Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Corporate Inventors: Don't Blame Opposition on Management Stupidity

Inventors around the world in large corporations are often amazed that management fails to appreciate the genius of their inventions. There is a real temptation for sharp inventors to assume that those in management are simply stupid when they decide not to commercialize inventive new concepts. Such thinking is usually unjustified and will only make life more painful than it needs to be.

Clayton Christensen's works on disruptive innovation explain how intelligent managers making sound business decisions based on successful past criteria will frequently kill the most important innovations they encounter. It's not their intelligence, but the corporate systems and culture that is at fault. Corporates become successful by listening to their customers and by pursuing sustaining innovations based on the established criteria in the market place that meet the needs of their most valuable customers. But these criteria are at odds with the occasional disruptive innovation that may be off-target for mainstream customers and off-base for established performance criteria, instead appealing to non-users or low-end users by offering new convenience or other features not demanded by the high-end users. Corporations need special systems and structures to deal with disruptive innovations - and the tendency to kill them can be expected until top leaders specifically address disruptive threats and opportunities.

Your management was smart enough, brilliant enough, to hire you and keep you on the payroll. Don't blame their lack of interest in your invention on stupidity. Rather, understand how corporate pressures and objectives may be a barrier, and learn how to work around those barriers. Spinning your invention as a way to avert a competitive threat is one such way. I'll give more suggestions in future posts.

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