The Difference between Planned and Chaotic Innovation

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By Tom Fedro

Thirty years ago Tom Peters highlighted the effectiveness of innovation birthed from chaos in his best seller A Passion for Excellence – great companies have grown up around this concept. Turning 180 degrees you can observe the folly and chaos of government sponsored planned innovation unfold.

Stay with me a few minutes more and I’ll make order out of the chaos. Not long ago the government bailed out General Motors. As a result, in what appears to be a quid pro quo or sorts, (along with tax payer funded incentives) the Feds planned to push the development of their green energy program by promoting the company’s Chevy Volt hybrid. Something went wrong with this planned innovation as seen by the amazingly poor 2011 Volt sales figures which weren’t helped by crash tests that uncovered the Volt’s fire risks.

The Volt was and is destined to fail for a variety of reasons:

* Electric bills are already too high and every summer there seems to be a threat of black outs due to high demand — plug your car into the power grid?
* No matter how noble the ideal, when you use policy to force people to change their habits, they will, but not necessarily the way you plan
* If we raise the price of gas and invest in green technology and hurry a product to market, the people will buy it, right? Wrong, people will innovate out of the chaos brought upon them if it doesn’t suit their needs – i.e. stick with their current gas guzzler; hoard incandescent light bulbs etc…

So, where does that leave us? The government tried to control people’s actions which led to an opposite reaction than they intended. Forced, centrally planned innovation almost always leads to unproductive and expensive chaos.

Software development is no different. It is pointless to build a product no one needs. Before embarking on an expensive software development project it is always a good to do the research first, without an agenda, really know your customers’ business and where its going. Once this step is complete, get out there and let the chaotic innovation unfold with a product that can fit and evolve in that environment. Trying to be too far ahead, and expensive to boot, is a tough road, unless of course you are the next Steve Jobs!

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