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Not All Innovation Is Created Equally

Brian Hopkins
Brian Hopkins
Vice President, Principal Analyst
July 17, 2018

I talk to clients about their innovation plans and technology all the time, especially their plans with technologies that are emerging, like the ones I blogged about here from our report, “The Top Emerging Technologies To Watch 2018.” It’s become clear to us that finding innovative ways to exploit emerging technology has become really important to enterprises — in fact, using emerging technology is the number one way firms of over 1,000 employees intend to innovate in 2018. Leveraging new technology is also the number one thing firms that want to create new business models plan to do.

Old Innovation Thinking Creates A False Sense of Security 

My colleague James Staten in his new report, “Not All Innovations Are Created Equal,” addresses the problem that it’s too easy to apply innovation just to solve existing business problems — something he calls creeping incrementalism — or pursue innovation as a way to try to fend off disruptors. These create a false sense of security. Firms get to check the innovation box because they are perhaps using new technology to get better at what they do and keep disruptors at bay.

James powerfully points out that, according to noted author Clayton Christensen, your odds of success are 20 times greater when you pursue a disruptive course. To help CIOs evaluate their innovation portfolio, James identifies five types of innovation — two tactical and three disruptive. 

Here Are My Takeaways 

In reading the report, I took away a few key ideas: 

  • CIOs need to add new digital business value and adjacent industry disruptions to their portfolio. I had never heard the “20 times” number that James quotes in this report. But it follows then that CIOs need to inventory their innovation portfolio and ensure they are pursuing at least some efforts that fall in the digital business value or adjacent industry disruption types, as well as a few moonshots.
  • Moonshots typically require a willingness to develop new technology. The next thing I noticed in James’ moonshot discussion is the link between moonshots and the fact that firms that attempt them often need to develop technology of some kind that does not even exist. Many of the biggest firms in the world — the FANGs, if you will — got to be where they are by doing just this. If your firm isn’t willing to invest in moonshots, forget about rising to the top.
  • Sustained business acceleration puts fast followers in danger. James concludes with an idea that resonated really strongly with me. If disruptive innovation does dramatically improve a firm’s chance of success, it also means that firms that are following the pack, no matter how quickly, are in danger. This idea aligns with my thoughts that exponential trends are creating an environment of sustained business acceleration.

Sustained Business Acceleration Puts Fast Followers In Danger 

I’ve been writing and speaking a lot about exponential trends and the effect they are having on the pace of business — something I call sustained business acceleration. Often, fast followers think they can draft behind the bleeding edge, then zoom ahead when the time is right. I think this only works for firms that have created the right technology foundation so that they can gas it and go. It’s time to critically evaluate your firm.

Do you have the right mix of innovations in your portfolio? Do you have the right foundation to accelerate with technology as you innovate? If you aren’t sure, come engage with us, as our research can definitely help you build out a winning innovation strategy. I’m looking forward to connecting with you.

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