Here’s an exercise in connecting up ideas based on a few innovation-related quotes that have caught my attention over the past few days:
If you interact with things in your life, everything is constantly changing. And if nothing changes, you’re an idiot.
That’s Umberto Eco, via Stowe Boyd. This reminded me of a point made in Switch by Chip and Dan Heath – they argue that the idea that people naturally resist change is untrue. After all, nearly all of us actively make choices that result in massive change – we get married, have kids, or move to new cities (or countries!). These are all changes that turn our lives upside down – yet we don’t just embrace these changes, we often seek them out.
Usually, people resist change if they can’t see a good outcome coming from it. Within firms, change is an idea diffusion problem more than anything. As Scott Berkun says in his new column for the Huffington Post:
Having great ideas for things in our competitive modern age demands as much sophistication in marketing and promotion as it does for the skills of invention alone.
How many designers have been asked to make a “GTA killer”, or a “Guitar Hero killer”, or a “WoW killer”? I personally have heard numerous designers and producers working on unreleased MMO projects describe their game in these terms: “It’s like WoW, but…” I just shake my head when I hear this, because the team that is best poised to deliver a successful game that is an evolution of WoW is… well, the WoW team. They’ve got their thing, and they’re good at it. Let’s all carve out our own thing, and be the best at it. Truly great games are made by passionate teams who are on fire with the notion of changing the industry. If you are aiming at a competitor rather than aiming to make something fresh and innovative, you’ve lost.
The lesson from both is fairly simple – if you are trying to beat a well-established competitor at their own game, you will lose. It’s not enough even to be significantly better than they are. When they are deeply embedded within the economic network, you have to find a new business model, and a new way to win.
Finally, the Financial Times review (requires a sign-up to read) of the Where Good Ideas Come From by Steven Johnson discusses a different aspect of this network:
To me, the more interesting point is that many more inventions for which private enterprise takes the credit were devised by networks rather than individuals – among them plastic, the typewriter and the light-bulb. It suggests that co-operation is highly valuable for companies as well as individuals.
The point is already influencing some enterprises – drugs companies are relying more on research done by a network of external providers, and Procter & Gamble has tried to open its research and development efforts. The question that Johnson fairly raises is whether they need to go further in unlocking patent and copyright protections to unleash inventiveness.
That’s the good side of the network economy: connections make us more inventive. The bad side is that connections can make it harder to get a good new idea to spread – you have to break connections to existing ideas before you can connect people up with yours.
But doing that is a critical part of changing things. And as Umberto Eco says, if we’re not encountering change, life isn’t very interesting.