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Continuous Innovation Enables Breakthrough

| On 02, Jun 2010

Ellen Domb

Rosabeth Moss Kanter (well-known management author and Harvard professor) presents her observations and challenges to CEOs who are embracing innovation during the recovery in the article “Block-by-Blockbuster Innovation” in the May 2010 Harvard Business Review.   See http://hbr.org/2010/05/column-block-by-blockbuster-innovation/ar/1  


I agree with many of her points, but I also noticed that with a bit of TRIZ orientation, much of what she says would be a lot stronger–they would stand as part of the database on human innovation that is the foundation of TRIZ, rather than as the observations of one person (although she’s a very well-qualified observer.)


Prof. Kanter starts with the observation that some company leaders are ignoring risk, calling for breakthrough innovation, and even denigrating incremental innovation.  She sees the positioning of continuous improvement as the opposite of breakthrough innovation as a false dichotomy, that increases the risk of innovation.   I disagree with her contention that innovation must be risky, while agreeing with the other points.   She is in complete agreement with the classical patterns of evolution in TRIZ, pointing out that breakthrough systems are the result of many incremental changes in product, processes, and the environment (including the customer!)  that make the breakthrough possible.


  
She proposes an innovation pyramid with multiple ideas from many sources at the base (TRIZ concept “somebody, someplace has solved your problem”?) a portfolio of ideas in the middle, competing for resources, and a few strategic ideas at the peak, given dedicated attention to develop future directions for the company.   This could be seen as a business example of the separation principles (the parts have different characteristics from the whole) or even an example of multi-dimensionality.



Did this article stimulate your thinking about innovation?  Comments are welcome.