I missed watching Seth Godin’s keynote in person couple of weeks ago in Orlando, and ended up watching the recording later. http://www.asugonline.com/asug-annual-conference/videos/keynote-persentation/?catid=asug-annual-conference-keynotes&slg=2013-asug-annual-conference-keynote
I don’t read his blog regularly, but every time someone I follow on twitter tweets out one of his posts – I tend to check it out hoping that it is something I can relate to and learn from. Unfortunately, the keynote replay did not exactly excite me – I tuned out along the way, around the time he explained what a Fermata is to his audience. I am not an expert in western music theory, but I had a very different idea of what a Fermata is compared to what Godin said..But I digress…
There is a part of the keynote that made sense to me – the need to be very good at what you do, to market effectively and so on. But the rest of it generally didn’t sound relevant to me in the context of my work in enterprise software.
I am as big a fan of innovation as the next guy – but I firmly believe that we have enough examples around us to indicate that not everyone can or should innovate. Enterprise Software business is largely made up of fast followers and a minority of innovators ( or inventors) . However, industry wide we spend a lot of time trying to democratize innovation – although with limited success. Shouldn’t we know better by now?
Innovation is a high risk and high reward game most of the time – with characteristics like failure, chaos, disruption etc to go with it. And for a company (especially a big company) to afford innovation, they need to be masters of industrialization . Although not an exact statement – a company that can afford to put 20% of time and effort on innovation, needs the other 80% to be an efficiency machine to innovate on a sustaining basis.
Startup companies are usually in an “all in” mode – since there is no cushion from a portfolio of offerings when you are in a new business. On the plus side, everyone is motivated and will do their best. On the flip side, vast majority of start ups fold without making a tangible impact. However, VCs etc who take a portfolio approach and invest in many startups (usually with opposing risk characteristics) generally have better chance of surviving and thriving.
Big companies typically follow some version of the 80-20 rule. 80 percent runs at high efficiency and pays the bills for the 20% of innovation experiments. And depending on cushion available – as soon as innovations look viable, they try to industrialize partly or fully. And if it is not panning out as planned, they can move out and focus on next big idea without going bust.
I think this model is what we will continue to see for a while – enterprise customers love innovation, but they can’t usually stand an over dose of disruption and chaos. So in my opinion , the vendor part of the ecosystem will need to constantly up their games and compete harder to remain relevant. And that won’t happen by everyone innovating – it will only happen by a minority innovating, and a majority industrializing in a fast follower model. Otherwise the amount of chaos, the cost of innovation etc will make sure the so called innovation will die without adoption.
This also means the leaders in the industry have to constantly watch their backs – when fast followers get their act right, the leader will find it harder and harder to keep their lead. Enterprise software only needs to look at consumer electronics companies to know what that means.
It is time that our industry recognized its unsung heroes who make sure that their counterparts have the cushion/opportunity to innovate. Stop looking down on them – appreciate them – A LOT.