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7 habits of highly successful businesses

What status quo? According to IBM, there are no more static or predictable patterns in business anymore: Continuous change is the new norm. To stay relevant in a fast-changing world, business leaders must continually change and innovate as well.

Consider that every year, Booz & Company studies hundreds of the world's top innovators to determine their competitive edge. Strikingly, market leaders' top source of competitive advantage is that they simply provide workers with better platforms for sharing their insights, and translating these ideas into action. These businesses' leading source of innovative new ideas may also surprise you: Time and again, studies show it's simply listening to customers—again, an area where front-line employees are best poised to spot rising opportunities or threats.

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Clearly, corporate culture plays a pivotal role in driving innovation. Following are seven new habits that leading organizations say it's vital to embrace to prepare yours to stay at the forefront of fast-changing and highly-unpredictable business environments:

1. Create a culture of trust and encourage employees to speak up. Leading organizations empower workers and reward them for bringing potential opportunities and challenges to their attention. Front-line employees are often an enterprise's most informed audience — to create and sustain competitive advantage, provide them the tools they need to translate ideas into action.

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2. Constantly rethink business practices. Is "the way it's always been done" still the best way to do it? Like competitors, market leaders are always asking themselves this question.

3. Freely collaborate across the organization. Flatten lines of communication and allow information, insights and support to flow throughout your enterprise. The more readily you can align tools, talent and resources toward common goals, the more readily you can foster innovation.

4. See the future now. Rather than simply keep pace with rivals, top innovators always consider where the future is heading and strive to put the solutions tomorrow's audiences will demand in place today.

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5. Be open to change. Leaders expect employees to stay abreast of changing business environments — and intelligently and flexibly respond to them. To this extent, workers are given the freedom to take small, smart risks that have the potential to help the organization better serve its customers … so long as these risks are intelligent, productive, and cost-affordable.

6. Spread risk. Leading organizations don't try to be risk-free, but rather actively pursue a more calculated range of business bets. As with financial portfolios, these enterprises constantly manage and adjust a portfolio of strategic ventures. Not all wagers will pan out. But all are designed to collectively help the organization grow its capabilities, spread risk, and learn through real-time monitoring and course-correction.

7. Never stop learning. Rather than just rely solely on contingency plans, market leaders consistently experiment with new innovations and solutions — especially when things are going well, and they can most afford to gamble. By consistently pioneering new ideas and approaches, and extending their experience, capabilities and comfort zones, they create added flexibility and room to maneuver in the face of changes or unforeseen events.

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In short, leading organizations turn employees into emergency responders. They transform infrastructures from barriers into enablers. They see business strategy as being flexible, not fixed. And they continually provide workers with the tools and runway they need to reimagine, reinvent, and innovate their way to success as scenarios change.

Commentary by Scott Steinberg, a business consultant for Fortune 500 firms and author of "Make Change Work for You: 10 Ways to Future-Proof Yourself, Fearlessly Innovate, and Succeed Despite Uncertainty." His web site is www.AKeynoteSpeaker.com. Follow him on Twitter @AKeynoteSpeaker.

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