Escaping from ZITs (Zombie Innovation Traps)

I guess we’re all still interested in the phenomenon of Steve Jobs, and we probably remember how he visited Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) back in December 1979 and saw a demonstration of prototype technologies that included bit-mapped video displays, graphical user interfaces (GUI) and different types of mouse, and immediately realised that these prototypes had the potential to differentiate future Apple computers. We note how Jobs had to go all the way to the top of Xerox to demand a private demonstration for Apple technical experts, and the (longer than expected) march to the ground-breaking Apple Macintosh began, followed by Bill Gates supporting software development for the Mac in order to learn about graphical environments, which ultimately led to the inclusion of Macintosh features in Windows. And the rest is history.

I have to admit I have always wondered about the nature of Xerox itself in funding research into the man-machine interface and yet being so focused on exploiting only technologies those that assisted the photocopier business.  Interestingly in 2010 Henry Chesborough, reflecting on barriers to innovation noted the impact of legacy innovation assets and models as blockers for new ideas making the transition into technologies and declared that (in effect) successful innovation would require a form of agile innovation leadership to overcome the legacy or Zombie Innovation Trap of currently-successful models of doing business.

This phenomenon of being trapped in a particular business context and unable to visualize or move to alternative business contexts (new customers, new jobs) to create or exploit new value is a classic Zombie characteristic. If you go back to the observations made in an earlier blog “How to Spot a Zombie Organization” you will remember the basic points that indicate a Zombie Organization (ZO), in that just like Zombies in films they carry their embedded “innovation trap” behaviours around with them in that their

a) Hunger for fresh human flesh is insatiable, similarly ZOs consume people, they literally use up their energy through innovation mono-culture strategies that are ultimately counter-productive (making dead models more efficient, instead of killing off).

b) Ability to work things out for themselves (like how to open doors and drive cars) or any complex co-ordinated activity is severely restricted: thus ZOs lack agility and adaptability.

c) Movement is always clumsy, that ZOs are clumsy because they pay no attention to their context. They are perpetually surprised when their environment changes.

At this point it becomes clear that the development of Agile Innovation Leadership is at a premium because it understands and anticipates the nature of the Zombie Innovation Trap, and has the skills to build new freedoms to innovate by consciously constructing and gaming innovation models that fit to the idea, instead of excluding ideas that cannot be exploited within your legacy innovation and business models.


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