In innovation, the path of least resistance usually leads to mediocrity. A form of Darwinism drives organizations as they decide which ideas to launch. But instead of “survival-of-the-fittest,” it’s “survival-of-the-safest.”
Innovation stage gates generally reward predictability, proof points, and past successes. And so the ideas that rise to the top result in more of the same. Innovation in many organizations is influenced more by risk aversion than by whether the ideas themselves are truly remarkable.
That’s how we end up with 352 distinct types or sizes of toothpaste sold at retail in the US, all claiming to whiten teeth, reduce plaque, curb sensitivity, and fight gingivitis, sometimes all at once.
Breakthrough innovation, on the other hand, carries risk, risk causes fear, and fear causes organizations to clamp down. According to BCG, only 10% of an average company’s innovation portfolio is considered breakthrough.
If we work in innovation, our job is to continually push ideas outside of the path of least resistance to the path of most remarkable. That requires taking the risks head-on and making known some of the unknown risks that can derail breakthrough projects. In innovation, playing it safe is itself risky.
Here’s one of the first cartoons I drew, back in 2002, on this theme. It imagines what happens after the apple falls on Newton’s head, the process of bringing that idea to life. The path of least resistance turns apples into applesauce. And in a cluttered world, there’s already too much of that.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on what it takes to create breakthrough innovation.