Why The Center Of Innovation Is For Suckers

Why The Center Of Innovation Is For Suckers

When times are a-changing, Jeff Elder writes for Medium, you don’t want to be at the center of the ch-ch-changes. Instead, you want to be advantageously adjacent.

How so? Elder, who’s the social lead for the San Francisco Gate, references a class on innovation he took with Stanford professor William Cockayne:

It would be easy, he said, to assume that everyone should have stopped making buggies and started making cars. But actually, of all the automotive entrepreneurs of the turn of the century, only Ford and Mercedes survived. All the others went under. The market was not established, and neither were the roads. Parts could not easily be made and replaced. In fact, the smart money was to stick with making buggies – except that they had no longterm future.

So do you make buggies or cars? The answer, Elder’s interpretation of history suggests, is to make neither.


This is a lesson in ecosystems and the interconnected incrementalism of paradigm shift–in other words, big changes have many parts, and placing yourself in an adjacent position, and out of harm’s way, may be the best for survival.

Ask Harvey Firestone, the tire entrepreneur who Elder describes as “seeing the future as well as the present,” for he hitched his trajectory to that of the world-shaping Henry Ford, but also stayed big with the buggies, which now needed tires tough enough to roll along with the changes in roads.

“They weren’t addressing the central problem,” he says, “but working around the edges.”

The question for us, then, is to sense the early eddies of these epochal shifts–and orient our vessels along those currents. Which sounds like a lot of experimentation.

Hat tip: Medium

[Image: Flickr user Brandon Stovold]DB