Don’t Throw the Good Ideas Out With the Fads

I had a conversation yesterday with a person who feels that the use of social technology in organizations is a passing fad, much like other fads supporting the importance of “innovation” and “collaboration.”

It got me thinking about why good ideas (no reasonable person would argue that innovation, collaboration or the effective use of social technology are inherently bad ideas) can sometimes flame up as fads and then fizzle out.

I would like to suggest that except in rare cases, these fizzle-outs are usually not because the ideas themselves are defective, but rather that the ways that we think, talk, write about and implement them are.

I would like to further suggest that these defects can be traced back to the tendency to assume that effective “innovation” or “collaboration” or “use of social technology” (or anything else) should look the same in every group or organization, regardless of its context.

As a result of this assumption, we try to force a successful execution in one context into an entirely different context. “Want to be a collaborative organization? Here are the 5 steps that worked for Zappos. Want to innovate like Apple? Here’s how.” While following these steps may work for some organizations, it won’t for a lot of others, and eventually the landscape tends to get littered with either non-starts or outright failures, which are blamed either on the idea itself (e.g., “Innovation is a passing fad.”) or worse, on the specific company’s inabilities to live up to the ideal (e.g., “We tried to be like Apple, but just couldn’t get there.”).

Our ability to avoid these sometimes destructive fads in the future can be helped today with the fundamental assumption that, though the successful execution of these ideas may share some similarities across contexts, there may also be important differences. “Want to innovate as well as Apple does? Here are three paths that often lead to that level of innovation. There may be others too.” It will also include the follow-on assumption that cookie-cutter, me-too approaches should be approached with a high degree of skepticism.

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