Innovation is in Finding Right Balances

Innovation is in Finding Right Balances

Innovation is difficult to master and to define, with a lot of products simply being upgraded claiming to be innovative. Research shows that only one out of seven official innovation projects successfully reach the market. Perseverance is needed while a lot of people working on the matter say we should embrace failure. I prefer, on the contrary, to focus on improving the innovation effectiveness rate, which I believe is a matter of finding the right balances and letting go of old ideas. Gijs van Wulfen lists the following balances,with which I completely agree, along with many other authors writing about innovation in one way or another:

The balance between the business of today and the business of tomorrow. When you lead an organization, you are always looking for ways to innovate and that involves the ability to simultaneously focus on the present and the future. Using the two-curve approach of Ken Blanchard, Mission Possible (Paperback, 1999), in the way towards innovation, it is necessary to manage confusions and a proper balance between the old curve and the new one. The first one is the present, when you focus on improvements and being able to envision the organization you want to become. The second one is the curve of innovation, in which you look for the best path to go from where you are to where you want to be.

The balance between creativity and business reality. Geoffrey Moore in Escape Velocity (Harper Collins Publishers, 2011) sets out a vision of the future for innovative companies based on a three horizons model: current business, high growth business, and growth options. It reflects a realistic growth strategy and the expected window of returns in terms of the amount of time to pursue the goal and the starting point, no matter how disruptive the project is.

The balance between “outside the box” and “inside the box”. One of the most repeated sentences regarding innovation is “Think outside the box”. It’s true. You need to get the old ideas, many times assumptions, out of your mind to let new ones come automatically, as standing Geoffrey Moore in Crossing the Chasm (HarperCollins, 2014). Thinking outside the box is necessary to envision the future of business. Although, focus on how is it possible to improve or change what you know: products, concepts, situations, problems in your industry… is equally necessary for innovation.

The balance between breakthrough thinking and feasibility. Disruption or improvements? There are different degrees of innovation from improvement to disruption. Again, as Geoffrey Moore points out in Crossing the Chasm, most innovations fail to create returns because while they make improvements and are appreciated by customers, they aren’t so great as to create sustainable competitive advantages. Customers are grateful with the improvements, but sustainable competitive advantage comes from doing things they really value and that competitors can’t emulate or that force them to completely change.

The balance between customer interests and the company’s interests. Customers can be satisfied because their expectations are low and no one else is doing better, but great companies are able to give them what they really want and to create not just loyal customers, but fans in the sense that Ken Blanchard describes in Raving Fans: A Revolutionary Approach To Customer Service (HarperCollinsBusiness, 1998) . Additionally, truly innovative companies are able to give their customers a plus: The ‘wow-feeling’.

The balance between breaking rules and fitting existing patterns. Again, to start viewing things differently, it is necessary to abandon old patterns and ideas. But certain limits are always there. Which changes is the market prepared to accept? Why do so many really innovative products fail?

The balance between risks and rewards. Another question here. Which one is the most risky attitude: Change things or wait for others to disrupt the market?