Where fear rules, ideas go underground

20 years ago   •   1 min read

By Marcia Kadanoff

Every CEO wants their industry’s next big idea to emerge from their own company—but few today are willing to take the risks that would enable that to happen. The out-of-the-box thinking that was so popular during the ‘90s boom has been replaced by layoffs, cutbacks and shelved expansion plans. What many executives are calling “austerity” is nothing more than fear. And fear doesn’t create an environment friendly to new ideas. ‘‘The ‘wildflowers’ in many companies have gone underground,’’ says Lawrence Halpern, a professor of strategic positioning and competitive strategy at Boston College’s Carroll School of Management. He refers to nontraditional thinkers as wildflowers and yearns for them to start sprouting again amid the current economic recovery. ‘‘But it’s hard to get the innovators to surface again when capital is tight and a risky idea can get you branded as reckless.’’ Instead of looking for new markets and new product ideas, many corporate innovators have aimed their talents at cost-cutting. Halpern cites one “innovative” strategy pursued by some companies in recent years: Changing their accounts receivable terms to give customers less time to pay. ‘‘The result may be short-term profits,” he says, “but you don’t build long-term growth that way.’’

Boston Globe 30 Nov 2003

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