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Hurdles to Innovation, Part 1

Originally published March 13, 2008

Once upon a time, the world welcomed new ideas and technology. Any new idea that made things cheaper, made things faster, made new things or performed new services that were useful found a place in the high tech world. But the high tech world has changed.

Today, there are still plenty of new and good ideas. The font of inspiration and intelligence has not dried up. But the seeds of inspiration and innovation are being cast upon stony soil, where nothing but a few weeds cling to life. The fertile environment in which an idea would be borne and prosper has died. Where did it go?

Consider high tech corporations. High tech corporations would be a logical place for new ideas and new innovations. In fact, new ideas and inspirations are welcome – but in a limited way.

High tech corporations are looking for ways to better their position and stronghold in a marketplace. If an innovation fits in with the mainline business of the high tech corporation, then the innovation is (usually!) welcomed. But heaven help the employee who has an idea that is out of the box or the employee who envisions a new marketplace or a significant change to the existing corporate value proposition. These “out-of-the-box” ideas fall on deaf ears and fallow ground. In some cases, the innovator is persecuted and thought of as not being a team player. Indeed, the out-of-the-box innovator is thought of and treated like a threat.

This is all regardless of the merit of the new innovation. Not only is the innovator thought of as a strange person, the innovator is punished for not thinking along corporate approved lines.

So high tech companies are hardly the place to go for the birth and nurturing of an innovation unless, of course, the innovation happens to fit in perfectly with the existing corporate thinking.

As one example of this corporate myopia, consider the corporate use of focus groups. Focus groups are forums where independent people are brought in and are asked their opinions. The problem is that, in almost every case, the corporation sets the limitations on the discussions that can be held during a focus group. Focus groups are good for determining how to enhance an existing product, but they are just plain lousy for the people who are out-of-the-box thinkers.

As testament to the inability of high tech corporations to innovate outside of their immediate domain, consider how corporations acquire new technology today. For the most part, corporations buy or acquire entire companies. For new ideas and new advancements, corporations buy an entire company rather than develop the technology on their own.

So the last place the innovator should look is to corporations for support for new ideas and technologies.

  • Bill InmonBill Inmon

    Bill is universally recognized as the father of the data warehouse. He has more than 36 years of database technology management experience and data warehouse design expertise. He has published more than 40 books and 1,000 articles on data warehousing and data management, and his books have been translated into nine languages. He is known globally for his data warehouse development seminars and has been a keynote speaker for many major computing associations.

    Editor's Note: More articles, resources and events are available in Bill's BeyeNETWORK Expert Channel. Be sure to visit today!

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