Allow me to make an analogy of sports cars, which are fast, beautiful, exotic, and, of course, designed to win races. For many years, Ferrari and Lamborghini were accepted as the fastest and most furious super-cars money could buy. But all that changed around the time Acura came out with the NSX, a sports car that could do what the other high-end machines could do, but at a much lower price tag. Additionally, and more importantly, the Acura was built with consistent high reliability and quality compared to its Italian counterparts.
The exotic Italian super-cars enjoyed their run as marginally reliable machines until Acura raised the standard. V12 power and superior styling were not enough anymore. After all their years of success, the Italians had to reinvent themselves, which they did after about a decade of reluctant improvements to the way they build their fanciest cars.
Fast forward a couple of decades and the story gets more interesting. Recently, according to USA Today, Acura put the kibosh on the NSX because of various issues with emissions and safety regulations. Even more significant, Acura and others now make cars that are as “powerful and sophisticated” as the NSX, but that can be bought for a fraction of the NSX’s $90,000 price tag. That which revolutionized the sports car market (NSX) has been out-revolutionized by newcomers and advancing innovation. This is the story of innovation, as it creates a wave that is outdone by another wave, and another wave, and so on.
Today there is an interesting phenomenon in the world of innovation practice that we can liken to the advent of the affordable and reliable sports car. The current cadre of innovation thought leaders are generally comparable to the Ferrari and Lamborghini sports cars of the 1960s, 1970s, and even the 1980s. They have best-selling books, prestigious professorships and enviable centers for processing research and serving corporate clients. They are fast and furious.
Large, already-successful companies with money to spend hire these innovation gurus to help them evolve strategically, and the result of that relationship is then analyzed and presented to the public in the form of journal articles and books. When business executives then read about the success of Wal-Mart or Cisco or Dell, relative to others in their respective industries, they interpret that to mean these gurus can certainly help them to become more innovative.
At a minimum, they believe these gurus to have the inside track on how the various market leaders became market leaders, and maybe they hire them to tell as many secrets as they possibly can within some standard of ethics. No, we’re not saying that the current cast of innovation thought leaders don’t have the utmost integrity; nor are we saying that their contributions are not important. The affordable, reliable sports car would not be what it is today without the heritage and influence of its less reliable, fast, stylish, and expensive precursors.
All I’m saying is that it’s time to raise the bar of innovation to one that is more repeatable, teachable, deployable, manageable and reliable. Just because a very intelligent person can make observations and see a trend — and can describe this trend in a book or article — does not mean they have a system for making innovations plentiful and commonplace. In fact, the aura of innovation is still one of rarified air.
Although this thinking seems to make perfect sense, and although it resonates with big executives who hire big innovation gurus, the thinking is flawed. The lack of an innovation Acura is more a function of complacency than of natural constraint. Unusual business success has always been a function of uncommon sense, not of common sense as many would argue, and if common sense says innovation has to be rare, then it’s wrong.
TRIZ is the Acura of innovation relative to the Ferraris and Lamborghinis. It is the answer to the evident lack of quality and reliability in the way most companies go about reinventing themselves. Fortunately, TRIZ is here, and systematic innovation is possible. With TRIZ, companies have a way of improving innovation build quality, and they also have a way to make innovation more reliable, predictable, and pervasive.