Innovation is Full of Surprises, That Might Scare You

Over the past decade I've seen my fair share of attempts at innovation. Everything from incremental enhancements, to bold attempts at disruptive innovation. One thing stands true, innovation is full of surprises that NO company has ever prepared for. And often, it scares the c#$% out of them. A frequent journey I have with clients involves working with ambitions to stretch the organization into new dimensions, often driven by the desperate desire to avoid being disrupted themselves.

Disrupt or be disrupted.

Nobody wants to follow the path of Borders, Blockbuster or Kodak, businesses that went bankrupt while their core industry grew a hundred fold.

My clients always start with the best intentions, and always make an effort to put skin in the game. I make a conscious effort to help companies avoid the Innovation for PR chasm that has swallowed so many over the past five years.

After a decades work, I now have a solid framework for the core success factors of capability, culture and collaboration, while adding a recent 'C', context. Getting the right mix of these continues to prove the secret to success. But, it comes with a warning. When these things work productively together, they lead to questions about your core business. Questions that you might not like answering. Questions that expose disruption opportunities, or fundamental 'achilles heels'. These questions often require a debate around incumbent versus new business. A conversation that the traditional organisation is going to struggle with, as performance targets and bonus structures are challenged.

Can you name me one P&L owner that has fallen on his sword for the greater good of the company's future?

Executives at Borders, Blockbuster and Kodak all had awareness of the challenges they're faced, but were unable to respond. They failed to shift the structure of the organisation's incumbent ways in time to respond to new market entrants or changes in consumer performance benchmarks. You'd think we've all learnt our lesson. But still today, despite clear indicators, executive struggle with the surprises that scare them. Are you prepared to question the incumbent business? In a publicly listed company, awareness alone could be looked back on as neglect.

A theoretical example I like to use is, imagine you're running innovation at Cola-a-Cola, a company with a huge legacy to over come. The logical journey of innovation is to seek out a 'higher calling' to drive the direction of innovation. Say for example 'Hydration' (by the way, Coca-a-Cola is known for happiness, not hydration). User-centric ideation might lead to the desire to close the gap between subjective measures of hydration and objective measures. But if you start to close that gap, there is a real risk that the outcomes suggest 'We shouldn't drink Coke'. Imagine being the executive faced with the awareness that the market, if equipped with objective measures (which is the core of all data driven disruption today) could question their flagship product, Coke. Tough call to make, one that many executives that head down the disruptive innovation path will be faced with.

What would you do?