A Message for Future MBAs: Innovation Comes From Exploration

jorge barba inide innovation management

Jorge Barba at INIDE University talking about Innovation Strategy and Management

Where fear runs rampant, innovation dies.

I was invited to speak to a few groups of undergraduates and MBA students at INIDE university, these are people who work at established and well known companies. They are also people who are moving up in the ranks, or gaining new skills to get that top spot.

So, I was excited to get the chance to share my experience with them about the new world of innovation…

As wrote last week, though we’re at the border with the U.S., Tijuana is not a city that adopts new ideas or technology; it is a laggard. I’ve known this for a long time. Still, we’ve tried to create a culture that rewards risk taking; rather that celebrate more of the same ideas.

A colleague of mine who arranged for me to speak at INIDE has just experienced first hand how indifferent people in Tijuana are about new ideas and technologies. I wasn’t surprised that one group in particular, those on the MBA track, pushed back on my ideas on how to manage for innovation inside established businesses.

For example, in the photo above I was explaining how companies like Google stay innovative by both exploiting their existing business model and exploring their next growth platform through active experimentation with ideas that have nothing to do with the existing business.

They seek to find the next revolution before it finds them.

When presented with this idea, people in the classroom almost went up in arms! These people have never worked on an innovative project, so the idea that playing to win means sometimes losing money scared their pants off; experimentation just doesn’t compute in their minds.

Most said they’ve done interesting things, but those things are close to what they already do. To do innovation is to get outside your comfort zone and question your assumptions; not to do a little bit better on what you already do.

Most people, even people in business, never care to ask themselves how it is that companies like Google, Amazon, Apple and others manage to stay ahead of the pack for such a long time, so they were surprised to hear that there’s a method to the madness.

My message to this particular group of future MBA’s is that at some point they will have to hire and manage for transformation, not for optimization, if they want to succeed in the Next Economy that will be driven by emerging technologies like artificial intelligence. That means getting to play with the innovation equation: reducing errors + increasing insights; at the same time.

Basically, exploit the current business model while also exploring the future.

Fear is mediocrity’s friend. It’s why most businesses rarely create new business models, they’re simply too afraid to try anything new because failure is not an option. To fail is to get fired. But, the bottom line is failure is a prerequisite for innovation, they go hand in hand.