A Few Words On…Innovation

Vijay Govindarajan talks casually about his research.

Musings on innovation, from Vijay Govindarajan, Coxe Distinguished Professor of Management, and the author of Reverse Innovation: Create Far From Home, Win Everywhere.

I think the biggest struggle for organizations, especially successful organizations, is to engage in breakthrough innovation. The reason is that success traps them into doing what they know how to do.

The reason this is a trap is because the word “trap” implies a double-edged sword. You have to do the things to support the current business. But that current business simultaneously creates a problem for you.

If you want to excel in breakthrough innovation, you have to create some space between the organization that’s doing the current business and the group empowered to do the innovating. Without that space, the current business will reject anything new. You’ve got to create a dedicated team that should be allowed to build different competencies, different processes.

The most important thing in creating a dedicated team is that you view it as a bet on the future. It’s nothing more than conducting experiments and testing assumptions.

I have applied this to a variety of industries. It could be a church, it could be General Electric. But it’s always a cross-functional management team that has to think this through together.

Startups have to follow the same principles. They don’t have a big business that might suppress new ideas, but they still have to form a dedicated team with the right capabilities. The handicap is that they don’t have the resources of a bigger company.

Breakthrough innovation has always been hard, but the reason why it’s even more important today is the rate of change is much faster. Strategies become obsolete much faster.

This applies as much to personal development as it does to corporate development. As a human being you have to continually invest in the future and the present. The problem with the future is it’s not about what you have to do in the future, it’s about what you have to do today. That’s how the future evolves. If I don’t invest in the future today, it doesn’t hurt me today, it hurts me a few years from now, therefore it’s easy to slip.

A Few Words…is a chance for Tuck faculty to talk casually about their research. Look for another one soon.