Wednesday, September 13, 2006

On Innovation

Tim and Nick Carr are having a shootout on innovation.

Tim says: fortunes are made, and industry titans are built, where management isn’t really looking, almost always. The big pieces of innovation come out of garages and low-rent offices in lousy locations, and they’re produced by small groups without much management backing. It can be done at big companies (the business personal computer at IBM, Java at Sun) but then it’s always in an off-the-mainstream skunkworks. Nobody—I repeat, nobody—is smart enough to predict where the next big strategic innovation is going to come from...

Wrong. Planners do this sort of stuff every day.

I don't quarrel with Nick's 'merely competent' argument, but

this bit
is off target:

Nick says: companies should narrow their sights when it comes to innovation: "You need to bring the same kind of discipline to deciding where you innovate as you'd bring to any other kind of management question. You want to make sure that you innovate in those few areas where innovation can really pay off and create a competitive advantage and not innovate in other areas where it won't pay off.

They should narrow where they will invest, not what they should be thinking about.

They both miss the target because what they are really arguing about is not the processes of innovation but who should get credit and who should pay. The first is about face management and the second is about resource management. They are both right from those related but distinct points of view.

Anyone who is really involved in advanced research such as DARPA can tell you that you don't invent strategic change, or buy strategic innovation: you breed it.

That takes time, some loose planning and a number of generations. You will get both crops that do what you required and some happy accidents. Readiness is everything and that is absolutely a Zen-like experience because you have to confront your own prejudices about what is successful and what is utilitarian.

DARPA doesn't want the crops. They want the seeds.

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