Why it is hard to innovate?

Posted on: May 3, 2018 by Yavuz Agca

“Another blog revolving around the probably most overrated topic of our era”. This could be the initial thought for many people and to be honest I could be one of them if it was not me writing it. Yes I am talking about innovation.  Actually I will mainly address the core content of innovation, which in my point of view is “Change” and “Adapting to change”.

Again change is not a new topic. Heraclitus around BC.500 stated “Everything changes and nothing stands still”, though most known interpretation of this quote is “Only constant in life is change itself”. Another example comes from Machiavelli around 1500s “Who so ever desires constant success must change his conduct with the times”. So we can say this is definitely not new.

Through history we have seen the effects of change. In the history of corporations, we have read many transformational stories of companies led by a visionary leadership. The main essence of transformation is about rediscovering the core principles of a company and building a new methodology/model around that.

If we are dealing with a concept that represents itself in different variations, the question we must ask is “So what is changed?”.

The importance of innovation culture

According to Gary Hamel, “Change itself is changed”. If we look into past, we can see a linear improvement.  If we look forward, graphic becomes exponential. So we need faster transformational cycles, and here comes the importance of innovation culture that reinforces the daily transformation… or… maybe not.

I was recently talking with a close friend of mine, who is an entrepreneur. After a few failures, he is now running a successful SME. Here’s his comment about innovation: “an overrated topic”. “You call it innovation; I call it doing your job right. Many people in the corporate world may object to this, indeed I was one of them. Doing your job right does not imply innovation; it means you are managing within a status quo. There is no change involved for this”. As I questioned his comment and he explained how he managed obstacles and outrun the competition in a niche market where he was not the first entrant, I realized something else, a shocking difference in terms of perception of “doing your job right”. It was a total collection of daily micro level transformations. An entrepreneur always focuses on the core ideals/goals of the business, and does his/her job right by committing to these ideals/goals. On the other hand when a corporate worker is “doing his/her job right” it means applying the rulesets (processes/methods); and innovation is mostly based on questioning these rulesets.

Adapting to change

Corporations are built on ideals/goals, it is their core foundation. Founders run their companies through these ideals and their first circle of employees can internalize these easily and rapidly.  The issue is you cannot expand rapidly. So you need to formalize the work by creating the rulesets, processes and methods. Through time these rulesets, in perception, become the core of the business and this leads to the famous inappropriate behavior of “That is not how we do it here”.

With market evolution, these established companies start a transformation program which (if successful) basically reminds them their foundational ideals and build up a new methodology fitting into the changing environment.

But as the pace of change increases every day, it is becoming obsolete for companies to launch a new transformational program through these kinds of mega cycles; another shockwave might impact and disrupt their business. So what is the answer?

The Digital Transformation Journey

We are defining Digital Transformation as a never ending Journey, without a finish line. That is the path we should follow. That is why digital transformation is not just using different technologies in different context but it is also a journey to transform businesses into flexible organizations that can evolve and survive in a rapidly changing environment.

We have started with Innovation and Change, and end up with Digital Transformation. We started with the question “why it is hard to innovate?” And at the end do we have an answer? Is it related to Digital Transformation? Innovation is hard because it is a matter of breaking up established behaviors and building up new ones.  As humans we are not digitized (yet!) and cannot switch from one mode to another in the speed of light.  It is related to Digital Transformation because you cannot create a never ending journey with the established behavior that originated from the 1st industrial revolution.

In a nutshell, we have talked about continuous improvement in all aspects of business to adapt the environment. What about breakthroughs? Tsunami’s of business world? After adopting a behavior change would it be sufficient to survive from Tsunami? Why it is hard to predict a breakthrough? I will investigate these in my next blog post.

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About Yavuz Agca

Chief Technology Officer and member of the Scientific Community
Yavuz has been working in the IT market for 14 years, for various industries and in different geographies, where he held positions from pure technical to consulting. He holds a degree in Electronics Engineering. Yavuz was an actor and director within amateur and professional drama groups during 10 years. The social magnitude of these interest areas encouraged him to pursue creating a holistic view that takes technology, business and social norms into account.  Currently he is Chief Technology Officer within Atos and a member of the Atos Scientific Community.

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