Innovation life cycle

mushroom by Vik Nanda
Soon it will be time to start over, again:
[Via Scripting News]

Here’s how the tech industry cycle goes.

A new generation of young techies comes along, takes a look at the current stack, finds it too daunting (rightly so) and decides to start over from scratch. They find that they can make things happen that the previous generation couldn’t cause they were so mired in the complexity of the systems they had built. The new systems become popular with “power users” — people who yearn to overcome the limits of the previous generation. It’s exhilirating!

Some of those power users are venture capitalists, they’re hanging around looking for things to invest in, and they pick a few things that look like winners. When I was fresh and dewy, part of the new crop of techies, these people were Mike Markkula who funded Apple, and Ben Rosen who funded Compaq and Lotus. In later generations they were different people, of course.

So the new folks, freshly funded, hire lots of people, young’uns like themselves who are doing it The New Way. They ship some products, and while the users are happy and excited about all the cool new things they can do with the new generation, now that they’re freed of the limits of the previous one, they still want all the features they had come to expect in the old days. No problem! The new companies hire more people and they add all the features of the old generation. Feature wars follow, and the users get bored, and a new generation of techies comes along, takes a look at the current stack, finds it too daunting (rightly so) and decides to start over from scratch.


Dave has been around for quite a while and he is absolutely right about this sort of innovation cycle. Read the entire post. Complexity is what we fight. But the simplifying solutions are usually inherent in the complexities we have created.

Cultures of innovation are capable of traversing this cycle with success. Apple is a good example. They constantly make the complex simple – such as the iPhone. Creating and sustaining a culture of innovation is the best way to survive the coming transitions.

The key is to have management that can adapt. This is where transformational leadership excels. It channels the creative spirit in the individual, who is free to find the solution that works. The difficulty with transactional leadership is that the individual only finds the solution they are told to find.

If the leader is an innovative genius, great. But if not, the entire organization will have difficulties coming up with innovative solutions, especially if the solutions are ones that the leader is not comfortable acknowledging.

It will be interesting to see what the next cycle will bring. Innovation is always exciting but never more so than when the world is in turmoil.

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