No Longer Optional 

The exclamatory phrase “Innovate or Die!” is most often attributed to the legendary businessman, Peter Drucker. Although at the time of its first utterance decades ago it may have only been true for elite companies, it is now a dictum that applies to every enterprise. An imperative that can no longer be ignored. The pace of change in our society, technology, and economy has accelerated to a fever pitch and that acceleration is itself accelerating. Your innovation practices must evolve in order to effectively keep you ahead of this rapid market transformation and your competition. Systemic Innovation is your survival guide for the 21stcentury.

Innovation is best defined across three categories: an entirely new product/process/service; significant improvement of an existing product/process/service; or a uniquely repurposed application of an existing product/process/service. This opens the door for myriad advances across a host of opportunities present in nearly every enterprise and marketplace. In order to accomplish this feat of continuous innovation with the greatest probability of success, you must have the right framework in place to overcome the constraints on innovation and utilize the correct lens to spot the best opportunities to capitalize on.

Business Innovation


Most organizations have a corporate immune system, an innate retaliation to anything that challenges the status quo, that kills off innovative thinking and doing before either has a chance to take root. Here is a list of some of the constraints, components of that corporate immune system, our clients commonly identify as holding back innovation within their organizations.

  • Resistance to Change
  • Risk Mitigation
  • Group Think
  • Unstructured Methodology
  • Bureaucracy
  • Poor Incentives
  • Competition for Resources
  • Narrow Vision
  • Success Momentum
  • Short Term Focus
  • Unsuited Talent
  • Jealousy

Most of these are relatively self-explanatory. The constraint that often confuses people or comes across counter intuitively is “Success Momentum”. When things are going well, innovative initiatives tend to be viewed as unnecessary, or simply out of sight out of mind. Blockbuster is a perfect example. The company had 3 opportunities to buy Netflix before it was too late. But each of those mornings when the CEO woke up, they were building a new Blockbuster store somewhere in the world. That success was blinding the organization to the urgency of a new reality developing, which eventually put Blockbuster into bankruptcy. Do you recognize any of these constraints in your organization?

Systemic Innovation 

There is a powerful way of embedding innovation in your company, with an innovation framework and an innovation lens through which your team can filter all the possibilities you encounter. Together these two tools can override and protect against the corporate immune system response internally and build incredible momentum externally to outpace change and your competition. “Systemic” Innovation denotes the importance of building these elements into your organization’s operating system, making them a part of its DNA.

Most companies have some elements of this Systemic Innovation framework but very few, if any, intentionally harness all of them effectively. Institutionalizing some aspect of all 7 facets of this framework will ensure your survival and propel you to the leading-edge of innovation. Create ways your employees can contribute to each of these elements in an ongoing manner.

Flash of Genius (Spontaneous Insight) Accidentally hitting your thumb with a hammer and realizing there is a better way to do the task. Create a suggestion and execution system to capture these moments.

Ad Hoc (Brainstorming) You have encountered a problem and gather a few people to come up with a quick workaround. Set up rules and best practices of how and when to use this approach.

Methodical (Design Sprints) Well codified method to proactively develop significant improvements or novel solutions. Make these a part of your quarterly strategy.

Evolutionary – (Incremental) Continuous Improvement and Product Development processes should be commonplace throughout all levels of the organization.

Revolutionary – (Monumental) ExO Transformation that radically changes the game for you in the marketplace or sets you on a path to competing in a completely different industry. Best as part of an annual strategy or utilized during a pivotal moment.

Internal (Core Resources) Building an innovation team, with your own people, typically focused on foundational products, processes, technologies, and business model.

External (Edge Resources) Building a skunkworks that is a separate business unit operating outside of your core organization and/or partnering with another entity to harness innovative talent and capabilities beyond your own company resources. Focused on future products, processes, technologies, markets, and business models.

As you put all these elements in place, teach all your team members (from the front office to the front line) to look for opportunities through the following lens as a way of having ongoing passive awareness and active intention to continuously innovate.

ABCD Lens 

With your particular goal in mind here is a way of seeing novel opportunities by applying the ABCD lens. The lens can be utilized to see opportunity in an internal situation by asking “Is there a way we can accelerate, breakthrough, converge, or disrupt our current product/process/service?”. Or the lens can be applied to evaluate external technologies or ideas to consider how they might be brought internally to accelerate, breakthrough, converge, or disrupt your current product/process/service.

Accelerate (Scale Growth / Speed Up Process) Technologies or ideas that are not simply linear improvement but actually can provide viral or exponential acceleration. (Amazon’s business model flywheel of technology, selection, delivery, and technology reinvestment created a virtuous loop that rocketed them to market dominance.)

Breakthrough (Overcome Barrier / Radical Discovery) Technologies or ideas that could shatter an existing roadblock. (A hackathon or competition may have solved Edison’s 2000 attempts at a lightbulb filament in a weekend, instead of taking two years).

Converge (Adjust Paradigm / Leverage Synergy) Technologies or ideas that create a synergy greater than the sum of their individual capabilities. (Netflix harnessed many things together over the years such as the internet & small cheap DVD’s; a subscription model cleverly coupled with no late fees; marketing free-trial teamed up with DVD player manufacturers, and now they continue maturing their business model and financials by creating their own digital content.)

Disrupt (Avoid Threat / Bold Move) Many disruptions come orthogonally from outside the traditional industry and do not have to initially outperform the established parameters. (Apple’s cellphone software took almost the entire market share for GPS from Garmin’s hardware.)

There is often an overlap of the 4 aspects of the ABCD lens but it is useful to consider them individually as you interact with or evaluate various technologies and ideas. You want your team to have this lens passively working in the back of their mind as they go about their daily routine and actively applied during intentional innovation sessions.

Once you institutionalize the Systemic Innovation framework and lens your business will reap the ROI benefits of the momentum generated. One last suggestion for maximum effect, teach your employees the fundamentals of this article, the reason you place such high importance on novel solutions, and how continuous innovation will lead to your long-term survival and ultimate market success!

If you’re interested in learning more about how a Coach can help your business implement strategic systems to achieve exponential growth, please contact our team at align5 by clicking here. Or please take our Free Growth Assessment, which will evaluate the strength of your company based on four core business disciplines that must be in place before scaling successfully – People, Strategy, Execution and Cash.

Find us on Linkedin & Facebook with on-going content and resources to help you throughout your entrepreneurial journey.