Innovation is about action, not words!

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Even when Clayton Christensen’s theories have been questioned (in the Guardian , The New Yorker and ) already more than 3 years ago, we are still bombarded with innovation, transformation and disruption theories that are based on nothing more than the views they count on their Slideshare. Who can honestly say that in the last year, they have attended a seminar or presentation where there was yet another speaker using Uber, Airbnb, Tesla, Apple or other as an example of how you should innovate and you thought “good for them, but how is this going to help me?”

Past prophecies

It is true that we are entering the 4th industrial revolution (well illustrated by this movie from the World Economic Forum ) which means big changes with speed, scale and force as well as new possibilities and opportunities, especially on the crossroads of different fields. And as always, big change brings uncertainty and the proliferation of self-proclaimed gurus and “bold” predictions. What we always forget is that we are so damn bad at predicting the future. A few examples:

  • A 1950 news report predicted that women in the year 2000 would be “more than six feet tall, wear a size 11 shoe, have shoulders like a wrestler and muscles like a truck driver.” Smithsonian Magazine
  • In 1951, we were only months away from all having a helicopter in our garage. Popular Mechanics
  • Who can forget the Y2K apocalypse? Time magazine

Even when real experts need to make predictions in their very own field, they have it wrong with alarming frequency. A few quotes as an example:

  • Martin Coop, the inventor of the mobile phone: ”Cellular phones will absolutely not replace local wire systems.”
  • Robert Metcalfe, co-inventor of Ethernet: “I predict the Internet will soon go spectacularly supernova and in 1996 catastrophically collapse.”

Present misconceptions

Today, again we have an incredible number of ‘experts’ making bold predictions. Marion De Bruyne, the Dean of the Vlerick Business School has an excellent video on Youtube about this: The 4 myths of digital transformation . I especially like the first myth where she debunks the speed with which disruption happens:” Perhaps the biggest myth about disruption is that it’s a sudden, major event and that you feel the effects immediately − and if you don’t, you’re fine! However, the truth might be that you just don’t see the effects yet, because the disruptive change is not hitting your core market. Change happens first at the edges − and this is where you should be watchful.” Let’s not forget that it took AirBnB 3 years to get the first round of funding and 4 years to go from the idea to the first 1 million bookings … that doesn’t feel like speed of light, correct? In 2007 Scott Berkun wrote The Myths of Innovation , and yet I rarely see articles, postings on social media, or seminar presentations referencing his book. I can only recommend that everybody starts by reading it, or if you don’t have much time, this excellent summary of his book: The Ten Myths of Innovation: The Best Summary.

What do we know for sure?

What does work when it comes to innovation or digital disruption / transformation, you might ask? When you ask executives themselves, they will say that finding ideas is not the tricky part. It’s making sure that the organisation is able to transform the ideas into products (cfr. ).

Nobody has a crystal ball that can predict the future. There are only a few rules that we are sure of:

  • The more you try the more chance you have. Let’s not forget that James Dyson created 5126 failed prototypes before succeeding, Thomas Edison created 10’000 failed prototypes of his electric lightbulb before succeeding and Sylvester Stallone was rejected 1’500 times before selling his script of ‘Rocky’!
  • If you don’t have support from your CEO, you can forget about it.
  • If you don’t give the teams the right training, tools, understanding and some slack (the time as well as the tool) it’s not going to work.
  • Move fast, as there are no guarantees your MVP will get the traction it needs to become profitable.
  • Innovation is not a one-trick-pony. Think of innovation as a process where you go through each phase quarter by quarter.

As said before, finding ideas is not the hard part. Turning ideas into products is. Remember, Kodak had the idea for digital photos, HP had the ideas that made Apple successful… and I will never forget the time I worked at Microsoft when we tried to change MSN Messenger!

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