already producing change. You must empower your employees, colleagues, and yes, customers to help you learn and change. These are the most powerful assets you have.

Jeff Hanhausen is CEO of The Hanhausen Group, which invests its expertise, network and money in a small number of private companies to produce a significant shift in the rate of growth of enterprise value. Contact him at

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