Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Tearing Down and Building Up

You know that when one great thinker talks about a subject that you are interested in, you should pay attention. When two great thinkers from two very different schools of thought coincide, then you ought to drop everything and see what they've got to say.

Pablo Picasso is quoted as having said "Every act of creation is first of all an act of destruction". You may remember Picasso as the painter of the melted clocks and an exceptionally influential painter. Another of his quotes that I like a lot is "Bad artists copy. Great artists steal."

On the other hand, Joseph Schumpeter, a renown economist, popularized the concept of "creative destruction" noting that capitalism and innovation consistently overturned the status quo.

What can this tell us about innovation? Well, at least two things.

First, it aligns well to the castles and ships theory. A castle is built for defense, and while it is powerful, it can easily be surrounded and overthrown. When you build a product, a service or a business model, you can attempt to protect it, but the more money you spend building defenses the less you have to spend on creating new products and services. Ultimately playing defense in a creative economy is a losing proposition, due to creative destruction.

Ships, on the other hand, don't have a fixed position. They are meant for flexibility and speed, and are proactive in nature. Most firms want a "castle and ships" strategy - defend the key capabilities and build new ones to open new markets. It's just that with most firms, the castles get all of the money, and the ships become little more than rowboats.

Second, someone will be planning to attack your "castle". It may be an established competitor or the attack may come from someone you don't expect. Did you really expect Apple to be one of the largest music distributors? The point is, innovation is about tearing down and building up. Before someone else does, figure out how to attack or innovate your castles and do something.

There are very few truly new things in the world. Innovation often just makes things more simple, less costly or more interesting. After all, we could still all use feather dusters to clean our houses - but Swiffers are simpler, more easy to use and discard, less expensive and darn it, just more fun. If all innovation is creative destruction, what does that say for your products, your services and your business models? Do you have a plan to destroy your own castles? Someone else does. Are you building and deploying your ships?
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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 6:57 AM


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I hate to correct you on this, but the painter of the melted clocks is Salvador Dali. Picasso is renowned for its kubist paintings - in the context of this article most notably the Guernica, which depicts the destruction of a city after a bombardment.

10:57 AM  
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5:41 PM  
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