Why Innovation Will Ruin You

Our world is ripe with innovation these days, and this is a good thing. Change is coming rapidly and, consequently, creativity and innovation have risen in value. Many organizations are beginning to chase hard after innovation by bringing their own creative ideas to market, while others are actively pursuing the purchase of innovation. The chase is a healthy thing and I have admonished its pursuit many times before on the Thrive Blog. Yet there needs to be caution here. This pursuit comes with a very real danger that all organizational leaders must be cognizant of avoiding: overcommitment.

In his book, “How the Mighty Fall”, author Jim Collins writes, “certainly, any enterprise that becomes complacent or refuses to change or innovate will eventually fall.” This is not really a new idea. Jack Welch echos this statement when he writes the idea “change or die” is absolutely true. Or maybe we could consider the words of bestselling author and leadership guru, Ken Blanchard, who writes of change, “this is no longer a probability, it is a certainty.” Yet all of this lacks a critical filter:

It’s not change OR innovation, it must be change AND innovation.

The greatest disservice we have done to ourselves is promote the assumption that we can innovate without change. Change is hard and often fails (about 50 to 75 percent of the time). So we fall into this trap where, maybe unconsciously, we decide that we will promote innovation and keep everything else as well. What could be better than having both? Why not just keep what we are doing and take on some great innovations as well? And then another, and another, and… You get the point. The answer is because it drives overcommitment, and overcommitment will ultimately bring us to ruin. On the same pages where Collins admonishes that complacency will lead to failure, he explains that complacency is rarely what actually causes our fall. Instead it is overcommitment that more often brings us to ruin. Overcommitment brought on my too much ambition for innovation, too much fear of complacency, or too much aggression towards growth. The fact is innovation can’t happen without change. At some point, for us to truly succeed at innovation, we must make tough choices.

The lesson here is hardly that we can have no innovation or creativity without abandoning our roots. The lesson here is that we must ruthlessly battle overcommitment, lest we dig our own graves. Every innovative idea has a critical point of dissonance. A point where what “will be” collides head on with “what is”. It is at this point where great leaders must be compelled to make decisions, cast vision, and lead away from overcommitment. The worst thing we can do is continue to add to our plate, spread our resources, and perpetuate our complexity. We can’t let innovation be compromised by a fear of change, forcing use all to try and resolve this world where everything exists at the same time. Too many good things equal one, giant, massive, mess for us all. Great leaders make wise decisions when innovation encounters dissonance. Sometimes we choose the hard work of change, leaving behind our currently reality to run after new opportunities. Sometimes we may choose to continue with current opportunities and not pursue new innovations, even though they may seem promising. Extreme caution should be taken by those who choose to continually add new innovation and pursue new opportunities without cutting others. Whether your decision to pursue every opportunity is based on fear of change or a bravado toward success, the increased complexity and dilution of resources will eventually catch up with you. In essence, Netflix has it right and RIM has it completely wrong.

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2 thoughts on “Why Innovation Will Ruin You

  1. Great points Micah. It is a tough balance. I guess the risk as well is that things get seen through to execution, but you don’t get to reap the benefits of the results of the innovation as you run on to implementing the next big idea.

    • micahyost says:

      Thabo-
      Absolutely! As you well know, just because you have implemented a new idea doesn’t mean you have executed it well. Moving on too quickly could risk leaving great potential on the table. I’ll be the first one in the room to get behind creative ideas and innovative thought, but I think there must be a disciplined approach to achieving excellence.

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