#155: Give Them Faster Horses

give them faster horses

Give them faster horses! I say this tongue and cheek. Only to make the point that as technology professionals we have to lead the innovation in our organizations. Not just take requests from our business partners. We have to become as knowledgeable about the businesses our organization is in as the our business partners are. This week on CIO Playbook with Jeffrey Hurley, I am suggesting that you can lead innovation within your organization and still focus on budgets, projects, support, and keeping the network up.

Technology is the Innovator

Henry Ford is is often quoted as saying, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”

When it comes to innovation there are two sides to the approach. One side vehemently argues the merits of innovating via customer feedback. The other side argues that true innovation is created by a singularly gifted visionary who ignores customer input and instead manufactures innovation based solely on their prophetic vision for a better future.

When I think of visionary innovators it is Henry Ford, Steve Jobs, Nick Woodman, Richard Branson, Elon Musk and many more. Many of these innovators come across larger than life. To disrupt an entire industry often the talent is being larger than life.

So, what do we do as members of a technology organization to press innovation forward if we are not the type to be larger than life. In Japan they have the concept of Kaizen, which is the practice of continuous improvement and should be considered an key to your organizational competitive strategy.

Honda does this very well and is consistently a market leader. We don’t look at their cars as breaking any molds and as design leaders, yet they consistently produce high quality market leading products. General Motors is a market leader also, yet they are not known for continuously improving their product. They do take some design risks, though many tend to be in the wrong direction, I will cite the Pontiac Aztec as a revolutionary design in the wrong direction.

Caught Sleeping

When we look to press innovation and technology forward we are often met with the greatest resistance from our Finance organization driving the need to meet budget expectations and project immediacy versus the strategic innovation that enables us to leapfrog our competition. Today we are seeing innovation like never before, yet the challenge is how to effectively innovate, getting out of the forest and weeds and up above to see if we are even in the right forest.

In every organization you can find people of innovation, even in the tightest budget environment. I hope you became a technologist because of the cool things you can do with a computer.

Apple and Steve Jobs did not create music, mp3 players, mobile phones, cameras, or watches. Yet, Apple transformed what was in the market and found solutions that resonated with their customers.

When mobile devices came into our organizations they were brought by the business partners. The majority of technology organizations were caught unprepared to support them. We have to build for the future while meeting the immediate business needs.

Get Out of the Rut

Now let’s look at the personal camera and video recorder markets. The smart phone has placed immense pressure on these markets. Yet, GoPro succeeds in a niche and is rewarded accordingly. While Cisco purchased flip video in 2009 only to close the business down in 2011. Cannon, Sony, and others don’t seem to have a reasonable equivalent to the GoPro.

These companies were giving the customers faster horses, essentially staying in a fixed range with their camera innovation. While GoPro and smart phones transformed the market. Where was the problem? Is there a lack of out of the box thinking or is group think standing in the way of innovation?

A Vision for the Future

Do you wait for a market trend to emerge? Or, do you become a trend setter and market maker?

A vision for what the future can bring can come from many sources. To spark your innovative thinking read the science fiction novels, look to comic book characters. Seek out the locations where innovators are hiding in your organization. Look to break down your existing organizational constructs to “free things up”. Look for opportunities to go off track.

I understand that in a technology organization our challenge is to contain scope creep and staff choosing enhancements over projects. You as the leader will want to find that balance. Creating an outlet for innovation among the staff. If your organization is constrained by budget and staffing find ways to create small skunk works teams that will work outside of the standard office hours.

Or rather than building a better mousetrap during requirements gathering observe your businesses and propose radical new way to do the work. Rethink the work and ask why. Map the “as is: and eliminate or automate they processes. Don’t accept things as they are look at how they could be.

It’s Your Move

How do you build for the future when your partners just want you to give them faster horses? It is your responsibility to build for the future. Establish a visionary agenda and push for change, while demonstrating that you are meeting the current business demands. If you are not the one to drive technology innovation in your workplace it will be brought in from the outside.

Yes of course there is risk in calling yourself out and pressing for change. Yes, you will get resistance. It is the true leader and visionary that is able to overcome the resistance and show the benefits of change. Bring everyone around to your way of thinking about the future. There is very little in the way of options left is technology is not driving the organization forward as a true partner to your business teams.


Photo Credit: Duggar11. “Hot Springs, Arkansas – 1915, Ice Wagon.” Flickr. Yahoo!, 8 Jan. 2011. Web. 28 June 2015.

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