With apologies to Burt Bacharach for liberating his song title, I want to develop the concept of the innovator as a cold hearted killer, a love ‘em and leave ‘m type more suited as the villain in a dime store novel more than the passionate, heroic leading man. Because people who fall in love with ideas, or products, often don’t have the strength to do what they must. Create a new idea or new product that makes the old one obsolete.
Anyone who has worked as an innovator knows the risk. It’s easy to fall in love with an idea. So many ideas are so perfect, so suited for the need or opportunity. But falling in love with an idea is dangerous. Falling in love with an idea means as an innovator you are too close to your ideas to evaluate them effectively, and will miss problems or conflicts in the idea. A good innovator must be as willing to rework ideas and yes, even kill ideas as he or she is to promote an idea. A detached aloofness is probably your best bet, emotion wise.
Falling in love with an idea, however, is an easily forgivable sin, while falling in love with an existing product or service is what stymies innovation and creates lethargy. Far too many organizations have far too many executives in love with ideas that, like fading soap opera actresses have starred in their roles for far too long. Falling in love with existing products or services isn’t just dangerous, it’s deadly. Look no further than Kodak for example. Kodak continued to stick with the fading actress of film, all the while courting the emerging actress digital, but never made the clean break. Too many people were entranced by film. Too many people were reliant on the business models, revenues and programs that film created. In the end, Kodak was wedded to a corpse, while a patient new bride waited to take its place. Now, that bride may find itself in the arms of another.
Innovators and executives need to be ruthless. In a training program today I asked the class “Who should force your own products into obsolescence?” There are only two possible answers – yourself or everyone else. If you fall in love with ideas or products, and ignore the signals of the market, you will suffer the same outcome as Kodak. If your innovation efforts can be as ruthless as JR Ewing, as cold hearted as Gordon Gecko and as decisive as Churchill, then your innovation efforts will not be in vain. If, on the other hand, you engage in a love affair with your ideas or your existing products, obsolescence will be your only friend.
Love the innovation process, love the creation of new ideas, love the exploration of customer needs. Act with reserve in the evaluation of ideas and be absolutely ruthless when considering the further life of existing products. Because that’s how the firms seeking to disrupt your products will look at them.
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.