So what is holding innovation back? A new GE report

GE Global Innovation Barometer 2014I always look forward to the GE Global Barometer and the 2014 report is no exception, actually it really has moved the needle on what is presently holding innovation back. The Barometer has explored the actions or constraints that senior business executives are worrying over in their pursuit of innovation.

The fieldwork was undertaken in April and May, 2014 and covered 3,200 phone interviews to people directly involved in the innovation strategy or process. It covered 26 countries and was conducted by Edelman Berland on GE’s behalf.

The supporting website provides the GE view of how this report reflects and provides an overview, an interactive, resources and key point headings sections to explore.

I  personally think GE have actually been a little too low-key on this report and frankly far too conservative on the potential takeaways in reading their ‘take’ in the overview. It has significant implications for our organizations to grapple with but each is certainly not alone, it is a collective need to move innovation forward or you place much at risk if you don’t find solutions to the issues raised in this report.

This year the Barometer broke out of its past and steamed ahead.

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Why we often can’t self-disrupt

In the past few days I enjoyed listening to a webinar by Clayton Christensen and Max Wessel for the Forum for Growth and Innovation, a Harvard Business School research centre initiative.  The Forum for Growth and Innovation seeks to develop “breakthrough theories to help businesses become more successful innovators and create new, robust sources of growth”.  The webinar was all around surviving disruption but discussed also “looking beyond the horizons”.

The Theory of Disruptive Innovation

To offer a quote from the Forums own website (  “Disruptive innovation describes a process by which a product or service takes root initially in simple applications at the bottom of a market and then relentlessly moves ‘up market’, eventually displacing established competitors”.

“An innovation that is disruptive allows a whole new population of consumers access to a product or service that was historically only accessible to consumers with a lot of money or a lot of skill. Characteristics of disruptive businesses, at least in their initial stages, can include: lower gross margins, smaller target markets, and simpler products and services that may not appear as attractive as existing solutions when compared against traditional performance metrics”.

The webinar raised in my mind many unanswered questions.

Central to the thinking for disruptive innovation is to address the jobs-to-be-done. Another nice piece that describes Clayton Christensen’s work in this area of JTBD is here. This seemingly simple idea has profound implications for re-framing industries.

Well in many of my unanswered questions there are some JTBD aspects clearly to this as well. Still that is another story for another day.

One question I had was this:

“Why do we have internal difficulties to self-disrupt?”

In most cases organizations are not able to self-disrupt and this is largely covered by this veritable list of constraints. So I set about thinking what these could be, here is my rather ‘stark’ list, can you think of any more?

  • Organizations often are far too close to existing markets to recognize that they are actually shifting; they ignore or miss the signs in many ways.
  • They get so fixed on their own perceptions they don’t see change coming – often until it is too late and have lost that intuitive, entrepreneurial touch within the mix.
  • They have invested too much, they hang on, often reducing prices, pushing more volume into the markets, crank out even more “extras” to try and off set change.
  • Organizations are full of rigidities, rules, procedures, processes and personalities and often no one is prepared to put their hand up to challenge the present paradigm.
  • The reinforcing values are just plain tough to change, you need dynamite to shift these
  • The people within organizations love the comfort of the nest they have built around themselves, who wants to bail out and expose themselves?
  • The processes become over burdening, hard to change, far too complex to change without significant commitment and top management support
  • Cultures are wonderful things but the dark side is they can stifle and constrain far more than promote and let free.
  • Leadership is locked into the strategy, tied into compensation on delivery on the existing, not on the preferred, far more radical, risky alternatives
  • Organizations, especially large ones are less than nimble, they fail to adapt and respond quickly enough – they prefer to double-down’ with more of the same but faster, leaner and more determined than ever, missing the real dangers occurring under their noses
  • Today, we are putting more and more of our organizations into boxes, they are becoming highly structured and specialized to maximise effectiveness and efficiency.
  • Markets are more global, faster, fiercer to compete in, often organizations are reluctant to explore and experiment with new business models, or push into adjacencies for fear.
  • Lastly it does not matter how hard many organizations try, they lack real intelligence in market and customer needs, hence why the jobs-to-be-done is one essential component.

