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September 12, 2006

Innovation's Dilemmas Debunked

Dave Pollard published a piece today (September 11, 2006) on his Salon blog titled, The REAL Innovator's Dilemma. In it he suggests three issues with innovation and wonders aloud at the lack of any possible solutions. Per Dave's comment, his thoughts certainly provoke a "storm of protest" from me.

This post is problematic in both its depth and thoroughness. Unfortunately, so many people are obsessed with "Innovation" as bringing about sexy technology products that they ignore decades of relevant thought leadership on the subject. Read Drucker and accept his basic premises that organizations (for or not-for-profit) exist for only two reasons: marketing and innovation. Paraphrasing Drucker, marketing amounts to finding groups of people with unmet or under-served needs and innovation is an organization's offering in response. Couched in these terms, it is clear that innovation must be constantly delivered at the strategic, portfolio, and product level. A quick response to Dave's three dilemmas could be:

Most entrepreneurs aren't innovative. His first statement in this section is instructive, "They got into business to fill a niche that the big companies weren't interested in." Recognizing this niche is classic marketing; delivering value to it is classic innovation. Organizations can not start and expect to have any success without doing this at least once. To continue as a going concern, they must replicate this process. Woe is the "entrepreneur" who is a one-trick pony. Sooner or later, they will be a failed business manager.

Most customers don't want innovations. Tell this to the billions of users of Yahoo!, Google, RAZR, iPod, Intel, SAP, post-its, Chipotle, Windows, and the other products and platforms responsible for most of the value created over the past 30 years. Of course consumers can't ask for elegant new solutions because most don't think in these terms. There are many levels of Innovation both incremental and game-changing. Organizations should be in the act of considering and implementing both relative to their own size and capabilities. If some specific "Innovation" didn't catch on, it is by definition NOT an innovation (successful response to unmeet or under-served needs).

Those who need innovations can't afford them. Again, if they can't adopt them because of cost they aren't innovations. They may be new technology; they may be inventions; they are not innovations. Consider the past and personal computers. Before cost dropped to make them affordable to average people, they weren't widely adopted. Specific to victims of modern society, Prahalad and others have researched and written extensively about the base of the pyramid and how Western companies have to think and act differently delivering offerings for these markets. Some companies (Hindustan Lever, P&G) are actually generating both customer and shareholder value in this way. Innovation does not happen in a vacuum but instead are a result of user, technological, and business context.

I am sorry to so seriously disagree with Dave's thoughts, but I don't want these "Dilemmas" to provide any force in a backlash of why society and organizations need innovation. This need is a given.

Posted by zacharyparadis at 05:51 PM | TrackBack