What do we mean by Innovate?
This blog entry is in reply to Tom Foremski's challenge to one of the points in the previous blog. Before proceding further, please do read that piece (see below) and then his piece.
Now I could just agree with Tom, because he is making some fair points, but what fun is that? Instead I will try to maximize the difference between our points of view in hopes some new ideas will emerge.
Tom's key point is that innovation needs to be tightly tied to disruption, and that therefore the other forms of innovation I cite should be considered as categorically different, not really belonging to the set labeled innovation. His first supporting point is that non-disruptive innovations will not overcome the inertia of the status quo, and therefore will not be classed as innovative.
My pushback is that, if you are a member of the establishment, you do not want to overcome the inertia of the status quo. It works to your advantage. What you want to do is overcome the force of commoditization, which works to your disadvantage, eroding your margins. But you do not want to disrupt the market, because that creates too much opportunity for new entrants. What you need, therefore, is some kind of innovation that is not disruptive but does create new differentiation--essentially what all the othe forms of innovation I cite are all about.
Later Tom makes a similar point: "I think that innovation has to be very disruptive and offer a superbly excellenct ROI in order to gain attention, and overcome cost of switching barriers." And thus he concludes, "every Silicon Valley start-up had better have some kind of disruptive innovation in its garage otherwise why bother?" When it comes to start-ups, he and I agree completely. For them the status quo is the enemy, and only disruptive innovations can penetrate it.
But in my view Silicon Valley is no longer all about start-ups. It is now somewhat about start-ups and somewhat about established enterprises, and both are under pressure to innovate, though from different quarters. And I think it is the established companies that are having the bigger struggle with innovation. And I think the main reason they are struggling is because they are defining innovation the way Tom does, and then realizing they can't do it very well, and then getting all down in the mouth about not being able to innovate.
Baloney. They just need to innovate with their age group! Don't try the tattoo. Lose the earring. And for God's sake, don't do your next pep talk as rap. But do step up to reinventing your adult self. Do redefine the way in which you can be of service to your customers. Do reengineer your processes to be more adaptive. Do improve and enhance, and even on occasion reinvent, your product lines. And do it all as innovatively as you can, with the goal of creating outcomes that your competition will be unable to match.