24 Jun 2009  Working Papers

Don’t Just Survive—Thrive: Leading Innovation in Good Times and Bad

Executive Summary — The financial crisis provides a sobering reminder of what happens when innovation fails to drive productive economic growth. For over a decade, money from around the world poured into the United States seeking innovation. Despite these massive investments, when adjusted for inflation, U.S. GDP grew slowly with much of the growth coming from government, professional, and business services, including real estate and outsourcing. What's more, inflation adjusted wages stalled for many, even as consumer spending increased. This paper argues that innovation is not a side business to a real business: rather, innovation is the foundation of a successful business. Key concepts include:

  • Entrepreneurs can be found and a culture of entrepreneurship can be developed in companies of any size and age.
  • Entrepreneurial leaders must relentlessly—but not recklessly—pursue opportunity. They must look beyond the resources currently controlled to harness the power, resources, and reach of their organizations and networks.
  • Breakthrough innovations that change people's lives and the very structure and power dynamics of industries cannot be managed as "silos," tucked away in corporate, university, or government research labs, in incubators, or within venture capital funded entrepreneurial start-ups. Access to the marketplace is needed to help speed commercialization and adoption.
  • Emerging opportunities must be nurtured and the transition to high growth must be managed. Once breakthrough innovations catch hold, growth must be funded and managed to exploit the full value of the opportunity.
  • Incremental innovations must ensure that businesses that have passed through the high-growth stage can continue to deliver the resources, capabilities, and platforms needed to fuel the emerging opportunities of the future.
  • Different organizational structures, cultures, governance and risk management systems, and leadership styles are needed to manage the business innovation lifecycle from an initial idea to a sustainable business that leverages entry position and capabilities to exploit the full potential for growth and evolution over time.

 

Author Abstract

Battered by contracting markets and frozen credit, many businesses today are fighting for survival. Indeed, the current global financial crisis provides a mandate for restructuring. But survival is not the end goal. In fact, cost cutting and restructuring are simply the first steps in repositioning and leading a company and industry through the crisis and in defining how business will be conducted in the future. This paper describes how IBM managed to, not just survive the crisis it faced in the early 1990s, but to reposition the company to lead the industry. The powerful lesson from the IBM story is that innovation is not a side business to running the real business. Innovation is the business. Breakthrough innovations that change people's lives and the very structure and power dynamics of industries can't be managed as "silos," tucked away in corporate, university, or government research labs, in incubators, or within venture capital funded entrepreneurial start-ups. Access to the marketplace is needed to help speed commercialization and adoption. Emerging opportunities must be nurtured and the transition to high growth must be managed. Once breakthrough innovations catch hold, growth must be funded and managed to exploit the full value of the opportunity. And finally, incremental innovations must ensure that businesses that have passed through the high growth stage can continue to deliver the resources, capabilities, and platforms needed to fuel the emerging opportunities of the future. This business lifecycle view of innovation requires new leadership and organizational models and new approaches to managing risk and uncertainty. 20 pages.

Paper Information