Avoid Creating 'Innovation Scree'

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by: Chris Lawer

Jim Maxmin and Shosanna Zuboff argue in The Support Economy that managerial capitalism has reached the end of its adaptive life.

In the failure of the market to meet the needs of a "new society of individuals" shaped by self-determination and unfilled, intangible wants, Maxmin and Zuboff identify a widening chasm between new forms of individual value (and values) on one side and corporate objectives, behaviour and actions on the other – actions characterised by an "incremental tinkering" of, rather than a radical and discontinuous breakthrough in, the means to identify, create, design and deliver "consumer" value.

Gary Hamel in Leading the Revolution discusses such incrementalism at length. He pinpoints a failure of organisations to …

"build a deep-capability for business concept innovation – a capability that continually spawns new business concepts and dramatically reinvents old ones. … Despite all the pro-innovation rhetoric that one encounters in annual reports and CEO speeches, most still hold the view that innovation is a rather dangerous diversion from the real work of wringing the last ounce of efficiency out of core business processes. Innovation is fine so long as it does not disrupt a company’s finely-honed operating model. … As change becomes ever less predictable, companies will pay an ever-escalating price for their lopsided love of incrementalism."  

Using Zuboff and Maxmin's chasm analogy, we can view this lopsided incrementalism as generating the “innovation scree" that lies deep in the rift between commercial organisations and individuals. In marketing in particular, many new attempts or approaches to identify, predict, understand, reach and respond to the new individual are now being “lobbed off" the side of the chasm by a marketing profession desperately searching for the next breakthrough in efficiency.

Unfortunately, several just roll off the side of the chasm, fall into the abyss, and end up only a few feet ahead of the previous "little innovation boulder"! And as all this activity continues, the new society of empowered and engaged individuals amasses on the other side of the chasm, conversing in new terms and new ways about their value-goals and the "value-failings" of the organisations on the other side..

Check out this quote from Shosana Zuboff:

"Most 'new' business concepts are simply self-referring. They do not move beyond the rules of a certain way of doing capitalism, and therefore they cannot possibly alter the problems they target. Instead, just the opposite occurs — the status quo overpowers new ideas and turns them into variations on the same old themes. That is why every innovation from quality circles to reengineering to customer relationships turns out to be another road to cost reduction."

There are some "excellent" and “astonishing” examples of marketing’s "little innovation boulders". Some of these brave attempts to breach the chasm have the flavour of Vance Packard's famous expose of the subliminal marketing techniques of the 1950's and 1960's (as described in his book "The Hidden Persuaders") … Many represent a last desperate attempt to squeeze a little more life out of the adaptive reaches of managerial and market capitalism …  

Here are some quick pointers for an Evil Kneivel style leap across the chasm:

  • Build a deeper insight into where value resides for customers – and how it is changing – and critically, how to act upon it

  • Put aside conventional thinking

  • Think of innovation as though a new entrant to the market

  • Focus on unmet needs

  • Develop a view that industry conditions can be shaped

  • Avoid comparing strengths and weaknesses with the competition

  • Distinguish the factors that deliver superior customer value from all the factors that the industry competes on

  • Focus less on product features just because that what is your competitor’s are doing

  • Free up resources to identify and deliver completely new sources of value

Original Post: http://chrislawer.blogs.com/chris_lawer/2006/02/avoid_creating_.html