Innovate, Replicate or Evaporate

Innovate, Replicate or EvaporateI had the opportunity to sit in on a meeting with the president of a leading consumer goods company late last week. I had been invited to the meeting to introduce some open innovation concepts, but I was there more for support and encouragement than to lead the discussion. The president of the firm we were meeting with welcomed us graciously and explained some of the concepts his organizations was pursuing to find and manage new ideas.

Then, he said something that I wrote in the margins of my notepad. Unprompted by us, he looked at us and said:

“In this business, you innovate, replicate or evaporate.”

Truer words were never spoken.

His business is a fast paced consumer business, driven to a certain extent by market trends and customer whims. His business is constantly bringing out new products and working with large retail establishments to understand how to meet the demands of fickle customers.

Think with me for a minute about his statement: either innovate, replicate or evaporate. What he is saying, and I confirmed it after the discussion, is that firms in his business either create really interesting new products that meet customer needs, or they compete by replicating what the innovators do. In his market you are either an innovator or a very fast follower, or your firm is out of business. There is no third option. Like the role Alex Baldwin played in Glengarry Glen Ross, the third prize is you lose your job.

This trinity that our client identified is true in every industry, all that differs is the timing. Whether you evaporate in a few months in a rapidly moving industry or market or slowly wither away in a market where customer demand evolves a bit more slowly, you really only have two choices. And, what’s even more difficult to grasp is that the “replicate” option is slowly dying away as well.

As new innovators come online across the globe, product life cycles and customer attention spans and loyalty are shrinking. We are becoming an online, all the time, consumer, and we want what is new, valuable and exciting now. Even fast replicators will have a hard time driving sales, as consumers shift their allegiances to the latest trend, fashion or look.

I wonder how decisions would be made if in every corporate boardroom in America these four words were posted in large font on the walls: Innovate, Replicate or Evaporate. Would that mantra drive new decisions and more innovation?

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Jeffrey PhillipsJeffrey Phillips is a senior leader at OVO Innovation. OVO works with large distributed organizations to build innovation teams, processes and capabilities. Jeffrey is the author of “Make us more Innovative”, and innovateonpurpose.blogspot.com.

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