In a recent HBR blog post, Bill Taylor urged us to stop Innovating. His main point is that the word “innovation” has lost its usefulness, but there is another edge to his writing too. It is not only the word in itself that is overused according to him. He argues that we consultants pick up good business practices on engagements and turn them into marketable commodities that executives in all sorts of companies race to buy. He mentions BPR, Six-Sigma and Lean as examples on management fads that are oversold to companies that do not experience the same benefits as where the concepts were originated. In this blog post, I will challenge him and his proponents and argue that it is the lack of stamina that is the problem, not the overuse of certain buzzwords.
Let us start by looking at hypes as a phenomenon. Gartner Group, one of the most respected IT research firms, has developed a model to explain how the market reacts to new technologies. Their Hype Cycle curve describes how the market exaggerates the sentiments on new technology, or, for that matter, new management disciplines over time.
We may have reached the “Peak of Inflated Expectations” if companies initiate innovation programs with expectations that they immediately will identify major disruptive innovations like Apple did. The slide from the peak is accelerated when the early majority realize that their expectations were exaggerated. The general opinion is fast to renounce the discipline when the sentiment changes, especially if a new hype is emerging. But the diehards that stick to the discipline through the “Trough of Disillusionment” will eventually experience the “Plateau of Productivity” and the benefits of the discipline. The successful implementations will restore some of the visibility of the hype, but the persistent actors will have a head start to others.
I am not arguing that top management should stick stubbornly to innovation or other management disciplines that are poorly aligned with the corporate vision and strategy, but they should be aware of their own tendency to exaggerate their bullish and later bearish view on hypes. In addition, there are organizational costs that have to be considered when changing management disciplines. You will lose experience, time and confidence each time.
I will conclude the blog post with the answer from a health expert. She was asked by an overweight person what diet was best. The answer that the best method is the one you can stick to is probably applicable to management too; especially if you, just like me, think that the best strategy is the one that actually is executed.