The recent death of Steve Jobs and publication of his biography sparked public attention to business innovation. Apple’s track record brings to mind a more old-fashioned word — invention. New-to-the-world, breakthrough products or “disruptive” ones in the sense of their changing whole business categories. Most product innovation activity is actually making upgrades or iterations to existing products or services rather than new ones. But the brand new, disruptive ones attract the most attention because their impact can be enormous … and awfully good for business.
Launching disruptive products is not exactly new. History notes the major global impact of the printing press, telephone, automobile and airplane. Entire lifestyles have been changed by new products, not to mention launching major business industries world-wide. But in business today, the strategic importance of achieving breakthroughs and innovation of entire businesses has picked up steam. It was recently reported in an Innosight study of the S&P 500 Index that up to 75% of listed companies probably won’t be around in 2027. Where the average company in 1958 had been around 61 years, that average duration dropped to just 25 years old in 1980. The tenure today has dropped again dramatically to just 18 years.
So innovating and re-inventing the business has truly become an issue of survival. It’s interesting that many companies and industries spawned by major inventions couldn’t always follow that act up over time and eventually faltered. Kodak is one example. Its inventions helped people over the last few generations use affordable cameras and film and earned itself prominent listing on the S&P 500 for many years. But, with the advent of digital technology is struggling mightily today. In contrast the Innosight authors cite IBM, P&G, and J&J as three giants surviving the test of time and innovation turmoil by 1) operating effectively 2) creating products meeting market needs and 3) shedding their legacy businesses toward the end of their life cycles. Good survival strategy tips.