Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Nothing to lose

I was thinking over my well-deserved vacation that too often the things that we take the most pride in are often the things that hold us back or cement us in our current state. Janis Joplin, and probably a lot of other authors and artists before her put it best when she said "when you've got nothing, you've got nothing left to lose".

What made me think about this is the difficulty a number of our clients have when trying to innovate. Most firms desperately want new products, new services and new business models, but they also want to protect their existing infrastructure and offerings, so what happens is that there's really only two options - incremental innovation around the existing products or services, or the introduction of products and services so unlike anything that exists in the current portfolio that the firm has little ability to create and deliver it effectively. Since they believe there's something to lose, the firms have a hard time innovating.

I was talking with a client recently who said he'd like to structure a team within his organization that would examine the best opportunities and bring new ideas to the table "regardless of the existing investments" and products. In other words, his "dream team" would start with very few expectations about maintaining the status quo, and could potentially create products and services that might disrupt the existing offerings or perhaps cannibalize them. Only then, he felt, would his team have the freedom to think about the best opportunities.

Cortes is famous for burning his boats when he arrived in Latin America. He offered himself and his men no option other than to proceed on his quest. I think too often in many businesses we ask people to innovate - to explore new possibilities - but we saddle them with too many restrictions, too much baggage, and offer them a way out through very incremental innovation. Most innovation teams need to be led by people who are willing to shed the baggage and burn the boats if they want to be successful. Yes, it may cause some short term pain, but the ability to operate as if there's nothing to lose can be quite liberating, and will open up new opportunities.
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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 4:55 AM


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for another interesting and relevant post.

My own experience confirms your statement about the value of an innovation team which is not bound by historical thinking. I like to think of them as "Liberos". (A Libero is a role in (German) soccer where a player does not have a fixed position on the field, but can move around as needed.)

Those of our clients who have implemented such a role are better prepared to initiate, detect and champion ideas that are not affiliated with existing products or departments within their organisations.

The second, essential component of such an approach, however, is that the Libero have direct access to the top management and of course that top management is open to their suggestions.

Although we know of good examples in which this is the case, there are also many where only lip service is paid to the need for "new" innovation, and that in practice, management is very unwilling to consider leaving their well-trodden path.

Zephram GbR (Magdeburg, Germany)

4:37 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I find that many managers say they want innovation - but they don't really mean (or understand) what it takes. Most of them are jusy not willing to change. The ability to change is crucial when it comes to innovation.

Grahm - the Libro is a great approach. very interesting. do you know if it worked for small companies?

9:35 AM  
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