Innovation’s Downfall — The Danger of CampingPosted: April 25, 2012
Let’s talk about camping.
Before you start dreaming of smores and campfires under a starry night, I’m not alluding to the dangers of wild animals. No, I’m talking about experts — notably business experts — and their exceptional affinity to heralding their knowledge and ideas.
Sometimes, these experts have such an affinity to one particular business idea or method that they “camp” on it. Everything they say, do and support revolves around that idea — or what I’m going to refer to henceforth as “truth.” (Let’s leave religion and politics out of this discussion. It’s bad table manners.)
You may be familiar with some of these campers personally. Perhaps he’s your business partner, fellow executive, or most-trusted direct report. Maybe she’s your supplier or buyer. Or, perchance, it’s you… or goodness forbid, it’s me.
What’s certain is that we all know these campers include internet “ninjas” and social media “gurus.” Before that it was the direct mail advocates. And before that it involved the golden Six-Sigma craze. There have been countless systems, implementations and ideas that contained truth — at least some form of truth.
The problem is not when experts camp on a truth. This is healthy. It’s fine-tuning a trade. It’s competitive advantage — and we know how important that is.
The problem comes when the expert feels the need to embellish in order to retain his claim to “master tradesman.” And this problem is three-fold:
- 95% Truth — in order to retain his place of respect, the expert over-promises the value or depth of the truth. “Social media will help increase your sales.” “Direct mailing is key to the success of your business.” “If you clean up your operations, you’ll increase your bottom-line revenue.” These are all true statements, to an extent (and not for all cases).
- Forsaking Other Truths — to bolster his claims, the expert dismisses or avoids other truths in favor of his own. He defends his territory. This behavior leads to myopia in creative problem solving, decision-making and implementation that might otherwise require an integrated thought process in order to be successful.
- Killing Innovation — the most devastating outcome of excessive camping. Hardcore campers don’t seek out innovation because they’re too busy elevating their platform and defending their claims. Good ideas come from the conglomeration of differing fields of study (also see Malcolm Gladwell’s What the Dog Saw for more great content on where innovation comes from). If the expert is locked in to one view, how can he be exposed to a broad array of other ideas? Innovation requires a 360-degree view; it follows new paths of discovery to soaring heights and churning seas. An expert who camps too long in one place lives with the same horizon branded in his mind, with no idea of what’s available elsewhere. Continuing education and exploration will lead an expert to true success and acclaim.
TAKEAWAY: We must strive to innovate as business evolves, not defend our territory and exaggerate beyond the truth. I’m not advocating that we try to be a “jack of all trades.” Become a master of an area, but keep your eyes and ears open to new ideas. Otherwise, we’ll get lost in the dust of successful innovators.
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