Innovation is hard because "solving problems that people didn’t know that they had" and "creating something that no one needs" look identical at first glance...
Growing up in a Catholic family, I was very familiar with the concept of the Holy Trinity: The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
So when I was talking, some time ago, with my good friend Sanjiv, a practicing Hindu from Southern India (now living in the San Diego area), I was surprised to learn that Hindus also have their own Holy Trinity (Trimurti) consisting of the Gods: Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva.
The God, Brahma, is the creator, giver of life. Vishnu is the God of preservation. Shiva is the God of destruction and/or transformation.
Together, the Trimurti, acts as a single entity, representing the entire continuum of life.
As a non-Hindu, I found the concept of these Gods to be very interesting from purely an intellectual perspective (please also note that I’ve really oversimplified the roles of these Hindu Gods only to make an editorial comment... I do not profess to understand Hindu doctrine in a Holistic sense).
As I sometimes do, I was listening to business podcast where the guest of the show was the renown Dartmouth and Harvard professor and prolific author, Vijay Govindarajan.
Professor Govindarajan has recently published a new book entitled, The Three-Box Solution where he uses the concept of Hindu doctrine to help explain the life-cycles of a business.
I was riveted by his theories and saw many of these very same concepts permeated throughout my own organization.
As he explained, there are three discrete boxes that a business will find itself in at one time or another.
Box 1: Generate breakthrough ideas and convert those ideas into new products and/or services.
Box 2: Manage the present core business at peak efficiency and profitability.
Box 3: Escape the traps of the past by identifying and divesting business segments and abandoning ideas, practices, and attributes that have lost relevancy in a changed environment.
So herein lay the all of the components of the Trimurti... namely create... preserve... destroy...
The three boxes also represent the present, the past, and the future within the context of a company’s life cycle.
Most entrepreneurial companies were founded on an idea spark that created a new innovative product or service... metaphorically creating a better mousetrap... placing themselves into Box 1.
Soon after, the company starts to create revenues and profits around this new product or service. The bean-countering managers start running the business, looking for inefficiencies and ways to cut costs. At this point in the company’s life, they find themselves placed into Box 2.
In order to continue to grow into the future, a company must learn to escape from Box 2 and enter Box 3 by reinventing itself, destroying its dependence on older products and services, practices and customs and transforming into a new company back in a Box 1 innovation stage.
Some companies have been successful completing this cycle over and over again... companies such as Apple, General Electric, Merck, Disney, H&M, Proctor & Gamble, and IBM... constantly innovating and reinventing themselves over time to create new products and services.
Other notable companies once had a great reputation for innovation but could never move into Box 3 and purposely destroy their core products in order to focus on future innovative products. This list includes such blue-chip companies as Kodak, Xerox, Blockbuster, Sears, Sony, and Yahoo.
One of the hardest things a company can do is to reallocate their resources to work on new development rather than spending their time and money perfecting what is currently working for them... that is... getting themselves into Box 3.
There are a lot of reasons for this phenomenon...
First... change is challenging and habits are extremely tough to break.
Whether we are talking about an individual or an organization... we are drawn to predictability and consistency. We like known quantities and avoid the unknown.
This is human nature where one of our greatest fears is the fear of the unknown. For many people, we’d prefer to live in the past rather than the future.
The past represents a simpler way of doing things where order and predictability reign supreme. We tend to romanticize the past, often believing that it was better than it really was.
In our minds, sales were easier to come by, profits were higher, business was done by people who knew each other and not by sterile machines, and there was always enough business to go around for everyone to succeed.
While there may be some elements of truth to those thoughts, the past simply cannot be revisited. We live in a global economy. The world of today is the new reality.
Secondly... developing new ideas take time, money.
A company has to be willing to devote significant current resources to promote future growth. This proposition is scary as many times these efforts will fail.
It’s much easier for a company to keep the profits flowing and distributing them to shareholders, than to reinvest those profits into the unknown.
A new drug designed to cure or treat a known medical condition can often take decades and tens of millions of dollars for a pharmaceutical company to develop... but without the new drug development, long term sustainability isn’t possible for the company.
There are many examples of "one hit wonders" where a company developed a new product but failed to continually innovate. Once that product matured (or additional competitive products entered the market), the company ultimately failed.
The idea of the 3 Boxes isn’t necessarily limited to business applications.
We all currently live in our own version of the 3-Box model...
Each day we need to manage the present... that is... do the daily things that are required to cope with our present... get up and go to our work, complete our routine chores, make dinner etc...
Then we do things that have no present value but might provide us with some future benefit. These things might include going to the gym, learning a new skill, and/or investing our money.
Lastly, we need to try to break old habits that no longer offer any real value in our lives. Is it really necessary to compulsively check e-mail and social media? Customs and traditions are good, but do they limit us? Is it time to make a break from the past and try something new?
Will we continue to innovate and reinvent ourselves and our lives or will be left in the past as the world moves forward without us?
Thank you for your support of OptiFuse as we continue to move forward with new products and ideas taking us into the future.
Jim Kalb President
Email - firstname.lastname@example.org
Website - www.optifuse.com
Twitter - @OptiFuse