Law of innovation inertia

Imagine if two people were given the same slides, reports, diagrams and the like, and were told to craft a unique strategy for the company. To do that, both would be put in separate rooms where they will be given 4 hours to work. After the 4 hours, both people come out from their respective room and present the same conclusion.

There are two ways to look at a situation like this:

  1. You think that since both came to the same conclusion, then it should be a good decision to make
  2. You think that something is terribly wrong

I assure you, most people go with option number 1.

It makes no sense to think that if we all read the same books, we should have equal performance. Also, it makes no sense to think that if we all follow the same training, step-by-step, that we will have an equal level of performance.

This dynamic is also part of the law of innovation inertia:

“Look, this (company, geography or organization) is innovative.  These are the things that seem to be different about them.  So, let’s do those ‘different things’ the same way, and we’ll be innovative too!”

Sound familiar?

There are books and blog posts about innovative companies and the lessons you should take away from them. No doubt these are important insights to discuss and understand, and if looked from a larger picture, a smart company will know how to implement those lessons.

For me, it is not so much about giving you examples from other companies so that you go and copy what they do. That, quite frankly, is stupid. There is more to it than mindless copying. It is more about providing context that there are other approaches. Not saying, this is THE WAY.

To innovate you must overcome the need for step-by-step recipes

Yes, I’m serious. As I’ve said before, there are plenty of methodologies that you can use to get started. But there is a much deeper reason for discounting methodologies…

Perception separates innovator from imitator.

That is why there is nothing linear about innovating. While other practitioners are infatuated by frameworks and templates, I believe template thinking does not equal innovation. Why? It goes back to my initial paragraph and how people will tend to come to the same conclusions.

Even with templates and frameworks.

I’ve seen companies implement innovation programs that are the mirror image of other companies. If anything, those innovation program documents look like a reverse-engineered playbook from Google, without the culture behind them. That makes them a waste of time.

While there are “innovation breeding” tactics that any type of company can use – quarterly hackathons, job swapping – the “why” behind them should be grounded on your own point of view. Sometimes,  better, deeper and frame-shifting questions are all that are needed to see things anew.

And that doesn’t require a methodology. Just good old fashioned curiosity!

Key takeaway

Innovation inertia is the equivalent of spinning your wheels without getting anywhere. Because even though you are adapting ideas that worked for someone else, that doesn’t mean they will work for you. This happens for a few reasons:

  • Companies copy tactics deliberately without consideration for strategy
  • Our own biases keep us from innovating
  • You benchmark without considering the larger context
  • A company doesn’t have a unique point of view about its future

UPDATE: Jeffrey Phillips and Tim Kastelle responded with their own thoughts in their respective blogs: Innovation copy and paste, The unknown knowns of innovation.

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