backwards innovation

How to crush innovation in reverse.

Often, the path towards innovation looks like this; a novel idea is conceived or embraced. The processes within organizations are adapted to facilitate this novel idea, and finally, the novel idea gets executed.

Sometimes, oddly, it’s the other way around. Sometimes, a particular way of working shifts automatically due to market demand. The procedures are adopted upon realizing that the current processes in place don’t foster the new way of working. Until finally, the novel idea manifests itself in a crystal clear manner.

For example, the way we used to hire people largely depended on a job description. Many companies hiring people for themselves — or intermediaries such as recruiting agencies hiring people for other companies — are now somewhat forced to move away from the classic job description. Why? The chances you’ll find other purple squirrels (white ravens) in times of labor market scarcity — let alone keep them — are zero to none. Especially starting from the job description that the purple squirrel is currently fulfilling. As it turns out, they often combine multiple jobs. Should we then create a new job description that combines multiple jobs?

Looking at required skills (both hard skills and soft skills) instead of sticking to relatively static job descriptions might prove to be a solution. The downside, though, is that if the purple squirrel were to be replaced, or the capacity should be increased, one purple squirrel might add up to two or more purple squirrels.

Due to labor market scarcity, the skills-based approach is currently being embraced, albeit ad hoc. Now it’s time for companies to adopt the processes that should go along with skills-based hiring so that the ideology can ultimately thrive.

tech changes

Here is an example of how technology changes consumers and producers.

Back in the day, TV shows were written so that you’d still understand what was going on no matter when you tuned in. If you missed an episode, you missed an episode. One way to help viewers was to have a steady cast that appears in every single episode.

Nowadays, people (binge) watch TV shows. On-demand, whenever it’s convenient. For instance, the Netflix remake of “House of Cards” has characters disappearing, only to make their return eight episodes later. This principle allows for a new layer of complexity. Complexity that challenges the writers even more in their creative processes.

Safe to say, streaming technology altered viewers’ behaviors. This behavior change, in turn, influences producers’ behaviors, only to further alter viewers’ behaviors.

Imagine for a second how technology has influenced employees’ behavior. Hybrid working is here to stay. How does that influence employers? What are some of the principles they should embrace to further engage with their employees?

super sonic darwin

Just fifteen years ago, the iPhone was first launched, faced with ridicule by other moguls, saying that people would never accept a phone without buttons. Today, entire business models and ecosystems are built around iPhones, or any smartphone for that matter.

We evolve quickly. People have started noticing their hands changing. Their pinky fingers now have “dents” to support their devices. Darwin’s finches took two million years. We only took fifteen.

HR is hard. Today’s people insights are obsolete tomorrow. Never stop learning and become skeptical of innovation.

ridiculing innovation

The first phase in accepting innovation is usually ridiculing it.

When the iPhone first came out, Microsoft claimed that people would never consider buying a phone without buttons… Take NFT’s, for instance. Some people are quick to dismiss the technology altogether, making fun of it in the process. An estimated 70% of the world’s population doesn’t have an enforceable claim to the land they own. For the use case of demonstrating ownership alone, there is a lot of intrinsic value in the technology driving NFT’s.

HR managers are no different. Often reluctant to embrace innovative technology. After all, it’s a people business, so people will know best, right? Regardless, there is a tremendous opportunity to have technological support.

Be wise, don’t ridicule.

path to creativity

The path to creativity has three stages. Imitate, emulate, and innovate.

Every artistic endeavor starts the same. You hear some music, read a poem, watch a painting or a sculpture and say to yourself, that’s amazing, how can I make something like that.

The second stage is emulation. You are still heavily influenced by the works that inspire you. However, now you try to blend in some personal touches.

The third stage is innovation. This final stage is where you define who you are. You completely master the craft and subsequently have made it yours.

trust shift

Disruption is crossing out the middlemen. At least, that’s what was generally considered as disruption for the past couple of years. Crossing out the middlemen, however, hasn’t resulted in the disappearance of go-betweens altogether. It has created fewer yet more powerful intermediaries.

Innovation is restoring trust. Disruption is shifting towards that new trust. That’s what Philipp Kristian told me yesterday in a wildly interesting conversation.

Innovative companies that will prevail will be the most trustworthy ones.


“We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten.” That’s what Bill Gates allegedly said.

Looking at technology, the time between invention and commercial success often spans numerous decades. Revolutions, invoked by television, telephone, the internet… took twenty to thirty years to catch on.

The above quote wasn’t quite finished. Bill Gates went on by saying, “don’t let yourself be lulled into inaction.”

There is time. Embrace new technology calmly and craft a strategy around it to execute meticulously.

defying conventions

Society shapes us. We behave in ways — consciously and unknowingly — that fit into a set of (un)spoken agreements.

To do business in a particular society means to have a profound, empathic understanding of how that society works. Or does it?

Setting up a bakery in some parts of the world, and closing down on Sunday morning, is probably a bad idea. In other parts of the world, closing down a bakery on Friday or Saturday morning would be a terrible idea.

What’s true of established business models isn’t necessarily true for novel business models.

To go where no business has gone before means throwing off the shackles. Nothing but bold moves, defying (societal) conventions every step of the way.

Standing out doesn’t happen by blending in.

not optimizable

A new business model can’t be optimized for success before launching. There are just too many unknown unknowns. While it’s possible to draw inspiration from other novel business models or adhere to general best practices, there is no playbook with steps to follow. Hence, strategical planning for success, for a business model that hasn’t been invented yet by replicating other success stories, is impossible.

On the other hand, a tried and true business model can definitely be optimized for success prior to launching. With enough insight into the market, the circumstances can be molded for success. It’s not easy, requires much hard work, but it’s possible.

When engaging in an entirely new business model, optimize your plans for not failing instead of success.

novelty curse

New wears off, sooner or later. Suppose your audience initially flocked towards your product or service for the novelty. In that case, they might leave due to antiquity if things don’t change fast enough.

While part of your thrill-seeking customers may have joined in search of something new, part of your customers may remain on board because they have gotten used to your brand.

Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. While innovating, make sure to keep what works.