strategy+business contributing editor Nicholas G. Carr puts forward a sensible case for conservative innovation in the Winter 2004 issue of the magazine. Carr argues that bridging the breakthrough gap is a better third way — the other two are being the first mover or being the copycat — to profit from an innovation. By finding the space between where the big idea will be and where the market already is one can both profit immediately from the innovation while also moving into a better position for the future. Carr uses a couple great examples: Netflix beating webcasters taht had outinnovated a market not yet serviced with broadband connections, and Toyota showing patience on the hrdrogen fuel cell front by first producing a car (the Prius) that still uses existing technology even while moving away from it.
There’s an important lesson in this story: When a disruptive new technology arrives, the greatest business opportunities often lie not in creating the disruption but in mending it — in figuring out…a way to use an older, established technology as a bridge to carry customers to the benefits of the emerging technology.
When we talk about business innovation today, we tend to use terms like breakthrough and pioneering and revolutionary. But some of the greatest and most lucrative innovations are essentially conservative. They are brought to market by companies that are as adept at looking backward as looking forward, and that have the skill and patience to achieve the most commercially attractive balance between the old and the new. “Conservative innovation” may sound like an oxymoron, but it’s an idea that deserves to be a part of every company’s thinking. …
Conservative innovation follows a different path, a third way. Conservative innovators neither pioneer a new technology nor copy it. Rather, they combine it with an older technology to create a different sort of product altogether. And, often, it’s exactly the product that today’s customers actually need, want, and are willing to pay for.