“The course of innovation is generally characterized by long periods of incremental innovation punctuated by infrequent radical innovation.” – Harvard Business Review, Managing Creativity and Innovation
Epic and disruptive innovation rules the headlines these days, and for good reason. Whether the discussion centers around Apple, Google, Netflix, Pandora, or any massive number of innovators, these are things that often grab our collective attention. We are living in a new economy and disruptive innovation is going to be a reality of this decade, and probably many to come. The problem is not that epic innovation is a bad goal to chase, the problem is everything we may miss by chasing it. Massive innovation has a tendency to be blinding on multiple levels. Some organizations chase it exclusively, missing critical action steps along the way. Some of our friends in the financial sector have been very guilty of this recently. Other organizational leaders feel so intimidated by disruptive innovation that they simply do nothing, allowing themselves to slowly slip into irrelevance.
The critical truth of the matter is simply this:
Almost nothing – nothing – happens in one single stroke of genius action.
The reality is what we often perceive as genius swoops of sweeping innovation are really just the final result of many, many, many, small steps in the right direction. Great learning organizations – those that truly innovate and create – do sweat the small the stuff. They exist in the details and they execute at a high level. Little things matter to great learning organizations, and they pay very close attention.
Marv Adams, current COO of TD Ameritrade, states that that our current connected and volatile business landscape means we must work at “keeping pace with the pace of change.” Adams has handled senior leadership and strategy roles for industries that have been plagued by massive and innovative change such as the automobile industry and the financial industry. The intriguing thing is that Adams hardly admonishes that success will come on the back of disruptive innovation (though it might). He admonishes “keep pace”. In his most famous book, “Good to Great”, author and researcher Jim Collins found that great organizations are disciplined and consistent. Today, great learning organizations arrive at disruptive innovation through valuing both creativity and disciplined execution. In short, great learning organizations march forward towards innovation and success one small step and a time.
In art and music the term “negative space” is used to describe open space or space that is “not used”. To an artist, the negative space is a strategic decision. It’s an artistic strategy to not explore that area and leave it as it is. It’s not just “blank space”, it’s part of the entire work. Consider Apple for a moment. It’s not simply the innovative products that Apple has launched that make them so incredible. It is also their incredible discipline to stay constant and on task. It is just as amazing to think of the all the poor decisions and bad products that Apple could have launched that they did not. They’ve been disciplined and it has paid off. They have strategically chosen where to innovative, and where to stay out. As organizational leaders it is important that we understand the value of taking small steps towards success and innovation. We gather information, analyze, and take a step. We pick the right places to step into, blending creativity and strategy in our work. Great learning organizations sweat the small stuff and work in the details.
Details matter. Small steps matter. Discipline matters.
Read all 1o Disciplines of a Learning Organization here.