December 6, 2009...11:16 pm

Innovate or Die!

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In the movie Annie Hall, Woody Allen laments to Diane Keaton about the sorry state of their stale relationship.  “A relationship is like a shark”, he says. “It has to constantly move forward or it dies.  And I think what we got on our hands is a dead shark.”

With the mobile ecosystem changing so rapidly, if a company is not continually moving forward, it too will become a dead shark.  A client of mine was talking to a potential customer in China who remarked that six months ago China not only did not have the Android phone, it also didn’t even have 3G! 

The crux of a mobile company’s proactive efforts to stay in front of the change curve, and its response to the inevitable change that comes, is largely a result of the company’s culture of innovation. Professors from Harvard Business School and Brigham Young University just completed a six-year study of more than 3,000 executives and 500 innovative entrepreneurs which identified the five skills that enable the best innovators to soar above everyone else. 

Published in December’s Harvard Business Review, the article posits that what innovators have in common is their ability to actively observe the world around them and put  ideas and information together in unique combinations .  This ability to connect disparate qualitative and quantitative input is key to innovators’ ability to think outside the box and develop the paradigm changing innovation we have seen in the technology and mobile space.

Here are the five skills that the study says drives innovation.  How many of them are actively encouraged as part of your company’s culture?

  •  Associating: The ability to connect seemingly unrelated questions, problems or ideas from different fields.
  • Questioning: Innovators constantly ask questions that challenge the common wisdom. They ask “why?”, “why not?” and “what if?”
  • Observing: Discovery-driven executives scrutinize common phenomena, particularly the behavior of potential customers.
  • Experimenting: Innovative entrepreneurs actively try out new ideas by creating prototypes and launching pilots.
  • Networking: innovators go out of their way to meet people with different ideas and perspectives.

What are the consequences of failing to innovate and adapt to changes in the ecosystem? 

Well, we only need to look back to 19th century Manchester, England for inspiration.  That is where the light-colored peppered moths used their coloration to blend in with the white-barked trees as camouflage to protect them from hungry birds.

However, due to the intense pollution caused by the Industrial Revolution, Manchester’s trees became discolored with soot, and the light-colored moths began to stick out and get eaten, while the newly hatched dark-colored moths blended in. Now, in the past few decades, pollution controls have helped clean up the environment, and the trees are returning to their original color. Hence, the now newer lighter moths are once again thriving while the darker cousins are becoming dinner.

Scientists now believe it was the adaptive power of natural selection that caused the moths to change color.  In other words, if the moth population didn’t evolve, mutate or otherwise change color over time, their prognosis for longevity didn’t look good.  In fact, before 1848, there were no dark-colored peppered moths.  In 1896, 98% of the pepper moths were dark.

In mobile, the innovation and resulting evolution needs to occur in months, not years, to ensure survival. Without that innovation, your company ceases to move forward and dies like a shark, or ceases to evolve as its ecosystem evolves and gets plucked off of its perch by hungry competitors.

Innovate or die?  I think I’ll take another look at those five skills that drive innovation again.


  • [...] Continuing, as you develop your content figure out how to communicate your best qualities. Tell your visitors why you’re in business and what new ideas you are implementing to stay ahead. This article has a list of qualities that you need to be innovative… click here. [...]

  • Those of us with inquisitive nature will be tempted to agree. In practice, an enormous segment of the world operates as it has for a very long time. Major retail business systems, for example, continue to use green screen for their central business systems. Why? There is no compelling reason to change it. Only when such a system fails or the company outgrows their current system will a new system even be considered. The disruption of business is too significant to implement a replacement for any lesser reason.

    The real consideration regarding innovation is application. Kind of like the decision to buy Mac or PC, what you plan to do is the guiding factor. Innovation is critical in the telecom industry because disruptions have entered the field. Also devices are personal and relatively inexpensive — even disposable. Market share in the network is at least in part related to providing access to a hot new device. Here innovation is not a luxury but a remain in business decision.

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