the innovation strategy of flowers


That’s a grevillea from our front yard, and I took that picture in the dead of winter. Admittedly, the dead of winter in Brisbane is not exactly harsh, but when I shared that picture with friends in North America and Europe, they still thought it was pretty odd to see such a beautiful flower in the middle of winter. But flowers bloom in winter all the time here in Australia. In fact, it is very difficult to predict when the native flowers will bloom. That is because the plants here flower when conditions are right – and conditions (especially rain) are very unpredictable here.

That’s very different from when I was growing up in Alaska. There, we had no flowers for most of the year, and then in the summer things went absolutely crazy. In the temperate regions, plant schedules are much more predictable. People can actually plan trips to New England to see the leaves changing colour – which would be impossible down here!

The different strategies of plants provide an interesting metaphor for innovation. If your market environment is stable and predictable, then you can be like a temperate region flower. You can use elaborate planning tools, and do things at the same time every year.

However, if your market environment is more turbulent, you have to be more like an Australian flower – opportunistic. Whenever conditions are right, you have to be ready to act. This means that your innovation work has to be continuous so that when an opportunity arises you can capitalise on it – you can’t just turn innovation on and off when you need it.

So to respond to uncertainty, think more like a grevillea.

Student and teacher of innovation - University of Queensland Business School - links to academic papers, twitter, and so on can be found here.