Innovation Shortcuts
Dec 23, 2020

The shortcuts myth and why we need a fresh perspective

Shortcut. Depending on how you grew up what you have learned from others, and what you have experienced, you have a different understanding of a shortcut. Sometimes the word shortcut has a negative connotation and is seen as a thankless alternative because the "normal" way of doing something is impossible. For many, it's the way that only lazy people prefer, who are not keen enough to work hard.
A quick Google search shows short definitions like "an alternative route that is shorter than the one usually taken" or "an accelerated way of doing or achieving something. Do these definitions sound harmful to you? To me, it doesn't seem like a thing to dread at all - then why are shortcuts perceived as wrong?
Is it perhaps the uncertainty of a new path or the speed that frightens us and gives us the feeling of losing control? Or is it maybe the widespread belief that only the hardest working people in the world win? That would mean that all people who earn $10 billion per year work 166'666,7 times harder than the rest of the world who make approximately $60'000 per year. Really, how should that be even possible?
OK, let's explore these thoughts and take a deeper dive into the concept of shortcuts.

Shortcuts deserve a better reputation

I always think about shortcuts when I want to accomplish something or when I need to save some time. Creating a smarter approach to success that involved the whole "less for more" thing would define shortcuts to me. In some way, you might say I am looking for being more efficient in doing things, but it goes way beyond that. I question the standard way of doing things, create fresh perspectives, and look for a less obvious way of achieving goals faster.
No matter which phase of life or in which situation I was, shortcuts have always brought me more success in less time. When I was in school, I asked my colleagues for help or tips instead of spending hours alone in my room, racking my brain. Also, we look for shortcuts while traveling to get from A to B faster to save time for the beautiful sunsets.
Shortcuts also make our lives easier in our everyday working life. Process optimization, quicker access to resources and other constraints, or a shortcut to building working products by prototyping it first - in whatever processes you engage in your business, there is a way to achieve it faster. If only you would find the courage and try it out. Remember when building a landing page took months until the go-live and today? — minutes.
The challenge of shortcuts is that they are not obvious, and even when we found them, it would still require a load of courage to attempt exploring them — because sometimes shortcuts might go wrong, but if you never try it, you might miss a fair chance.
However, there is no question that it is not possible to achieve everything immediately. Being wealthy and successful overnight, being fluent in Spanish in a week, being successful within a month, losing weight in 5 days, etc. - This is undoubtedly not how it works because good things take time. It's the blood, the sweat, and the tears that make anything of any real importance worth it in the end. Nevertheless, I am confident that everyone can look at ways to make it more efficient and create shorter avenues to get you to where you want to be. Whether the definition of shortcut is good or bad depends on how you want to go about it.

Shortcuts in a business context

Looking back at that time when my business partner and I worked for corporations, we experienced many situations where shortcuts would undoubtedly have been a better and more successful option. There was always a tendency to create everything themselves, instead of collaborating with experienced partners or buying white-label solutions. Corporations usually tend to prefer overpriced handmade implementations, even though it’s a commodity.

Strong hierarchical structures also slow down the execution because business challenges are always most pressing for those closest to them. While a coffee store manager might worry about filling as many seats as possible, the barista is just worried that there aren't enough coffee cups to go around. These conflicts of interest can make the right projects a much more political and time-consuming process than it should be. Companies become their own worst enemies.

Instead of getting more agile and lean, most corporates start to create more processes and more complicated decision-making layers. They spend too much time on the conceptual phase before execution. Many unrealistic innovation goals are set, while not having the right people on board with the specialized competencies needed. Instead of directly cooperating with real experts and partners, they first try a self-made solution until they realize that it doesn't work out the way it should be.

Companies are facing continuous change, and this is nothing new. They know that their legacy strategies and organizational structures are not fit to meet today's challenges. Having the strength to manage a process entirely isn't enough; business agility is vital to respond to new threats and opportunities.

But you know what? I have good news for you: No one has to master and tackle everything on their own or need to be a superhero. Of course, we all want to believe hard work pays off, and it indeed does. But at a certain point, you do not have more time than anyone else, and you can't work any harder. So, what do you do? You have to find the shortcuts to work smarter.

Independent providers of custom solutions are often perceived to deliver more value but are limited in scale, and here comes one of my favorite shortcuts - the ecosystem. Ecosystems have become a vital topic as we pivot to a hyperconnected and intelligent economy. We believe that most new capabilities will come from outside the core business, where achievements lie beyond the capabilities of one single individual actor, organization, or group. A collective approach leveraging smart-resources and creative problem-solvers within and outside organizations will lead to game-changing solutions.

Conclusion

In any great story, there is a point in the journey when the hero meets an obstacle he cannot overcome. I believe this is the moment when we need to look around for a fresh perspective. Sometimes we also need someone to show us another path or find out from peers in the industry or area of life what shortcuts they've discovered; this way, you can have a slight idea of what risks are involved. Maybe there are shorter routes that we should take in the first place. There are simply no consequences besides saving time from your usual way.

We should start to ask ourselves more often if there is a better way to do something before taking the usual route. It's not all about hustling any harder, but more about finding an alternative and smarter way with the right product, technology, and people.

Valérie Can
Chief Strategic Designer and Partner at Raqoon. As a Business Designer, I develop digital business models, shape new products, and create added value services for different customer segments.
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