The Innovation Trap
Innovators don’t plan for obsolescence.
Self-evident, but paradoxical.
For no matter how disruptive an innovation is to the marketplace, the seeds of its obsolescence are already an integral component, embedded within the very processes that drive growth.
It is the dilemma of market acceptance.
Successful innovators first crack the market, and then own it. However, in the process, priorities necessarily change. The initial focus on market acceptance evolves into a sustained effort to protecting market share, clients and customers. Internally, a culture that had previously embraced risk, flexibility, dynamism, begins to atrophy through bureaucracy, inertia and risk-aversion.
Consider Kodak. Once globally synonymous with photography, Kodak’s comprehensive failure to adapt its business model as new technology fundamentally changed the market led to bankruptcy. Or Blackberry, which pioneered the market for the smartphone. Once ubiquitous, Blackberry’s determination to sustain its legacy business proved its undoing at the hands of innovative rivals.
For established innovators looking to maintain their edge, the risks of a failing performance culture have only gotten worse, as new technologies and shared service paradigms have driven the threshold costs of starting a credible business – and new competition – to unheard of lows. Collaborative communities, such as Odesk, allow new companies to outsource specialty work at competitive prices. Cloud computing offers the start up an entire data infrastructure that is scalable with the expansion of business. Communal work arrangements provide office space for incubators. And the explosion of VCs and variants, has made investment capital accessible to the individuals with good ideas.
The differentiator for successful innovators is an understanding of what can be controlled and changed. Maintaining a sustainable edge in this new and challenging business landscape requires matching the dynamic realities of the market with a rigorous organizational culture. To empower employees and unleash their captive value. To amplify the leadership of executives who can articulate a clear, concise and understandable message that engenders a culture of team work, best practices and problem-solving. To create an internal consciousness within the organization were individual initiative is collectively valued and recognized. Where the rigor of sustained performance improvement is the baseline for minimally acceptable conduct. Where the nature of work is humanized, not commoditized.
Google, Facebook, Amazon and Twitter – the popular innovators of our day, are all less than 15 years old. They displace other, well known firms that were once household names for decades, but who could not keep pace with the market. The trend will only continue, as the cycle of innovation becomes more compressed and the field of competition grows larger and more intense.
We cannot stop change, only adapt to it. A rigorous performance culture is the key to that success.