How to Innovate When Platforms Won’t Stop Moving

Business and technology platforms change faster now than ever. What does that mean for how companies compete?

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Michael A. Cusumano, professor of management, MIT Sloan School of Management

There is a difference between fashion and insight. But the literature of management — whether found on the bookshelves of every city’s airport, or at the conference you attended last month — doesn’t always seem to recognize it. In most management literature, the new is positioned as the necessary. The ideas that are fashionable are the ideas you haven’t heard before, or at least haven’t heard in the fresh ways they’re packaged. Fashionable is equated with better. New is equated with wise. And even though every intelligent manager knows this equation is wrong (because who hasn’t seen a hundred management fads come and go? Who hasn’t seen organizational damage in their wake?), we consume the new fashions anyway. We consume them even though what we really want is insight, and we don’t care whether the ideas are new or old or anything in between. We just care that they’re right — and that the management guidance they offer will last, and that it will help us to last, too.

Unfortunately, that’s harder to pull off than fashion. But it’s what MIT Sloan School of Management professor of management Michael A. Cusumano set out to do when asked by the University of Oxford to deliver the 13th Annual Clarendon Lectures in Management Studies in 2009. Now he has tried to answer those questions in his latest book, Staying Power: Six Enduring Principles for Managing Strategy & Innovation in an Uncertain World (Oxford University Press, 2010).

The Leading Question

How can companies innovate and succeed in today’s landscape?

  • Businesses must cultivate agility — the ability to adapt quickly to or even anticipate and lead change.
  • Businesses must develop deep differentiating capabilities that enable them both to separate themselves from competitors and endure disruptions.
  • Companies such as Apple and IBM show how agility and capabilities can enable organizations to shape-shift as industry models rapidly change.

He spoke with MIT Sloan Management Review’s Michael S. Hopkins about the insights in his book, and about what characteristics will most determine competitive success in today’s innovation-driven landscape.


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Comments (2)
In my point, the core difficulty of companies without agility is that they don't know how to identify the change of demand and market environment. Hence, most of them adopt too much incremental innovation so that forget breakthrough innovation. A relevant problem for those who want to design a great successful company is how to match these two kinds of innovation plans.
Siswanto Gatot
I think the most important element is research ability. when a company puts research as the top priority, every opportunity will come. the agility refers to adapt and adopt quickly, and this can be achieved by intensive research