Targets kill innovation

Is it a great vision for a company to state that they want to grow their revenues 4 times in the next 3 years? Does the vision get any better when the company wants to be a great innovator, churning out patented products to ‘achieve that target’?  Perfect. Looks to be straight out of management text books and practices. It sounds great when it comes from an efficient CEO.

I have a fundamental disconnect with this approach. One cannot bind innovation to targets. Innovation happens when the spirit is free. Targets are fetters around the spirit. You can tie a rope around you, and in due course, climb the Himalayas. But to reach the moon you need to dream of flight, freely, with no fetters shackling the imagination.

A company cannot choose the path of innovation to grow their revenues. Innovation is not a result. Nor a means to the end. Innovation is a process and much more than a process. To come out with a disruptive innovation, one cannot think of costs and revenues. The cost cannot be estimated. The profits cannot be known – how do you estimate the size of a market that doesnt exist. There were people who thought that the market for computers was 5. Travel to moon doesnt come cheap. The benefits might flow in centuries later.

True innovation happens in the minds. Not in large laboratories. Innovation stems from passion, creativity and dreams. Money cannot buy it. If it can, Microsoft would have been the hot bed of innovation.

Most innovations emerge from start-ups who start off with a passion to execute an idea than to make money. Most large companies fail to innovate. Even ‘innovative’ large companies are only great imitators, very good at latching on to an innovative idea early enough, improvising it,creating and exploding the market.  An Apple or Google are very good at this. A Google in 1998-2000 was a truer innovator than it is today, inspite of having a supposedly conducive culture for innovation. Still it is as successful as it is, because it is way ahead of other large corporates in ‘innovation’,  in not putting a price on ‘innovation’.

The moment, one targets to generate a few billion dollars of revenues through ‘innovative’ products or to have x number of patents in an year, innovation is killed before it germinates. If you try to fix a boundary and duration for dreams, you might end up being an insomniac.

The best way for a large company to continue to foster innovation and still conduct the normal business of making profits, will be to have targets and do forecasting only for the existing line of products or services and exclude revenues from innovation in the forecasts. Innovation is a different animal, which is fed without expecting specific returns. The returns will usually be more than what the strategists could have estimated.

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2 Responses to Targets kill innovation

  1. amuthabalachandar says:

    u pl translate the same in tamil and register it.. wonderful thought,,,

  2. kannan says:

    Thank you. It will be a bit difficult for me to translate this in Tamil. But,maybe,in sometime, I will try to convey the same thoughts, differently in Tamil.

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