The Limits Of Innovation

Does innovation have any form of limits?

You are sitting at the back of the class all those years ago with a plan forming in your mind. You are poised, ready to strike. Finding your tool of choice, the rubber band, for disrupting this rather tedious English class, you are almost giddy with excitement at the resulting hilarity of your fellow pupils when you unleash this domestic projectile.

You loop it around the top of your thumb, holding it taught with the thumb and forefinger of your other hand. You take aim; the blackboard is the obvious target choice, although the back of the head of the pupil in the front row is a contender and perhaps they may get caught up in any resulting friendly fire if the rubber band veers from its trajectory.

A deep breath. You focus. You pull back and ‘SNAP’ it’s away! Sadly, it’s not the snap you wanted, but one indicating that the rubber band had broken and fell down onto your school books in a sad example of underachievement. The rubber band had limits, limits that you were not aware of.

…The rubber band had limits, limits that you were not aware of…

Pupils around the world have performed this piece of educational disruption for generations and will do for generations to come. Each pupil thinking that they are the authors of this innovative act and each learning that this particular innovation, even with all its promise has limits.

And that question, does innovation have limits? can plague those who are endeavouring to break free of established norms and push products or services into a new phase of development.

The simple answer is no, innovation has no limits, just as imagination has no limits. The implementation of innovation; now that may potentially cause some issues, but innovation itself, as discussed previously, is a mindset. If you get into that mindset then it is limitless.

…They realised that the process of getting a taxi was the issue, one that was ripe for a new innovative approach - and they were right…

When the founders of UBER set up their ride sharing organisation they had a vision to make the ‘taxi’ firm of their dreams, but how? They decided that their innovation was to have a ‘taxi’ firm that owned no cars! They realised that the process of getting a taxi was the issue, one that was ripe for a new innovative approach - and they were right. They actually crowdsourced the vehicle component of a taxi firm, by getting individuals to use their own cars.

AIR B&B did the same. They wanted a new way of helping people find overnight accommodation, but without the ‘hassle’ of actually investing in infrastructure. Again, they focused on the booking process and crowdsourced the accommodation solution.

In both cases they imagined a new way of doing something and then innovated to bring it to fruition. We would confidently predict that when seeking professional advice both UBER and AirB&B were told that it simply would not work as they would need millions, possibly billions to realise their dream. If they had followed that advice, then they may not have even gotten out of the starting blocks, but they stuck to their new way of thinking and are both now global players in their chosen markets.

…business Goliaths do not take kindly to disruption…

A potential limit of innovation can be disruption. In many cases disruption is viewed as a good thing. Shake up what has gone before, see if David can bring down Goliath by being nimbler, more modern and of course more innovative. Sadly, though established business Goliaths do not take kindly to disruption and the business history books are filled with those who decided to try and legislate against their new young upstart rivals and force them out of business.

The classic case in recent memory is that of the music industry. Their established and highly profitable business of selling us all recorded music on CD, or one of its predecessors such as cassettes or records, was not evolving in line with the demands of a new consumer. The new consumer wanted downloads, they wanted to create playlists, they wanted all their music available at once. As the established business was not moving away from its dominant position then innovation found a way to give the consumer what it desired. Remember Napster? They came along and lit a fire under the music industry.

The music industry did not take kindly to this disruption and used every tool in its box to stamp it out. Even down to prosecuting those end users who were using the service. We will freely admit that there is no doubt Napster fractured many laws and that is not acceptable, but there is no denying their innovative spirit. Fast forward to today and who doesn’t use downloads, or streaming services? Innovation led to disruption and onto eventual acceptance.

If back in that classroom you had used a pencil, wrapped the rubber band around the top, used it as slingshot for a small projectile - a small piece of crunched up paper about the size of a pea, then your result would have been more in keeping with your vision. You just needed a bit more innovation and would have no doubt caused a small amount of disruption too.

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WINN brings innovators together, acting as a catalyst to create connections and collaborations across the diverse business landscape of Worcestershire.

Our belief is that great things can happen when people get together.

WINN is a Worcestershire Innovation Programme formed by Worcestershire County Council and the Worcestershire LEP