Tuesday, September 04, 2018

Patrick Blackett and the innovation trap

When the search for technological breakthroughs is nothing more than way to avoid hard work and difficult choices.

Patrick Blackett was not a congregant in the Church of the Next New Thing. In 1941 he warned Britain’s war leaders against a pernicious form of Magical thinking:

"New weapons for old" is apt to become a very popular cry. The success of some new devices has led to a new form of escapism which runs somewhat thus-- "Our present equipment doesn't work very well; training is bad, supply is poor, spare parts non-existent. let's have an entirely new gadget!" ... In general, one might conclude that relatively too much scientific effort has been expended hitherto in the production of new devices and too little in the proper use of what we have got.
This is a remarkable assessment from a man whose work as an experimental physicist earned him a Nobel Prize.

It also has the advantage of being true.

The search for “breakthrough innovations” is often an expensive way to avoid dealing with difficulties in the here and now: A charade that wastes time and money with no chance for a payoff.

It is appealing to think that a few brilliant people can come up with an idea that will save an organization. (How did that work out for Xerox?) It is even more tempting to think that such an idea can come from a random collection of people using the latest fad for idea generation.

After reviewing the successes and failures of military innovation between the world wars, Allan Millett came to this conclusion:

The key to technological exploitation became not so much the revolutionary character of inventions and processes, but creation of a management and logistical system that made the application of technological advantage possible.
Simply put, the greatest technical breakthroughs in the world cannot overcome organizational weaknesses in strategy, doctrine, management, or logistics.


Why corporate change is hard and failure almost inevitable (Part Two)

Conquest's Law

That vision thing

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