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Innovation’s Thousand Enemies

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If success has a thousand fathers then every new innovation has a thousand enemies. This is especially true for someone attempting to alter the status quo in large corporations. I heard an interesting comment about this at an innovation conference that I attended recently. To paraphrase  the speaker “the future potential of an idea is directly proportional to the number of people that try to kill the idea.” Think about it. If the idea was worthless and had no potential then the opposition’s best strategy is to let the proponents push forward with the idea until the market determines the inevitable outcome. However if the idea has the potential to disrupt the market and by extension internal corporate fiefdoms then it is only natural (but by no means excusable) that the corporate anti-bodies would be compelled to virulently attack the idea and the proponents behind the idea.

There are numerous examples of such behavior that have had dramatic impact on corporations growth and evolution. In a recent HBR podcast, Rita McGrath, author of “Discovery Driven Growth” narrates an anecdote from her father’s life. McGrath’s dad was a researcher at Kodak during the 80s. Apparently he foresaw the transition from paper to digital and advised Kodak that they should invest in digital technologies. However, the paper mafia within Kodak wielded too much clout and effectively prevented Kodak from making any meaningful investments in the digital domain.

Opposition doesn’t always come from within. In heavily regulated industries incumbents can try to subvert the political and bureaucratic processes to prevent new entrants from disrupting the market. This piece at SFGate on Virgin America documents how legacy airlines have consistently try to impede Virgin’s progress here in the US. It’s been an uphill battle for Virgin as they have tried to bring some much needed innovation to the airline industry in the US. For the sake of consumers I hope that new carriers such as Virgin & Jet Blue expand their coverage.


Written by Varma Chanderraju

January 3, 2011 at 1:29 pm

Posted in Airlines, Innovation

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