Monday, May 07, 2007

Innovators are dangerous

I'm too young to have had the "opportunity" to watch the young Elvis on television. Then again, even folks older than me almost didn't have the opportunity. Elvis's blend of rhythm and blues and his hip gyrations almost kept him off television. Like most innovators, Elvis was considered dangerous. Did you ever think you'd read about Elvis and innovation in the same post?

Innovators are dangerous because they are attracted to big opportunities that require risk, and they are uninterested in the status quo. Innovators seek out change and new opportunities the way a moth is attracted to a flame. And if innovators are interested in risk and in change, that puts them in a strange spot in many organizations - running counter to all of the thinking, the reward systems and the culture. Most organizations are very interested in limiting risk and working as they've always worked - resisting change as much as possible. So you can begin to understand why innovators are often considered dangerous within an organization, and why many firms think innovation is difficult or impossible to accomplish.

Sure, entrepreneurs can innovate because there's less structure, organization and culture, and everyone knows that entrepreneurs embrace risk to disrupt a market. Why can't that same thinking take hold in medium and large organizations as well? It just seems too dangerous and too risky.

Here's a great experiment for your firm. Examine the ideas you are pursuing and ask yourself - which of these ideas are really "dangerous"? Which of them expose our firm to a lot of risk? Which one of these ideas, if implemented well, would significantly change our firm or our industry? Dollars to doughnuts, I'll bet those ideas are few and far between. But it doesn't really matter. If your firm isn't considering risky or even dangerous ideas, you can bet your last dollar that someone else is. You see, it's not only important to consider what your ideas are and which ones you are willing to consider, but also to consider the ideas and risks that your competitors are willing to consider. To some of your competitors, what seems dangerous to you seems reasonable to them. Any opportunity you dismiss as too difficult, too dangerous or too risky could become the product or service that takes your firm by surprise eventually.

As my skiing friends say, if you're not falling ocassionally, you're not trying hard enough. You've got to go find the Elvis in your business and, as difficult as it may be, encourage and reward them rather than discourage and isolate them. If you don't embrace the risky and the dangerous, you can't innovate. And if you aren't innovating, you can expect to see your competition pass you by.
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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 12:05 PM

36 Comments:

Blogger Herman Najoli said...

Talking of innovation, one of my favorite visionary architects is R. Buckminster Fuller, the creator of the Geodesic Dome. His concepts were revolutionary. The dymaxion car (contracted from DYnamic MAXimum tensION), for instance. Fuller had a superb ability to dream big and develop audacious goals. If we are going to be Elvis-like innovators we not only need to think "dangerous", we also need to act on dangerously on our vision. Acting on vision requires havign a dangerous strategy. Developing dangerous goals and objectives that bring the vision into clearer focus is essential. It’s all about dangerous mastery of our vision.

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