Incremental innovation:  recipe for disaster

21 years ago   •   1 min read

By Marcia Kadanoff

Many companies are loathe to throw 100% of their resources behind new ideas, but anything less can lead to failure, says management consultant and author Robert Staub: “In the radically shifting realities of our fast-paced global marketplace and our demanding customers, incrementalism is often the path to extinction for a company.” Staub cites the case of a successful Washington, DC-based hardware chain called Hechinger, which failed to move quickly enough to counter the threat posed by Home Depot, which at the time was only a fraction of Hechinger’s size. Home Depot’s format, structure and processes enabled it to operate profitably, provide better service and make more money at much lower margins. Sure, Hechinger tried out the “big box” concept with a couple of stores in North Carolina, but it was a case of too little, too late. Within eight years, Home Depot was the dominant player in the industry and Hechinger was driven out of business. Staub says it’s easy to fall into the “incrementalism trap,” and offers some warning signs: You see the price of innovating as more painful than saving market position. You convince yourself that you can succeed by making cosmetic changes. You think that everyone else must change but you’re exempt. You fail to create a compelling vision and story for innovating and reinventing. You feel too comfortable with the way you’re currently doing business. Change is painful, says Staub, but growing pains are preferable to death throes any day.

Innovative Leader Sep 2003

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