How Not to Innovate

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You have a novelty idea that would take the world by storm, good! What do you do next? Get a couple of friends and begin to hacking it away. Soon you have a minimum-viable-product and ready to meet the market. Everything at this stage is experimental, the budget low and everyone who has anything to do with the product is a brand ambassador. Then lady luck strikes, product sells, gains market share and the idea transforms to a company. What’s wrong with the aforementioned scenario? Read it once again. Steps taken to create a legal entity, formalize operations, attract investors and have an acceptable product actually inhibit innovation in a company. Chaos theory demands that innovation thrives at the edge of chaos’, an environment that balances the need for order and the pull of change. No one captures the essence of this balance better than Michael Crichton in his book ‘The Lost World’.

We imagine the edge of chaos as a place where there is enough innovation to keep a living system vibrant, and enough stability to keep it from collapsing into anarchy. It is a zone of conflict and upheaval, where the old and new are constantly at war. Finding the balance point must be a delicate matter-if a living system drifts too close, it risks falling over into incoherence and dissolution; but if the system moves too far away from the edge, it becomes rigid, frozen, and totalitarian. Both conditions lead to extinction. By implication, extinction is the inevitable result of too much change or too little.

Some people may refer to it as organized chaos or chaordic (chaos & order) arrangement, but the bottom line is, innovation requires a degree of randomness to flourish. A factor pushed away by introduction of business processes. Think about tech startup companies in beta phase, normally the companies would recruit volunteer beta testers and also solicit for reviews on product amiability as well as performance. Once revenue starts trickling in they no longer need your opinion. Let’s get started with Klout, when Twitter was picking up momentum in 2010 Klout managed to convince everyone that their interactions amounted to a measurable level of influence. They had everyone’s attention, and what did they do with it? Ignore pertinent questions about their algorithms as they were busy working out an acquisition plan. But that’s not what irks me, several years later I would wake up to completely different dashboards quiet regularly, no notification, no invitation for beta testing, no nothing. Our mutual relation had ended; we were no longer partners in this innovation business. This goes for Facebook too, at the formative stage Facebook had a link next to the ads where anyone would sign up to be a beta tester and suggest new features. An ecosystem that crowdsourced ideas but someone thought it was bad for business as it ate up advertisement space. When I get asked which common mistake most startups make, the most obvious one is they focus on product and fail to innovate on their processes.

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