Bill Gates is right, in his interview with Fareed Zakaria, to point out that people tend to underestimate the extent to which innovation and technology has improved lives.
What I think is even more important to recognize, however, is just how much better that it could have been. Yes, we (the management profession) are good at bringing innovations to market. Unfortunately, we are even better at stopping innovations dead in their tracks – especially inside of established organizations.
The IT sector has been a hotbed of innovation over the last generation or so. But it is noteworthy to me that startups probably have better odds in information technology than any other sector. New generations of technology arrive quickly. With each, startups have more than a fighting chance to catch lightning, create rapid growth, and disrupt incumbents.
Most industries aren’t like that, however. The barriers to entry are simply too high. To take an extreme example, there may someday be a company that can challenge the Boeing / Airbus global duopoly, but I’d put higher odds on somebody mounting a challenge to Apple, Amazon, or Google.
And here’s the thing: The most crucial innovation challenges of the 21st century are outside of information technology. They are in industries like energy, transportation, the environment, education, and health care. If the leading companies in these industries don’t bring innovations to market, we simply won’t have many innovations.
So far, however, not a single company in the world has mastered the challenge of simultaneous excellence in innovation and ongoing operations. It’s not that the challenge is impossible. It is well within reach. It simply requires smarter management, and, in particular, smarter teams.
Indeed, only a team designed in a very particular way can tackle sustaining what exists and building something new at the same time. Such teams are designed with an eagle-eye towards the fundamental incompatibilities between innovation and ongoing operations, and with careful oversight over the specific conflicts that inevitably arise between the two.
I will say much more about these teams in a future post.
image credit: globalpublicsquare.blogs.cnn.com
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Chris Trimble is an expert on making innovation happen in large organizations. He is a frequent speaker on the topic — keynote, roundtable discussions, and executive education programs. Chris is on the faculty at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth and at The Dartmouth Center for Health Care Delivery Science. He has written four books: How Stella Saved the Farm; Reverse Innovation; The Other Side of Innovation; and 10 Rules for Strategic Innovators – from idea to execution.