Innovation: So Much Accomplished, But So Far Short of Full Potential

by Chris Trimble

Innovation: So Much Accomplished, But So Far Short of Full Potential 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.

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There’s No I in EnnovateChris 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.

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  1. The reason why we do not have Eureka moments is because the West has not the right creative infrastructure in place. I am always amazed that people just do not research into the history of S&T and realise that the major changes that have happened which have changed the world have in nearly 8 out of 10 cases not come from the system that we somehow worship as the panacea for our present development mechanism. It absolutely baffles me but it shows me also that those who think that they know best actually know the least. Until we have such a system in place don’t expect miracles to happen as they simply will not. Jack Kilby who put together the first fundamental prototype ‘chip’ is a prime example of why we needs such a system in place and where his private hobby (nothing to do with his employer at the time who were not interested in what Jack had put together) now underpins a global industry turning over $2 trillion a year – possibly the greatest invention of all time when it comes to creating vast global wealth. Therefore we have to start to think of what is lacking in the innovation chain and where clearly there is a missing-link. Unfortunately all those who think that they know have not a clue what it is and why innovation is not working in western economies. The main reason of course is that those in charge and running the shop in government and business have never actually come in contact with this golden key that unlocks economic dynamism and can turn moribund economies into economic powerhouse in a mere three to four decades. All empires eventually fail through the complacency of those in control and where unfortunately that is the way that the West is heading. For complacency has been prevalent in our political and corporate leaders for the past four decades now and where there is no light in this respect emerging from the end of the tunnel. Indeed with respect to new creative and innovative wealth creation, the light is getting far dimmer by the year and further out of our grasp. A sad situation when one considers that the solution is looking our politico-economic leaders in their face but where unfortunately they cannot see the wood for the trees. This lack of knowledge will ultimately be the West’s great undoing over the next 50 years.

    Dr David Hill
    World Innovation Foundation

  2. Chris

    Here lies the issue to tackle, the next grand challenge in innovation in your words:

    “the fundamental incompatibilities between innovation and ongoing operations, and the specific conflicts that inevitably arise between the two”

    Focusing on this would help enormously

  3. The greatest threat to humanity is the power of big business. Above all, they are the ones who stifle innovation and the drive towards a sustainable human experience in perpetuity. Indeed the concept of humanity is at threat due to these power groups insatiable lust for profit and where according to Forbes a mere 2,000 companies control 51% of the global economic turnover of the world. Some of the few great humanitarian breakthroughs where I am personally aware of that big business has suppressed and destroyed are,
    1. The humane non-addictive cure for hard drug addiction based on plants, where it detoxified long-term addicts in 72 hours with no ‘cold turkey’ or human side effects. The reason, it would kill tens of billions of drug sales and where this suppression because of the constant quest for profit, rises above even human life itself.
    2. The introduction of a global strategy to prevent pandemics happening that worked in Hong Kong in 1997 and the only one ever to do so and stop the human-to-human killer virus in its tracks. The reason again, there are not the tens of billions in drug sales. Indeed when it comes and where Margaret Chan of the WHO only says that it is a matter of time not when, it will totally decimate the global economy and make the financial meltdown look like a storm in a teacup. But far worse it is estimated that it will kill over 300 million due to the rapid transit systems that we have now unlike 1918 when the Spanish Flu took up to 100 million lives worldwide, and where no family in the world will be unaffected through the loss of a loved one. Again where vast profits rise above human life itself and where such things are of crimes against humanity.
    3. The introduction into Africa of PCR low-cost testing kits (the only one costing a few dollars that can determine HIV/AIDS in new born babies and where cheap remedies would then eradicate the diseases for life) that would save hundreds of millions from the scourge of HIV/AIDS and eventually eradicate HIV/AIDS globally by introducing into all nations throughout the world. The reason, big business and charities have a monopoly on the present testing kits that even make money for so-called international charities.
    4. Where big business is and has constantly been buying up new patents that can benefit human sustainability but where because they hit the giant corporate’s ‘bottom-line’, they are shelved. We know this as our fellows tell us so and where they advise the largest corporate concerns in the world. Many of these are the answers to sustainability and the ways of sustaining the ‘human experience’ itself. But because they would knock the profits severely of current products, they are supressed.

    These and other major cover-ups and pure disenabling on the alter of vast corporate profits are the reasons why humankind does not find solutions. But the irony of all this that is constantly going on behind the scenes is that it will eventually even kill off the giant corporates themselves. Therefore the motto seems to be, bleed the system dry of monetary gain at the expense of everything, even human life itself. Can we be so stupid as a species to allow this as the Royal Society and MIT scientists have both independently predicted that by around 2032, the world will simply disintegrate in both social and economic terms under the dictates of the present global system.

    Innovation is therefore without doubt being destroyed on a daily basis by the avaricious appetite of the global corporate giant’s quest for vast profits and wealth of the very few – including politicians and the so-called corporate spin-off philanthropic organizations around the world who make billions out of humanitarian work without paying any corporation tax whatsoever.

    Dr David Hill
    World Innovation Foundation

  4. As a follow-up and just one of the explanations to why Big business’s effects will eventually be catastrophic for humankind – An overview of how and why their greed will eventually lead to the world’s greatest human disaster –

    This is based on past and recent historical evidence and what even Dr. Margaret Chan, Director of the World Health Organization (The WHO) has said will eventually happen.

    Dr David Hill
    Chief Executive
    World Innovation Foundation

  5. How big business is a threat to the human experience.

    Dr David Hill
    Chief Executive
    World Innovation Foundation

  6. China apparently is now taking the excesses of the capitalist market to task and where overall this will be a good thing for innovation. For only through innovation can the world move on to a sustainable future state. Corruption in the global drugs scene will just be the start I feel with China bringing in a new form of capitalism that falls hard on the extremes of the system. It will also open up innovation further as corruption stops innovation being as wide a spectrum as it can. Therefore I welcome China’s stance and where as they eventually become a powerhouse four times that of the USA in economic terms, change is definitely for the good on the cards for humanity.

    Dr David Hill
    World Innovation Foundation

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