The Innovation Trap: How Greed Undermines Continued Growth

by Jeff Wiener on June 3, 2016

thinkprofitAs the technology continue to evolve, we, as businesses, must continue to do the same, ever looking to find better ways of doing things, better products for our customers, better processes, designs, solutions…everything. In short, for any business to survive in today’s technology driven world, they must innovate, always challenging the status quo in an effort to stay one step ahead.

But as obvious as that may sound, it’s far easier said than done. In fact, innovation presents an interesting Catch-22, in that innovation itself is the greatest deterrent to continued innovation. Let me explain:

Once a company finds an innovative product or service to take to market, the market will usually respond by financially supporting the endeavour. In other words, if you create something people like, they’ll spend money on it. The problem, of course, is that often times companies like money more than making new things, so once the money starts flowing there is the constant temptation to maintain the status quo, to stifle innovation in an effort to not rock the boat.

It’s what I call “The Innovation Trap”: Innovation brings success, success breeds greed, greed undermines innovation. It’s a dangerous cycle, and you need to look no further than Apple to see it playing out in real time.

In Apple’s dream world we’d all be hopelessly attached to our iPhones, the centre of our digital existence, where anything and everything we needed to do, from shopping to web browsing to communicating, and every tool we needed to use, from navigation to gaming to IoT management, was all in the palm of our hand.

The problem is that Apple seems less interested in evolving its current suite of products to meet our growing digital needs, content instead to offer disappointing incremental upgrades. Again to put it simply, Apple’s innovation has led to overwhelming mobile device sales, those sales have led to grossly bloated revenues, and in an effort to keep the money flowing, well Apple has clearly opted to continue doing exactly the same thing, instead of finding ways, as it once did, to help make our lives easier.

Now consider the innovation that’s happening around Apple, where the likes of Amazon and Google are creating new and innovative ways to comprehensively connect our digital existence, through in-home hubs that seamlessly and effortlessly manage an ever-growing gamut of gadgets and digital services. By comparison, Apple’s efforts, particularly its voice assistant Siri, seem increasingly unwieldy and awkward.

But the crazy thing is that Apple has the products in place to once again effectively dominate the technology landscape, as the iPad could serve as a more than capable digital hub, but the problem is that Apple isn’t interested in people using the iPad for that.

As ZDNet’s Adrian Kingsley-Hughes explains, “Apple has put sales ahead of usability and decided that an iPad is a single-user device, as opposed to a device that could have multiple user profiles and be able to log into different iCloud accounts depending on the user (something that should be a doddle to do with Touch ID).”

Now Apple explains the limited functionality of the iPad as part of the company’s philosophy to make the device more “personal,” more geared toward the individual, but of course that’s thinly veiled marketing speak for, “Everyone needs to buy their own.” Again, greed stifles innovation.

Simply put, instead of looking forward to what’s coming next, finding the next innovation, cutting edge product that meets a need we don’t yet know we have, Apple is clearly content to look backward, happy to sit on its laurels and revel in its past success. The only problem, as I’ve often said, is that if you’re not moving forward, you’re moving backward, and such is the trap of innovation, that our success makes it easy to stop trying to succeed, and that’s enough to topple even the biggest titans of industry.

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