Can Mature Companies Innovate

from the maybe-not dept

An interesting look at whether or not large mature companies can innovate. The end suggestions is that, no, for the most part, they can’t. They can talk about innovation, and try to innovate, but they’re too focused on squeezing money out of existing businesses. This is, of course, good for a “startup culture”, but I wonder how true it is. Unfortunately, despite being a “journal” article, there is very little actual evidence presented beyond anecdotal stories.

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Comments on “Can Mature Companies Innovate”

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Burt Masnick (profile) says:

Can Mature Companies Innovate

Mature companies have systems in place to almost guarantee that they won’t innovate. Note that when IBM wanted to make its first PC, the put the operation outside the normal IBM paper and decision approval system and let them run essentially (at least for IBM) free. Of course, as soon as it was evident that they might be onto something big, they pulled it back into the paper and decision approval system so that they made sure it wouldn’t thrive in a fast changing environment. Some big companies (3M comes to mind) do try very hard to foster innovation, but it’s a struggle and must have support from the very top all the way through middle management.

kai (user link) says:

Re: Re: Can Mature Companies Innovate

I feel guilty writing this, but Idea-X is aiming to be a cultural+technological (along with Cap Gemini Ernst & Young management consulting) solution that helps large companies facilitate innovation. We are even working with Clayton on it (previous post).

I’d love to hear a larger discussion from the techdirt community about experiences, suggestions (cultural or technological) on making such a process/technology work–either here or on idea-x itself. I’d even like to hear flames on why it wouldn’t work, or bad experiences within a corporate setting.

another Mike says:

Can Mature Companies Innovate

I agree with the views expressed in this article. I work for a mid-sized company that was just taken over by a large one. Overnight we’ve been transformed from a tight-knit group to members of a complex bureaucracy. Projects that used to take weeks now take months. Problems that were solved by a quick phone call now require lengthy meetings. Anyone with an idea that could save time or money knows to keep it to themselves. It’s difficult enough to get an ID badge – implementing a new idea would be nearly impossible.

John Williams says:

Re: but do startups really innovate?

In his book, Christensen illustrates that the bare technological innovations (my terms), such as cramming tighter bit-density on a hard disk, come from larger companies – the R&D is driven by customers who want the products to somehow get bigger or better. There is also usually lots of these customers and they are willing to spend more to improve these products. This isn’t architectural innovation – it’s improving an existing architecture.

Smaller companies or individuals are usually responsible for innovations to underlying architectural issues such as making real small or real cheap hard disks for use in devices that haven’t traditionally been able to use hard disks.

I find myself personally going through this. I build large systems for the healthcare industry. After years of designing and coding on the same, very large, system, it is really easy to get deep into improving some arcane aspect of it. There is no argument that this kind of task is well worth doing becuase it is almost always something the users want and it will improve their ability to get the job done. Sometime the ideas are innovative, but this isn’t really innovation.

When I get a chance to delve into new areas, putting part of the application online for a different user base, for instance, I look at the overall system from a very different perspective and often come up with very exciting and untapped functionality.

I think this is part of the emotion that fueled the dot-com boom – being able to go grocery shopping, for instance, in a very very different manner. It wasn’t necessarily innovative or even good, but a few good things came from it.

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