For innovation firepower turn weakness into strength

I’m not a fan of the idea of only working on your strengths and ignoring your weaknesses. It’s too one-dimensional and leads to ‘more of the same’. This idea of only working on your strengths surely leads to continuous improvement no doubt but not dramatic change. Only by working on your strengths ‘continuously’ and turning your weaknesses into strengths can you have superior capability.

On Saturday night I was watching UFC 124 and . His opponent, Koscheck, had to much respect for him that he decided to be tentative and never showed any intent in fighting. And thus made all of us watch a boring fight.

Why didn’t a guy that was aggressive pre-fight, look like a punching bag at fight time?

Because Georges St. Pierre is a superior all-around-fighter, and made Koscheck’s game plan irrelevant. GPS is versatile and can adapt to any fighting style on the fly. This is what makes him so good. He has no obvious weaknesses. The guy is a strategist.

What GSP does, is work on his weaknesses and turns them into strengths. This has lead to a dramatic change in his fight style and more importantly how his opponents perceive him. His opponents come prepared with a strategy to defeat him, but GSP adapts to it. This leaves his opponents in limbo as their game plan is now made irrelevant by a fighter who shows no weakness.

What does this have to do with innovation?

Working on improving/eliminating your weaknesses leads to dramatic change. It’s like renewal. A few weeks ago wrote a great post on how there are basically :

  • meet existing needs and expectations that customers are aware of,
  • anticipate needs that customers are not (yet) aware of (perception).

The first is short term focused and relies on an organization exploiting it’s known strengths. The second, relies on going beyond the known. Sometimes even relinquishing some of it’s strengths and turning their weaknesses into strengths. The majority of organizations focus on meeting existing needs (known by analysis) but not on anticipating needs. This logic is pervasive. It’s what you’re taught in school to do. Anticipating needs (imagination+insight), which was taken away in school, is done by very few.

As Ralph noted in his post: Successful companies of the future will most likely be able to combine both capabilities.

Basically, most organizations are good at exploiting existing capabilities but not good at creating new ones. Among other things, it’s this lack of imagination that is the weakness of most organizations.

Do you see the connection?

Last week I wrote that in the world of innovation there should be a . You have ‘projects’ that are intended to improve your product or service, but also have ‘projects’ that are beyond your known domain that are meant to either stretch your existing capabilities or acquire new ones. This is the way to go! By only improving your strengths you’ve already setup your tombstone.

To be built to last is to be built to change, and that only happens by continuously improving what you’re good at and relentlessly working on turning your weaknesses into strengths. Your strengths might save you in the short term, but your next source of advantage most likely will come from turning your weaknesses into strengths. And thus, will keep you relevant in the long term.

Thoughts?

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  • Kevin Mcfarthing

    Hi Jorge, I like to prioritize by assessing the impact an initiative will have on the organization, together with the urgency of the problem/opportunity. If strengthening a weakness has more impact than working on a strength, that’s what should take priority. Usually analytical support is available for choosing e.g. product innovation strategy,and a lot of judgement will be needed if we are talking about how a company innovates. Your opening point is correct though, people shouldn’t just focus on strength or weakness, it’s what will make most difference to your success.

    • Hi Kevin,

      Great point and taken. It’s picking your battles and improving continuously.

      Thanks for comment and hope you’re doing well 🙂

      Jorge

  • Ralph Ohr

    Hi Jorge,

    thanks for picking up this issue again and referencing my post!

    I think you’re dead on in pointing out that companies primarily focus on exploiting their existing capabilities. In order to gain and maintain a competitive edge, they try to match their capabilities (strengths) with known market conditions. That’s for sure one key for success. Short-and mid-term activities are based on common assumptions about how the industry works and what customers value. Decisions are derived from analysis and numbers, often driven by clear market/customer expectations.

    If success is projected in the long-term, companies are inevitably required to deal with the anticipation of evolving trends / needs as well as changes of existing assumptions. I think, it’s one essential capability in itself, to anticipate and to properly adapt to this foresight. That’s the lever to real differentiation and relevance.

    But it seems that companies tend to care for ‘what is’, rather than ‘what will be’. As you mentioned, this could indeed be related to a human weakness to value the current reality more than some vision and imagination of the future. Moreover, we have been recommended to avoid risks – and we intuitively know that the future is afflicted with uncertainty and hardly predictable. However, to prepare for what is to come, we are required to make assumptions based on the information basis we access. These assumptions will finally turn out to be right or wrong.

    From my perspective, it’s crucial for companies to understand the following: there is no harvest without seed. Both steps are equally important – but require different skills. That’s pretty related to what I wrote yesterday in terms of ‘management vs leadership’: leaders come up with visions and foresight, initiating change and ‘create by seeding’. Managing is more about harvesting and exploiting what has successfully been nurtured – that’s ambidexterity.

    I agree with you: companies should realize their weakness to appropriately deal with the future and put some effort in building up the capabilities to do so – otherwise, their harvest will most likely be on the decline.

    Cheers, Ralph

    • Hi Ralph (@ralph_ohr),

      Right on. Managers read reports (present), leaders imagine what could be (future). The sad is thing is there’s way too many managers and not a lot of leaders. Even the training is done to create more managers. Enough, I could go on and on.

      Thanks for the comment Ralph.