Getting It On With Innovation

November 3, 2008 at 6:47 am Leave a comment

Innovation, in some ways, is like the most stunning person in the room. People know he or she is there and want to make a move, but the fear of falling flat on one’s face (after costing you a lot of money) is also as palpable, even paralyzing.

And the latest article on innovation in the New York Times makes one’s approach even more daunting, and seem reckless even.  

Innovation, according to the article, “by its very nature…is inefficient.” But we all know that when times are hard, that life vest we put on is called Efficiency.

This is what’s frightening but invigorating with innovation—how it turns our beloved business beliefs and practices on their heads. Our post-capitalist age has drastically changed how we must perceive and understand our lives, our society and the marketplace to survive.

The article also proposes two types of settings a leader must cultivate side by side in the workplace when times are hard. There is the “factory farm,” which is governed by our much-beloved efficiency measures, and also the “greenhouses and experimental gardens,” where risky investments are cultivated.

However, we must remember that cultivating such a division also poses a risk to the company when the designated innovators decide to take root in some other company.  

There seems no cut-and-dried means of guaranteeing our investments in innovation will pay off, that we won’t fall flat on our faces. Thousands of print and online pages continue to be devoted to discussing innovation (this blog included), which tell us that while it is hot—and with good reason—a lot of people still get cold feet and need a good nudge towards it.

Even articles that advocate its immediate adoption refuse to be prescriptive, often showing binary arguments.

But at the same time, innovation gurus are also given to pithy statements that work like business mantras we hang on our walls, such as “Efficiency is for bean counters,” says Howard Lieberman of the Silicon Valley Innovation Institute in the same article. “Creativity doesn’t care about economic downturns.”

It is no neat trick, no easy flip, this innovation business. It is no mere application we install without question and then leave to run by itself.

Innovation is a concept, it is a mind-shift, it fosters a corporate culture that most of us think we can only read about and lust after from a distance.

Times change first before attitudes do. But those who choose to lie back or bury their heads in the ground are left reeling by the consequences of inaction.

Innovation demands that we pay attention and act now. Else we pay later.

What is telling about this article on innovation during a financial crisis is the insistence on balance, whether in terms of company values (e.g., balancing the risk that attends innovation with a questioning mindset) or targets (e.g., the short-term versus the long-term ones). This, at the very least, helps to demolish lingering biases against innovation as an imprudent business move during these tough times.  


Entry filed under: Innovation Forum.

Gregory L. Tangonan, PhD David G. Byro

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