The Innovation Gut Check: Don't Fall In Love With Your "Babies"

Companies that want to stay successful and innovative routinely give death warrants to their products. Look at how many products Google alone abandoned more than a dozen in 2011. Here's how to keep commercial viability at the forefront, and what role marketing plays.

There's something about an innovator's mindset that sets him apart from the rest. The ability to see things differently and pursue ideas persistently appears to be innate in innovators. To have the guts to withstand repeated failures and systematically conduct trial and errors and in the process iterating designs and processes to come-up with something new and add value are also hard-wired into an innovator's system. But maybe this dogged persistence can also be a death sentence for a lot of innovators. When should innovators give-up on an idea, a product or a process? Why are failure rates for new "innovative" products very high?

The persistent pursuit of an idea, a product or a process is no doubt a key to innovation success but falling in love with it to the exclusion of everything else is a recipe for failure. This is the case when a lone innovator or a company frequently wastes time and money trying to extend the uses of a product or process to uses for which it is not suitable, despite negative market opinion and lack of commercial viability. This is the case when a tech company refuses to stop selling a product hoping for the market to catch-up, not daunted by a quarter of lackluster sales figure or bad customer reviews.

Successful innovators are able to see their innovation from a detached point of view. Thomas Edison's innovations thrived mainly because he considers commercial viability a very important criterion. Companies that want to stay successful and innovative routinely give death warrants to their products. Look at how many products Google abandoned in 2011—more than a dozen! All for lack of success and all because these products failed to make the impact they had hoped for.

This brings us to a very important corollary. Are these failures due to a failed marketing strategy? Yes, definitely! This is the result of a marketing strategy that lags behind research and development. Marketing strategy should direct research and development initiatives especially when there is huge R&D spending involved. R&D and engineering should not be left on their own and come-up with innovations purely out of their passion and imagination leading to costly product launches that fizzle from lack of market reception. More importantly when this happens, a company or an innovator should know when to pull the plug or abandon the sinking ship.

The gut to go after an idea and turn them into an innovative product or process is what makes good innovation. But ability to do an honest gut check, to give the axe to an innovation for lack of commercial success or market acceptance is what makes brilliant innovation.

[Image: Flickr user Brandon Doran]

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