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Strategic Innovation in Established Companies

Compared to new companies or niche players, established companies find it difficult to innovate strategically -- to reconceptualize what the business is all about and, as a result, to play the game in an existing business in a dramatically different way. Drawing on examples of highly profitable companies in diverse industries, the author explains how long-time players can overcome the four chief obstacles to strategic innovation.

1. Inertia of success. Strategic innovators monitor their strategic health for early signals of trouble and are willing, if necessary, to abandon the status quo for the uncertainty of change. These companies also work to convince employees that current performance is good but not good enough. They develop a new challenge to galvanize the organization into active thinking, and they expend significant time and effort selling the challenge to everyone.

2. Uncertainty about what to change into. Strategic innovators challenge their dominant way of thinking and shift emphasis away from determining how they need to compete toward questioning who their customers are and what they really want. They institutionalize a questioning attitude and find ways to shake up the system every few years.

3. Uncertainty surrounding new strategic positions. At a given time, a company does not know which idea will succeed and which core competencies will be essential. Successful strategic innovators follow the model of capitalism: they create internal variety, even at the expense of efficiency, and allow the outside market to decide the winners and losers.

4. The challenges of implementation. Successful companies set up a separate organizational unit to support a new strategic innovation and create a context that supports integration between different units within the company. In managing the transition from the old to the new, they let the two systems coexist but gradually allocate resources to the new so that it grows at the expense of the old.

For established companies, the challenge of strategic innovation is organizational: developing a culture that questions current success while promoting experimentation. Strong leadership is essential in creating that culture. Only those companies that strive for self-renewal, the author argues, will succeed in the long term.

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