Does your organization choke on radically new ideas?

Several years ago, at an innovation conference where I was speaking, I found myself in the hotel bar at closing time talking to some of the big names and brains in the innovation consulting field (relax, I wasn’t drinking). I put a question on the table to my colleagues: “How many of your clients are looking for a big disruptive innovation?”  The predictable response was, “Practically all of them.”  The next question I asked was, “How many of them could actually accommodate a disruptive innovation?” The response from my colleagues was, “None of them.”

This is the dirty little secret of innovation. There are bajillions of organizations (3.14 bajillion to be precise) helping established organizations create “the next big thing” that will unseat the leaders, rearrange the marketplace, and obsolete what is currently so.  And yet…And yet established organizations are loath to actually do what’s necessary to disrupt the industry because they have such a stake in ensuring that it continues.  To do something that leads to lowered sales of existing product is akin to killing the goose that lays the golden eggs.  Why would you do it?  Kodak is the poster child of an organization that didn’t see the digital photo revolution coming. And yet they invented digital photography!  For rational reasons, they couldn’t stomach the notion of killing their dominant market share in photographic film and couldn’t get out of their own way to surf the wave that they created.

And that’s why so many disruptions come from start-up firms.  These firms have nothing to lose, so they have the freedom to imagine a world very different from the current reality.  Car company Tesla took a very different approach to electric vehicles.  Instead of making cars built on petroleum-engined cars, they started with a fresh approach in a fresh market. And their cars outsell similarly sized luxury vehicles from Mercedes Benz, BMW and Audi.  Research has shown that organizations that really embrace creativity and innovation are those that are in “distress situations.”  In other words, they better get it to work, because nothing else is.

The harsh truth is that most organizations choke on radically novel ideas.  While they’d love the benefits of being a market leader in an industry that they created, it requires an organizational mindset (culture) that is very tough to create and maintain.  So the job of innovation leaders throughout the hierarchy is to instill a fear of the status quo, and a willingness to take well-placed bets in creating new markets or unsettling existing ones.  The organization that is afraid of the new, or is comfortable with what is, will not innovate in significant ways.  This requires leaders to build the innovation capacity of their organization by focusing on — yes, innovation tools and skills — and also on driving an innovation mindset throughout the organization. Mindset matters. Mindset can be developed. And you, dear leader, are an important part of making that so.

What are you doing to create a culture in your organization that embraces disruption?

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About Jonathan Vehar

As a Senior Faculty member at CCL and subject-matter expert in innovation, Jonathan’s education and extensive experience in program design serves the Center in his design and delivery responsibilities for various Global Solutions clients, as well as his delivery responsibilities for various open enrollment programs. Jonathan is also an adjunct instructor at Northwestern University, the Center for Studies in Creativity at the State University of New York, Ithaca College and the Creative Problem Solving Institute.
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6 Responses to Does your organization choke on radically new ideas?

  1. avatar Doug Stevenson says:

    True!

  2. avatar Jonathan Vehar says:

    Thank you Doug! You know of which you speak!!

  3. avatar Doug Riddle says:

    Nice reminder, Jonathan! We often contrast old established companies with startups, but the interesting complexity of approaches can be found in the middle ground: relatively young companies with piles of cash from their outrageously successful initial product. Google is an example. Although they tried hard to keep the early “let’s try out everything new!” mindset and institutionalized it for engineers in the “20% own project” rule, their success with Android and Google Maps was the result of investment and acquisition (Android, Inc 2005. and the Rasmussens 2004). Their brilliance comes from smart acquisitions, visionary applications thinking, and thousands of engineers refining their products. Just look at the feature release history of 2007 Google Maps: every couple weeks a major new element is released.

  4. avatar Jonathan Vehar says:

    Another Doug chimes in!! An important addition to the conversation from my colleague Doug Riddle. Great examples and good to keep in mind that there’s something other than companies at the two ends of the spectrum. I appreciate you keeping me honest.

  5. Pingback: 5 strategies to try before you set out to disrupt the world | Leading Effectively: Official Blog of the Center for Creative Leadership

  6. Pingback: 9 questions to help you understand the need for innovation in your organization | Leading Effectively: Official Blog of the Center for Creative Leadership

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