While all these stay in place, or not recognized as inhibitors to your own disruption capabilities, it is not surprising it is in the end those up and coming usurpers, the nimble and unencumbered, that thrive and begin to disrupt. You simply struggle when you leave it to late- your organization needs to resolve many of the above issues before it is ever capable of responding.

Look more in than out – that is where your danger often lies

Sometimes we are spending all those significant efforts scanning the horizon for the next big disruptive ‘thing’ but in the end it is the internal difficulties that ensure it is ignored until it is too little, too late. Work on the warning signs daily.

“Perpetuating history”, as Clayton Christensen would certainly say, “simply opens the doors to disruptive innovation”. We need to really recognize ALL the symptoms on why we can’t internally self-disrupt. Surviving disruption is something we all need to take the survival course on, so we all can recognize and deal with its introduction and constant threat to total disorder and multiple impact points upon our business. Watch out, disruption is all around us.

Seeking Innovation Productivity through Creative Destruction.

The whole issue of innovation productivity is getting more and more one of the key arguments for re-gaining economic growth. The problem becomes the real impact of ‘creative destruction’ that can often go with this.

I recently wrote in a blog ( ) called ‘the Risks of Dampening down Innovation Productivity” that with contracting economic performance, innovation performance suffers as well. I’d like to look at a few of the hidden or even darker sides to this, not because it is simply a Monday blues sort of thing, but there are growing implications if we don’t clarify why ongoing innovation investment is really needed and what it can often cost on society.

The tough economic times we are presently facing

We are faced with some tough times; markets are contracting, business performance is struggling to maintain its previous levels, there is increasing argument we are heading for a double dip recession, although I feel we are already in this. Jobs are tough to hold onto and even harder to find. Continue reading

What are the new paradigms in innovation?

There are some huge shifts taking place across innovation activities. The simple fact that innovation has been thrown open and organizations and individuals can simply explore outside their existing paradigms is offering us something we have yet to fully grasp and leverage. This is a W-I-P for us all.

Secondly innovation is simply getting faster, better is another story, but it is expected to move from idea or concept to final launch in ever decreasing compressed time

As they say ‘you can’t have one without the other’. Open innovation is potentially allowing for this compression of time but where we still ‘lag’ is within our organizations to reap the rewards. Why? We are still stuck in the previous structures, systems and processes designed for internal developments that were designed for different times.

We need two really critical things really fast.

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Innovations ‘rates of exchange’ require better understanding

Innovation happens across time. We often constrain our innovation because we ‘shoe horn’ any conceptual thinking into a given time, usually the yearly budgetary plan seems to exercise a large influence in this constraining. We should make the case that different types of  innovation operate and evolve over different time horizons.

I call this the innovation rates of exchange.

A little of the theory: Coherence between organizational context and coordination of outcomes is subject always to those natural tensions of planning, resource allocation and the time imposed. Often decisions have a real tension built into them and they ‘shear’ against the real forces in play. Like our tectonic plates ‘shear’ and cause earthquakes, the ‘shear’ effect has a disruptive influence on innovation outcomes.

Often the time horizon of possible desired innovation often has these real conflicts. The actual realities and needs of the organization we lower the innovation impact in final delivery. We fall back on incremental solutions as the organization does not have the patience, appetite or desire to see through the potential fully.

So that puts the theory out there.

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Appropriate Innovation Makes Good Sense.

Innovation should always deliver on a specific purpose or promise, often it simply doesn’t. It needs to be suitable to our needs; it needs to resolve a given job-to-be done.

In the developed world we are consistently over-delivering innovation for many and there is a given cost to that, which we all pay for even though we often don’t really need it in the first place. Take for example, the software provided by Microsoft for its windows application, in its office versions, they all are over specified for our personal needs. The majority of these ‘sit’ on our computers taking up space and never used. This continued requirement which we are forced to constantly upgrade requires us to seek more computing power yet it is really inappropriate for most people’s needs.

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