How Success Makes Innovation Harder
A companies success is often good for society and the company. However, with more profits comes more greed and less innovation society needs.
When we think about innovation, we often think about the type that propels us forward. We can all agree that this type of innovation must exist to ensure increased wealth in society.
But, there are many different types of innovation, and not all of them lead to the benefit of society. In our competitive world, this great innovation is becoming harder to see.
I work in a company considered to be innovative, yet have not produced anything ground-breaking for years. Unfortunately, some innovations that were revolutionary have stopped.
The reason for shutting these projects down tend to be for two reasons:
- Lack of value-added to the company. In other words, not enough profits.
- Lack of interest from the company. In other words, does not suit the strategic path they are on.
Many of these great projects closing cause a loss of talent and people not wanting to innovate.
Unfortunately, our competitive environment and free-market bring about a dilemma. Yes, a capitalist society is good for generating wealth, but it can be the death of itself too.
Over the past years, we have seen a rise in amazing and large companies. Apple, Google and Microsoft, to name a few. But, these large companies built on capitalism are now bringing another problem. That problem is a lack of revolutionary innovations.
So, here is the dilemma the leaders of tomorrow will have to navigate to ensure economic success.
A Short Lesson in Innovation
To understand the dilemma fully, you must understand the different types of innovation. So, here is a concise lesson.
These innovations transform products from complicated and expensive to easy and cheap. We have not seen one of these innovations in a long time, but they are vital for attracting investment.
An example of this is Henry Ford making a car extremely easy to make. Another one is Microsoft making computer software easy and efficient to run.
When we think of innovation, this is the one we have in our minds. It is the one that drives the most change and causes a dramatic shift in the way we do things.
These innovations keep us as consumers happy. They are the ones that make good products better. A good example is the new iPhone that comes out every so often, or the Playstation 5.
We like sustaining innovations because it gets us excited. A lot of the innovations we see today are sustaining innovations.
These innovations are the ones that businesses all want. It allows them to make the same product but for a cheaper cost of production. Hence the reason why it is called, efficiency innovations.
They are desirable for the business because it means they increase their profit margin on each sale made. However, doing too much of this can lead to problems in the future.
The Dilemma for Leaders to Solve
As leaders in our organisations, we tend to try to push our teams towards empowering innovations. The problem is, our organisations do not want that. They want efficient innovations.
In a highly competitive environment that is uncertain, efficient innovations are the best way to go. It leads to more profits and more capital. And by holding the capital, companies are in a better place to survive in a crisis.
A company’s success is often defined in this way too. The ability to sell the same products for cheaper leads to more profits. Yet still, there is one problem.
Efficient innovations, by their very nature, reduce jobs in the economy. After all, if the product is easier and cheaper to make, you do not need that many people to produce it.
Well, you may say, why don’t companies push more sustaining innovations. After all, it makes the consumer happy and leads to more profits. Well, there is a problem with this innovation too.
First of all, it does not create that many jobs. Most of the time, the same amount of people are needed to make the same product just a little better. So, it is very limited in job creation. But, the biggest problem is waste.
Once a company releases a new product, there is no need for consumers to buy the old one. By default, their past good products are no longer desired. Sustainable innovations are great for the company because it keeps profits coming in. However, its effect on the environment and economy are not very sustainable at all.
So, this only leaves one more type of innovation, and that is the one we all believe we have. Empowering innovations are the best. They create jobs and lead to more wealth in the economy. There are hardly any negatives for empowering innovations, so why are we not seeing them?
Well, empowering innovations need capital. They need a lot of capital. No revolutionary idea pops out of thin air. Companies have to be willing to invest time and much effort to squeeze these out. But, companies are not willing to do that anymore.
After all, efficient innovations keep the balance sheet healthy. As long as there is no need to drive empowering innovations, companies will sit with a tonne of cash.
Navigating the Dilemma
The goal is to plug the gap between efficient innovations and empowering innovations. In an ideal world, all these innovations would work in a cycle.
Empowering innovations → Sustaining Innovations → Efficient Innovations → Empowering Innovations
The gap is that companies are not using their capital to invest in empowering innovations. Instead, they are putting it back into efficient innovations.
Leaders will need to find new ways of working that allow for low-risk investment. The problem is, this gap is hard to find.
In short, we need empowering innovations, but companies are not willing to pay the cost for them.
With the help of the web, we are seeing pockets of empowering innovations that are low cost. For example, online learning is creating a new sector that is low in cost yet impacts millions. Now, people are a few clicks away from learning something new.
Leaders have to find the gaps that bring about empowering innovations with minimal effort. From doing this, leaders can start to navigate their way out of the dilemma. In doing so, they may be able to bring empowerment to society once more.
I am a Visionary and Writer who seeks to enrich society by challenging how we do business today to lead to a world of better leaders and opportunities tomorrow.