We all know and admire disruptive innovations -- the printing press, the internal combustion engine, the Internet, the iPhone, the Pet Rock (ha!), etc. Not as easily recognizable are the little innovations that have an impact in our daily lives.
It is the power of focusing on and harnessing these little ideas that David Robertson, a senior lecturer at MIT’s Sloan School of Management and author of The Power of Little Ideas: A Low-Risk, High-Reward Approach to Innovation, finds so important to talk about.
In a talk he shared with the All Day DevOps community, David hit head-on the notion that, for companies to survive, you have to invest in radical innovation -- that is, the common mantra, “Disrupt yourself or be disrupted.”
David argues that you don’t need to be disruptive necessarily, but you can improve on the typical "sustaining innovation" method. How? The approach has three key elements:
1. Creating a family of complementary innovations around a product or service to work together to make that product more appealing and competitive
2. The innovations work together towards a single strategy or purpose
3. Don’t change the central product in any fundamental way
These ideas stem from David’s research, chronicled in Brick by Brick: How LEGO Rewrote the Rules of Innovation and Conquered the Global Toy Industry, on LEGO’s near failure in 2004 and how it recovered and expanded through strategic innovation in little ideas.
In his talk, David outlined the story of LEGO that he looked at, including their failed attempts at drastic, disruptive innovations -- were you one of the four fans of Galidor? -- and three toys that model (pun intended) the power of little ideas.
What is the LEGO approach to innovation as it applies to your business?
Define: What is the product or service you will innovate around? Start small; focus on products that are important but not critical to your business.
Decide: What is your business promise? What are customers hiring your business to do?
Design: What innovations will deliver that promise?
Deliver: Bring the complementary innovations to market
David notes you must Define, Decide, and Design before you Deliver. Delivering without first understanding the first three will lead to you getting out maneuvered.
David also addressed the question, “Can this be used by the little guys?” In most cases, you want to be able to answer imperatively, "Yes." Using GoPro and Logitech as examples, David’s advice was to look at what companies are providing and what products can complement that, applying the Define, Decide, Design, and Deliver process.
I recommend revisiting David's full talk as his insights on how to turn little ideas into big transformations is invaluable: