Sunday, August 16, 2009

There is no slow innovation

Just as the peacekeeper missile and "postal service" have entered the lexicon as oxymorons, I'd like to add another: slow innovation. Clearly, slow or cautious innovation is anathema to innovation and an oxymoron. Why is there such an emphasis on speed where innovation is concerned?

Innovators have to respond quickly with new ideas, and implement the ideas as they arrive, and move boldly when generating ideas and implementing ideas. There's no such thing as "slow innovation". Think about it - even firms that aren't really innovative but want to be ahead of the "pack" are called "fast followers".

Let's look at a couple of reasons innovators have a need for speed. First, the world is changing quickly. It seems the pace of change is accelerating and new concepts, new products, new services are constantly being introduced. Simply to participate in this product or service development cycle, your firm has to be operating at a high rate of speed, to spot new trends and identify new opportunities. Then, to ensure your innovations win, you've got to identify the right opportunities at the right times, and produce the right products or solutions to meet those needs. Also, it is helpful if you produce them before your competitors, so you can gain more of the awareness and market share than they do.

The second reason for speed is that many new entrants, entrepreneurs and disrupters are looking for the same opportunities to produce new products and services as your firm. Yet they are relatively unencumbered by sloth-like decision making bodies and annual plans that lock an organization in for the next 18 months. If your firm is going to compete, it has to compete with the same rules and the same capabilities. Where innovation is concerned, size isn't nearly as important as speed.

The third reason for speed is that at some point every person on earth has looked at a new product or service and said "I thought of that two years ago". Congratulations. You are now a member of the "I thought of that and did not commercialize it" club. Too many firms actually have good, viable ideas for products and concepts but do not commercialize them quickly enough, only to see new entrants or competitors bring a product or service to market faster and gain more credibility and market share. Simply having the idea isn't enough - you have to speed the product or service through the development process and launch it successfully.

Now, some of you will say "Edison took years to perfect the light bulb. He was rather methodical and took his time." Edison lived in a period where few people could even imagine what electricity was, much less have the time or knowledge to experiment with different forms of filaments. Today's Edisons have to move much more quickly as information and knowledge is much more diffused and pace of change is much more radical.

So, what's an innovator to do? Establish processes and methods for moving quickly, subverting or avoiding the typical planning and approval cycle. Demonstrate the importance of quick decisions, quick implementations of new ideas and the quick death of an idea that doesn't prove out. Understand the pace of change and how quickly new needs and opportunities arise, and constantly assess the market to understand the opportunities. Respond quickly to these opportunities, and you'll be an innovator, not an oxymoron, or worse, roadkill.
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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 5:18 PM

11 Comments:

Anonymous Steve Todd said...

Hi Jeff,
Great post! I recently wrote on my blog that the "need for speed" in a firm can be greatly enhanced by the parallel efforts of distributed intrapreneurs: http://stevetodd.typepad.com/my_weblog/2009/08/skunkworks-the-more-the-merrier.html

As an EMC intrapreneur I live your mantra daily and it is better for my company if my co-workers are as well.

Steve
P.S.

6:44 AM  
Blogger Andrew said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

4:08 AM  
Blogger Tony said...

Hi Jeff:
I beg to differ. The need for speed is not always the best choice.

Coming from an innovator this displays an amazing lack of innovative thinking. It continues sameness of thought that has ruled North America for dozens of years.

This is the egotistical belief that everyone should always be No. 1, first past the post, the "leader", the fastest, the greatest, the best.

Since this is impossible, this tyrannical and trite thinking should be put to rest.

Innovation methodology has to be appropriate to the kind of organization you are. So there is nothing wrong with being No. 2.

In fact it can be better. Front runners always have to blaze trails, and that's not easy.

So, let the first in blow their brains out trying to create an innovation in record speed. Then follow with a better version of their innovation.

While it may boost the ego to be first, it doesn't always do wonders for the bottom line.

Those fast followers actually know what they're doing: It's called risk management.

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Blogger Melinda said...

Your right there's no slow innovation, that's what people entusiastic peole think, likes the ones that discovered generic viagra .

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