Nick Carr on Innovation


StartupJournal has an interesting interview with Nick Carr about innovation. Carr took a shot at I.T. with his "I.T. Doesn't Matter" article a few years ago. Now he is saying similar things about innovation.

Mr. Carr, 47 years old, also has turned a skeptical eye on another popular notion: If innovation is a good that companies should pursue, more innovation is even better, and the best innovations are those that upset existing markets or industries. Instead, Mr. Carr says, companies need to be prudent — even conservative — in where and how much they encourage innovation.

What he is really attacking here is the two ways most companies do business. First they use management-by-fad to mindlessly copy the hottest companies of the moment, then they use hammer-and-nail syndrome to apply that fad across the board, even when it doesn't make sense. So I think Carr's assertion that companies latch on to innovation and think that more is always better is accurate, but is symptomatic of a larger problem.

The other interesting quote is Carr's response to a question about being the first mover.

The studies that I've seen indicate that it's rarely the very first mover into a market who ends up winning that market. Today we think of the iPod as being an enormous innovation, and in one way it was. But in fact, when the iPod came along there were already MP3 players and there were already lots of digital jukeboxes.

The point here is that there are different types of innovation and functional innovation – the introduction of a product that does something new – isn't always the best kind to pursue since, as Carr said, first movers don't really have the advantage that everyone assumes they do.

  • I’m dashing out for an assignment but I had to stop when I read that “companies need to be prudent — even conservative — in where and how much they encourage innovation.”

    Please tell me that in the article the writer of that general, ambiguious and obvious advice tells readers specifically how to find the line between “prudent” and not prudent, between “conservative” and flamboyant with innovations’ decisions.

    As in your post on accountability the real challenge today is finding the line between enough and too much, between one extreme and the other. And any writer/thinker who doesn’t have something specific that helps find that line ought to just shut up, IMHO.

  • I’m back. My comment above was a little harsh. Sorry.

    But I stand by the wish for more specifics and less generalities. And Nick is spot on about first mover advantage. It’s fiction not fact.

  • Rob, Great find! I couldn’t resist putting in my two cents worth. I’m not sure my comments will meet Laurence’s test of specificity, but we all agree on the dubious advantage of first-mover status!



  • Rob

    I think you’ve hit upon the problem with good business writing. On the one hand, what you really need are specifics. Mantras and platitudes don’t help get things done. But most people are in such different situations, writers can’t give specific advice. So, the solution is to explain to your readers how they can figure out how to apply the knowledge you’ve given them to their own case. That requires some specifics (and I think those are the kind you are looking for – right?) but I think that is tough for most people to write.

    First of all, you really have to know what you are talking about. If you don’t understand it on a deep enough level then you can’t give your readers what they need. Hence the rise of business-by-platitude. It’s easy. And it makes you sound really smart without really saying anything.

    Secondly, even if you did explain things on that level, I’m not sure a majority of readers would appreciate it. I feel like there is a vicious cycle where BS gets popular, which just promotes more people to write BS. Not that Nick’s article is BS, it’s just lacking in specifics. The great thing about blogs though is that sometimes these types of discussions get picked up and commented on and eventually the whole story gets filled in for the people with the patience to follow it.

  • Rob, You said it better than I could. I agree but… unless writers try “much harder” to add value, to help make sense out of the complexity that business is facing fewer and fewer people will pick up any journals, books, and blogs. I know bright executives who’ve stopped reading because, “it’s just more blah, blah, blah.” (When it’s not an outright fraud spinning high sounding nonsense.)

    BTW I got something good from Mike’s post. Click on his name to see his hard work and good sense.