Reverse Salients, and Open vs. Closed Innovation


Nick Carr has published an excellent article in Strategy+Business about "reverse salients." What does that mean?

That odd term has its origins in descriptions of warfare, where it refers to a section of an advancing military force that has fallen behind the rest of the front. This section is typically the point of weakness in an attack, the lagging element that prevents the rest of the force from accomplishing its mission. Until the reverse salient is corrected, an army's progress comes to a halt.

Basically, reverse salients are the key things holding back overall progress of a system. They arise because system components advance at different rates. A good analogy is to think about them as bottlenecks to progress, although that's not quite apples to apples.

Carr goes on to discuss how reverse salients are addressed, and how fixing them can lead to innovative new products. But he distinguishes between the Apple closed system approach and the open approach more commonly used. Examining the pros and cons of each, he makes an important point that all entrepreneurs need to consider.

The open approach can correct a reverse salient quickly, but it, too, carries a price. By giving up control over a solution, a company may also sacrifice the financial rewards the solution generates.

I think this is a must read article for entrepreneurs and innovators, because it is an important distinction to understand. It's too long and too deep for most of the ADD challenged internet types to work through, so consider your reading time as time spent developing a competitive advantage.