James Altucher recently suggested that “Eat All You Want of the Foods You Love and Still Lose Weight” would be a great book title – that no matter what was inside, it would sell. It’s easy to see why. Many of us like to eat all we want of the foods we love, and we also want to lose weight, so if we could do both at the same time, wouldn’t that be great?
In his new book Relentless Innovation: What Works, What Doesn’t–And What That Means For Your Business, Jeffrey Phillips points out a similar innovation paradox:
Everyone understands from the beginning how difficult it is to create compelling new ideas in any sutation, much less to convert those ideas into viable products and services. To compound the difficulty, executives are asking for disruptive ideas while expecting the business to continue to operate at full effectiveness and efficiency. Middle managers receive these messages and understand the unspoken dichotomy in the request: create radical, valuable new products and services but don’t upset the status quo.
Phillips nails the problem – many firms want an innovation program create radical, valuable new products and services but don’t upset the status quo.
If that’s what you want, innovation is impossible.
Relentless Innovation is a very good book. One of the key points that Phillips makes is that one of the major obstacles to innovation is the emphasis that many firms have on efficiency. You can innovate to become more efficient, and many firms do this well. However, to be successful over time, you also need to develop new products and services, and you can’t do this just through efficiency.
Here is a big part of the reason for that. Efficiency is all about reducing variation. When you’re a manufacturer, and you’re using statistical process control to improve the quality of your products, then this is great.
However, innovation that creates new products and services, requires increased variation. You have to try things that you’ve never done before, experiment, fail, learn, and get feedback from customers. This is the diametric opposite of increasing efficiency. Here is how Phillips puts it:
You must shift your thinking to recognize that experimentation and prototyping is as much about discovery and new insights as it is about validation of internal perspectives and theories. Your firm must make it far easier to test ideas, gain new insights, and “fail forward.”
In addition to increasing your experiment rate, Relentless Innovation includes a number of other practical steps you can take if you find yourself in a situation where innovation is impossible (you can check out Jeffrey’s blog too for more – Innovate on Purpose).
To innovate well, you have to become comfortable with disturbing the status quo. Deborah Mills-Scofield addresses this very well in a recent post – listing status quo objections to innovation and good response to each.
You also have to be able to maintain a focus on efficiency while also generating great new ideas. Efficiency reduces variation, but great new ideas increase variation. This is another of the ten tensions in innovation that must be balanced. In each of these situations, you need to think “both-and”, rather than taking an “Either-or” approach.
If you want to innovate without changing anything, then innovation is impossible. To get around this problem, you need to align innovation with your strategy, and build a capability for innovating consistently within your organisation. It’s not easy, but it is possible. Relentless Innovation gives us some good ideas about how to do this, and that makes it worth a read.
Note: If you want a more conventional review of the book (I’m lousy at reviewing), check out this one by Jorge Barba.
Disclaimer: I know and like Jeffrey, and I received a free pdf of the book. I also bought my own copy. I’m writing about the book because of its quality, not because of who wrote it or how I got it.