November 1, 2012
"The problem wasn’t the idea; the problem emerged from the relentless pursuit of incremental profit within mature organizations. It’s a pursuit that drives us towards incremental wins by leveraging underutilized assets. And you know what’s wrong with this pursuit? Nothing. That’s the paradox."

Why Big Companies Can’t Innovate is a great read by Maxwell Wessel, looking at how and why Gerber went wrong when it tried to adapt its existing successful baby food product line into meals for grownups, or “Gerber Singles,” as its marketing wizards would have it. As Wessel points out, it wasn’t quite as revolting or ridiculous an idea as it might sound. He writes:

The idea had merit, and the trends the executive team noticed were real. Just look at any smoothie section in your local grocery store. Naked, Odwalla and Innocent sell hundreds of millions of dollars of product addressing the same problem that Gerber identified with a very similar solution.

But the culture necessary to manage and drive transformational innovation is very different from the one that’s designed to drive efficiency and incremental growth. It’s a topic that’s been top of mind as I’ve been working on the book Ten Types of Innovation (out early next year and now near enough done, so watch out for exponential increase in posting here as a result!) There’s certainly no easy answer to managing the balance and requirements of the very different kinds of innovation, but not even realizing that that that’s an issue is most certainly a surefire path to the kind of failure experienced by said Gerber Singles.

[Story via Lisa Gansky, who sold her photo-based company Ofoto to Kodak way back when. Interestingly, she added in her tweet promoting this story that the account matched her own experience moving from start-up to entrenched big company.]

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