Chief innovator takes aim at incremental gains

Phil SamuelTo hear a man sounding what sounds like the death knell of step-by-step experimental innovation, read a post in the new ChiefInnovatorOnline.com blog from Six Sigma consultant and chief innovation officer Dr. Phil Samuel at Breakthrough Management Group in Colorado.

The title is “Better Isn’t Enough. You Have to be Different.” His example is beleaguered Motorola, which has failed to create a breakthrough successor to its RAZR phone. He says:

Motorola seems to be playing by the rules it knows best: doing things better, or taking what it has and optimizing it. But sustainable business success also entails doing things differently on a consistent basis. While a company may hit a product design and innovation home run, if it doesn’t have a way to then hit another home run, it will be outrun. …

“Futurists have been predicting this increased pace-of-change phenomenon for a long time, and each year, more and newer products, business models and processes are created by more players in the global economy. Just doing what you’ve always done better, in other words, is quickly becoming an antiquated notion and a recipe for business failure.”

He admits, however:

Yes, doing things better and engaging in constant improvement is absolutely necessary for success. But that’s not all. So critical, too, is doing things differently, and having the right culture, systems, methods, tools and people for innovating today – and as soon as that is done beginning the process of outdoing yourself as quickly as possible.”

In his formulation, then, step-by-step incremental innovation still has a place, but it’s a secondary position behind conceptual breakthroughs.

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