Everything you know about business innovation is wrong

By on July 15, 2014
innovation

What makes a great innovator? Sometimes it’s the oldest companies which know best.

Most readers will have been on the receiving end of any number of presentations on innovation and how to do it better.

But how many such talks failed to mention admiringly one of the ‘usual suspects’, that list of text-book innovators headed by Google and including Zappos, Innocent, anything Virgin, anything based in California and anything that has been in existence for less than 10 years?

Not many, I’ll bet, which is why, for the next 40 days, I’ve set myself the goal of doing just that in my talks on the subject.

The problem with all the usual ‘innovative’ suspects is that what makes them interesting also makes them hard to learn from. Consider how they are different and why that matters.

Most of them are relatively new. This means that they don’t really have much to lose by innovating. When the only way is up, it’s not hard to take risks. It’s quite different for an established organisation with a substantial market share. Here there is something significant at stake, and it would be foolish to pretend that this makes no difference to their risk profile or capacity to innovate.

Most of us work in organisations that have a history and have something to lose. So when we look at ways of innovating, it makes sense to look at other similar organisations that have done interesting things.

The good news is that these organisations do exist: while researching my new book, I have found businesses that are more than a hundred years old doing radical things. The fact that they tend not to shout about it shouldn’t blind us to the fact that they have some very useful lessons to teach us.

If you want to stop talking about innovation and actually get on with doing it, avoid the usual suspects.

Alastair Dryburgh is Chief Contrarian at Akenhurst Consultants. Subscribe to his newsletter at www.akenhurst.com to do his test to assess how innovative your organisation is and discover more principles on innovating when you have been in business for a while.

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