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Thursday, August 20, 2009

Can You Have Slow Innovation?

by Jeffrey Phillips

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.

Jeffrey Phillips is a senior leader at OVO Innovation. OVO works with large distributed organizations to build innovation teams, processes and capabilities. Jeffrey is the author of "Make us more Innovative", and innovateonpurpose.blogspot.com.

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Anonymous David Locke said...

Fast innovation ties into the inherent fast follower and inherent thinness of Agile created SaaS/web apps. These innovations commoditize quickly after their release. Given feature-driven design, minimum-marketable features, and evolutionary assumptions, speed can commoditize as the product ships subsequent releases.

Yes, back in the browser wars, you had to get stuff out the door fast, because all the competitors were equals until the market leader emerged. Lacking real market leaders in SaaS/web apps, there really isn't anything to gain by being fast, or fastly thin.

12:11 AM  

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