The Innovation Blog

A Parable of Yin, Yang and the Pursuit of Innovation

Posted by David Culton on July 13, 2011

Yin-Yang Coffee

We got a call from a new prospect recently who came to us with an awesome innovation challenge: Help us to remain relevant in the future. Love it. This company is really thinking out there, taking the long view. In preparing some thoughts for them, we talked about Future Pull -- our methodology for envisioning your industry years down the road and driving to strategic imperatives that will help you to thrive in and even help create that future.

The Other "Ask"

The prospect loved the idea, and thought it was critical to success. "Here's the challenge:" they said, "What we were also thinking of was new products to fill our 2012 pipeline, and we have to have those in four months time."


So they were asking for long term viability in an every-changing market, but simultaneously needing short-term products. Got me thinking of the yin-yang that is innovation, so beautifully captured in Built to Last as the need to Preserve the Core while simultaneously Stimulating Progress & Growth. Can't do those breakthrough innovation projects unless the Mothership is running smoothly (no resources) and can't grow unless we move beyond the stuff we do today.

The Paradox

The trick is that you must do both in order a) be relevant in the future and b) be around in that future.  Addressing this contradiction is critical to innovation.  Too often that which is merely urgent (a weak innovation pipeline at a given moment) completely supersedes that which is truly important (a long-term innovation development path to achieve growth, long-term relevance and success).

When this happens, every year brings another short-term “fire.”

What's a Company to Do?

What we recommended for the company was to play for the “And” vs. the "Or": be focused and get what you need for the short-term and create their vision of the future. This is tricky, given the priorities of the Street or of owners/leaders. One way to insure that this happens is to set up an Innovation Board, sponsored at the top of the organization, that has a budget not driven by ROI this year, but with a focus on the longer term.

This way you can be part of creating the future you envision, not simply reacting to it, or worse, not even there to see it.

What does your organization do to embrace The Genius of the 'And' when it comes to innovation?

-- David Culton (@davidculton)


PS: The company in this story chose to play more for the "Or"...we'll be checking in with them on the "And" part a bit down the road...

Topics: Future, Future Pull, Future Trends, Innovation Strategy, breakthrough innovation, leadership