Sunday, June 17, 2012

Innovation - Does it pay to be the tortoise or the hare?

Once upon a time there was a hare who, boasting how he could run faster than anyone else, was forever teasing the tortoise for its slowness. 

Then one day, the irate tortoise answered back: “Who do you think you are? There’s no denying you’re swift, but even you can be beaten!” 

The hare squealed with laughter. “Beaten in a race? By whom? Not you, surely! I bet there’s nobody in the world that can win against me, I’m so speedy. Now, why don’t you try?” Annoyed by such bragging, the tortoise accepted the challenge. 

So, who won the race? We all know it was the slow and steady tortoise.

Innovation is a race as well and the winner, as Scott Anthony writes in his blog "First Mover or Fast Follower?" on HBR is the first one to the finish line.

To be perfectly clear, it's not that first movers never win. Of course, there are plenty of examples where first movers have done very well.  At the same time, as I document in my discussion on the "First Mover Advantage Fallacy" in my recent book, Living in the Innovation Age, first movers are often the first to rush off a cliff. In other words, they are either running in a race not worth running or they are just simply running in the wrong direction towards a cliff. 

The Bottom Line - Think of innovation as a race. It's not just speed but endurance matters as well. Starting first is great, but a race is about finishing first. Ultimately, though, you also need to be in the "right" race. If all you are doing is racing, hard and fast, towards a cliff then being first or following fast isn't going to help at all. Everyone is going to be falling off the cliff. So, pick your races wisely and enter them for the long haul picking up momentum as you proceed.

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