This post was originally published at the now-defunct NextMontreal blog on July 21, 2011, to indirectly promote my also now-defunct Warms venture: “Warms Bridges Offline and Online with a New Twist on Gifts”.
Since 2002 I’ve maintained a blog called Creative Generalist which, among other things, espouses some long held beliefs that broad thinking leads to big ideas. A common thread throughout many of the posts and many of the articles that are linked to is the notion that some of the most fertile and relatively undeveloped ground for new ideas is located between disciplines, cultures, technologies, generations, perspectives, and so on. Obviously there’s innovation in specializing but there’s loads of potential too by spanning silos.
I think bridging is highly underrated.
In 2004 strategy+business then contributing editor Nicholas G. Carr put forward a fascinating case for conservative innovation over disruption, arguing that bridging the breakthrough gap is a better third way — the other two are being the first mover or being the copycat — to profit from an innovation. By finding the space between where the big idea will be and where the market already is one can both profit immediately from the innovation while also moving into a better position for the future. Carr uses a couple great examples: Netflix beating webcasters that had out-innovated a market not yet serviced with broadband connections, and Toyota showing patience on the hyrdrogen fuel cell front by first producing a car (the Prius) that still uses existing technology even while moving away from it.
There’s an important lesson in this story: When a disruptive new technology arrives, the greatest business opportunities often lie not in creating the disruption but in mending it — in figuring out…a way to use an older, established technology as a bridge to carry customers to the benefits of the emerging technology.
When we talk about business innovation today, we tend to use terms like breakthrough and pioneering and revolutionary. But some of the greatest and most lucrative innovations are essentially conservative. They are brought to market by companies that are as adept at looking backward as looking forward, and that have the skill and patience to achieve the most commercially attractive balance between the old and the new. “Conservative innovation” may sound like an oxymoron, but it’s an idea that deserves to be a part of every company’s thinking…