Monday, June 25, 2007

Innovation and Abandonment

Every couple weeks I receive brief write-ups of popular business books on the market today. They’re very informative, a big time saver and some have been inspiring enough to prompt me to purchase the complete book.

The latest to arrive in my inbox is a brief on a book written by Elizabeth Haas Edersheim called The Definitive Drucker. If you are unaware of Drucker, he is Peter Drucker, the man who is considered the father of modern management theory in business today. Sadly, Mr. Drucker died in November 2005 at the age of 95, but 6 months prior to his passing he was interviewed by Ms. Edersheim and the result of those interviews produced The Definitive Drucker.

I write about this man because I found him to be one of the most forward-thinking men of the 20th AND 21st centuries on the subject of business. He was, and still is, very influential in my career. While he never spoke directly about technology, he knew its place and its purpose in the world of business. Long before iPods and the Internet, Drucker spoke of innovation.

To Drucker, there was a delicate balance between innovation and change on one end of the spectrum and preservation of the status quo on the other. Knowing this balance is critical to business survival. You can’t innovate for the sake of innovation, holding on to everything you create. You also can’t throw out everything, otherwise you’ll have chaos.

In other words, you have to know when to hold ‘em, and know when to fold ‘em…

Innovation and abandonment is something every technology company, regardless if you produce chips or software, should examine on a regular basis. Drucker examines this issue through four basic questions. The answers produced can be quite telling:

  1. What do you have to abandon now to make room for innovation? This is being willing to let go of old ideas, old processes, old paradigms, etc. in order to focus on what’s new.
  2. Do you systematically seek new opportunities? Is it a regular ritual or daily habit to look for what’s new and interesting?
  3. Is there a disciplined process for converting new ideas to practical solutions? Can you effectively synthesize your ideas?
  4. Does this innovation strategy work well with your business strategy? Is it aligned with your business goals, both long-term and short-term?

Basically, what Drucker is saying is that if you can’t answer these questions about your business, your products or services you are not innovating and might want to abandon what you are doing and start down a different path.

The problem I’ve noticed is that many businesses hold on to old ideas or old technology because they feel that it is what they are good at. That may be true, but that was then and this is now. It’s quite possible what you are doing today may be irrelevant in this world and needs a major adjustment. Essentially, holding on to old ideas is like having dead weight tied to you. Innovation will be at a standstill.

What is Drucker’s solution? First, make sure you ask yourself the four questions. Second, set a date for abandonment of your innovation and commit to it. Once you arrive at that date, re-evaluate the situation. If what you are still doing is relevant – move on! If not, drop it and move on to the next idea.

Editor’s Note: Interestingly enough, abandonment (or quitting) is a subject prevalent in Seth Godin’s latest book, The Dip. It’s his way of showing you when you should stick it out or when you should quit.


Tarvinder said...

hey man
u said u receive brief write-ups on various books. i'd love to read the one on "the definitive drucker" - so, i was wondering if u could mail it to me... my email id is

Justin Beller said...

The write-ups are from aheadSpace at It's a subscription service that I pay for and unfortunately if I forward on any of the briefs I receive I would be violating their copyrights.

I do recommend getting a subscription from aheadSpace. It's a little pricey, but well worth it.