Innovation in older organizations

I am sure it’s something that you have observe yourself: A new company appears and brings innovation to the marketplace. If the innovation is successful, their innovation is adopted by the marketplace, the organization grows and with time, it becomes less and less innovative.

Over ten years ago, the CEO of an organization where I was working was making the observation that as you are rolling new products you are becoming attached to it. You have to provide your existing customers with add-ons, upgrades and new pieces that fits into your model. He was also telling me that he was not very worried of larger establish players as they can’t move faster… they are slower than his organization. However, he was worried about the newcomers, the small and nibble organizations.

Last year, I was able to attend a presentation from an anthropology professor at McGill University that was titled “A diversity / tolerance model of cultural evolution” in which he develop and interesting thesis (and I paraphrase): As human, in order to evolve and be prepared for any big changes, we need to generate and preserve diversity. To do so, we need to be very good at finding a wide range of solutions to a given problem. We must be very convinced that our own solution is the best but we need to be very bad a recognizing the optimal solution.

If we would be even fairly good at finding the optimal solution than we would stay close to it, that would eliminate diversity. In order to observe that, just look at the work of a committee. People participate in those with a wide diversity of opinions and are all convinced that theirs is the best. As a result, the committee takes a very long time to come to an agreement and that’s if they even find an agreement.

I can tell you that I have been able to observe than first hand in quite a few places and the work of that professor (André Costopoulos) does match my observations. I think that this committee work is one of the explanation on why those older organization do very few innovation. They will also observe other innovate (while being convinced that their old ways are the best) until they are in trouble and then they will try to adapt by adopting the innovation.

It’s true that some large older organizations have been able to keep innovating, this is the case with Apple under Steve Jobs for instance. However, he was famous for dismissing committees and opinions of others!

Anyway, I just wanted to share that with you as a start, I am sure I’ll explore other aspects of that in the future.

In the meantime, you can watch professor Costopoulos’ presentation by following this link:


A diversity / tolerance model of cultural evolution


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