Complacency, Stagnancy, and Their Effects on Innovation

Though competition is an unavoidable aspect of business, its effects can potentially foster or deter innovation depending on a leader’s management style. Celebrating success and discouraging failure is a familiar binary for most, but what would happen if a business decides to reverse that paradigm? What if we celebrated failure, and discouraged dwelling on our successes? This may seem completely counterintuitive and many would balk at such a consideration, but consider this: how often has a given company released a successful product only to find itself shuffled into irrelevancy a few years down the road? For example, take the Blackberry; a negligible, almost-forgotten product that was once considered the preeminent leader of smartphones. Even household brands can become obsolete, and more often than not, the leading contributor to a business’s inevitable decline is the self-satisfaction that follows that initial success.

Without sustainable process-driven innovation to manage and promote ideation, a promising future can quickly transform into stagnancy. To quote Andrew Grove, the former president and CEO of Intel Corporation, “Success breeds complacency. Complacency breeds failure.”

Recently, the rate of innovation in America has become somewhat of a polarizing issue. As reported in The Economist, some analysts and economists believe that the rate of technological growth in the country has been decreasing for several decades. Perhaps the various experts are right, that a stagnancy has rapidly taken hold of our industries; perhaps, a byproduct of resting on one’s laurels:

“Some suspect that the rich world’s economic doldrums may be rooted in a long-term technological stasis … The various motors of 20th-century growth – some technological, some not – had played themselves out, and new technologies were not going to have the same invigorating effect on the economies of the future. For all its flat-screen dazzle and high-bandwidth pizzazz, it seemed the world had run out of ideas.”

However, in a conversation with The Atlantic, the co-founder of Microsoft Bill Gates boldly asserted that innovation in America has not decreased, “‘I think the idea that innovation is slowing down is one of the stupidest things anybody ever said,’ he said. ‘Innovation is moving at a scarily fast pace.’” His protestation is easily supported by the very visible technological advances of the past decade, from fuel-efficient hybrids and touchscreen smartphones to CG-animation and 3D-printers. It’s also difficult to imagine America and the rest of the world at some technological standstill when new technological advances and feats seem to constantly grace our news feeds: Amazon’s drone delivery service, the Rosetta comet landing, and bionic limb replacements.

So, is the supposed dearth of innovation a true concern? Is competition actually driving businesses to produce iterations of similar products without furthering the advancement of their given industries? Or is it simply a matter of perspective? Regardless of where one may fall on this issue, the responsibility rests solely on every individual business in America. Something as seemingly minor as time constraints or a regularly updated inventory can determine the success or failure of any given idea. Through a streamlined process of idea management, promising concepts can be harnessed into true innovation, positioning your company above its competitors. It can spell the difference between a one-hit wonder idea and a generative think tank.

For more information on the idea management process and its applications to your business, be sure to review Robert’s Rules of Innovation. And don’t miss out on the forthcoming Robert’s Rules of Innovation, volume II “The Art of Implementation”.