Archive for October 6, 2012

Innovation Often Obsoletes Assumptions, Political Boundaries, and Work Process

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in skmurphy

In May of this year I was invited to take part in a month long group discussion on CPSquare where my consulting practice was the topic. This is the second question I answered, it was prompted by a sentence  my opening statement.

Q: Can you please elaborate on your statement “The incorporation of a new technology into a business process often changes existing political boundaries, frequently obsoletes old assumptions, establishes new processes and ways of working together, and requires shared experimentation between the customer and startup for shared learning.” It resonates with my work.

The lesson I took from the fighter aircraft story was the risks related to becoming prisoners of our expertise. If you have been promoted several times based on mastery of an area it’s a personal challenge to start over and a political/organizational challenge to re-orient around new skill requirements.

This is happening in chip design today, most of the real constraints are driven by heat dissipation and the design of a thermal network at a package, enclosure, rack, and datacenter level. We are headed back to water cooled data centers within five years because the amount of heat that needs to be dissipated will require fans driving gale force plenums. This is a complete re-orientation of a lot of design constraints.

Second big challenge is power consumption / battery life. It turns out lowering power consumption also lower heat dissipation requirements but we are now living in a world where we don’t know how to design faster circuits because all of our tricks and trade-offs are breaking down in some fundamental ways. Here we have to be able to abandon current architectural approaches which means junking a tremendous amount of accumulated experience and expertise.

“The incorporation of a new technology into a business process often changes existing political boundaries, frequently obsoletes old assumptions,  establishes new process and ways of working together, and requires shared experimentation between the customer and startup for shared learning.”

Technically this is only true for discontinuous innovations. For what are called sustaining innovations, those that work with the grain of the wood in an organization so to speak, assumptions and work flows are preserved. Here are a couple of tests:

  • Someone already has a job or role related to using the innovation. For example secretaries used typewriters, then word processors, then word processing software.
  • The new tool can use all of the existing inputs, or at least does not require new inputs, and provides the same or higher quality outputs. Using a cordless screwdriver is pretty straightforward, it does require that you keep it charged but it’s otherwise form fit and function compatible.
  • Changing a task is easier than changing a job, changing a job is easier than changing a work relationship between two or three people (up and/or down stream), changing a work relationship is easier than forming a new business unit, and forming a new business unit is easier than getting out of an existing business.

There is a lot more to this, but I find that introducing a new technology often requires that you identify and work with bona fide organizational change agents and visionary managers and leaders who can help you navigate the political and organizational change issues. I have blogged about this

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