The four types of innovative firms

Safe, linear, bold or long-term; which innovation type is your company?

Four types of innovators2

One way of using the Strategic Innovation Canvas is mapping out your type(s) of innovation work. In this example, we use four types of innovative firms

Safe – staying in the safe-zone they know
These firms keep it in the safe-zone. They have a deep-seated view of “this is how things are done around here”. They don’t drive change; they resist it. While they might believe they are innovating and changing, the world around them is changing so much faster.

They might have budget posts allocated to innovation, but it will be highly incremental innovations and only minor change. These firms will have an ample number of idea killers and Dinosaurs in their management ranks.
Simply put, they stay in the safe-zone they know.

Examples: Kodak, SAS and most of the firms you see crumbling around you.

Linear ¬– growth strategies without the zest
Following a logical, linear development track, these firms innovative and develop at a slow and steady pace. They will never become an Apple or Google, but they develop a steady stream of new improvements. Often, these firms will focus on product innovation. Their innovation efforts can work well in stable environments. Yet, these firms are often the victims of disruptive innovations.

Examples firms: Blockbuster, Borders….and most firms operating today.

Bold – creative and courageous
These are the crazy ones. They leap forward. Their innovation drive make them develop a series of highly experimental bets. They dare to try what most firms are unable to think of. These blazing pioneers can frequently disrupt existing industries and shape new ones.

What would you do if you weren’t afraid? That’s these guys. That quote is also part of Facebook’s recruiting campaign. Only fitting…

Example firms include Red Bull, Spotify, Haier, Moods of Norway, Facebook, Twitter and of course, Google.

Long-term – patient, business model and industry innovators
These firms take the long view. A ten year horizon is nothing special. They look at the long-term effects of today’s developments, and are determined to be driving change for the future. They want to create the future, not get shaped by it.
They’ve built operating principles, processes, culture and people for long-term innovation. They develop, test and refine a portfolio of business models. Norwegian firm Telenor has expanded its innovation center in recent years and is testing wildly new business models in Asia. Novo Nordisk has over 100 growth teams, all tasked with coming up with future innovations. These teams often work with business cases with 20 – 25 year perspectives. Amazon is “leaning into the future”, to quote CEO Jeff Bezos and trying to reshape global shopping habits along the way.

Example firms include Amazon, Statoil, Telenor, Novo Nordisk and IBM.

Yet, a mix?
A combination of the four types can, in theory, be fully possible. Yet, in practice, one typology will emerge and drive the dominant logic in each company. Let’s say one firm has a wildly innovative R&D unit, but the overall management logic prevents these from getting the funding and support required to develop. Hence, one typology should emerge as dominant.

Where is your firm?
Can you recognize your company among the four types?

Want to change your innovation type?
Download and go to work on the Strategic Innovation Canvas. It is the natural starting point for any innovation effort. Learn more

Strategic Innovation Canvas

The four types of innovative firms

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