There’s No Low-Hanging Fruit in Innovation


There is No Low-Hanging Fruit

I hear this idea a lot when organisations are trying to ramp up their innovation efforts:

“We need to find some quick wins to get this going, so we’ll look for the low-hanging fruit.”

Here’s the thing: there is no low-hanging fruit.

If there were, we’d have picked it already. I mean, we’re not stupid, right?

Solve the Tough Problems First

In 10 Types of Innovation: The Discipline of Building Breakthroughs, Larry Keeley, Helen Walters, Ryan Pikkel, and Brian Quinn say:

Solve the tough problems first.

If we do that, the easier stuff will take care of itself later. The issue is that if we start with the easy stuff first, we may never crack the hard problems. And when that happens, the whole effort is wasted.

This relates directly to the ideas of Peter Thiel – that going from 0 to 1 of something is the toughest task you face, and it’s worth putting in the work it takes to do this effectively. It’s doing something distinctive that actually helps you build a competitive advantage – and you get “distinctive” when you solve tough problems in a way that creates value for people.

But About That Low-Hanging Fruit….

Actually, I lied back in the first section. There often is low-hanging innovation fruit in larger organisations.  And, sometimes, it makes some sense to go after it.  It can help build some innovation capability.

However, the focus on quick wins often means:

“We’d like some of that innovation you keep talking about, just give it to us without making us change anything.”

And that never works.

So even if you do look for low-hanging fruit first, ultimately it has to lead you to solving tough problems.  If you’re a startup, this is what you have to work on from day one.  For organisations both big and small, solving tough problems is the only way you can build an advantage.

And if you’re not building advantages, what’s the point of innovating in the first place?

Photo: from flickr/kerrybuckley under a Creative Commons License.

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

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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