To Innovate, Thrive in Chaos and Take Advantage of Change

To Innovate, Thrive in Chaos and Take Advantage of Change

January 31, 2013 at 10:01am

Beth Comstock
Beth Comstock is the Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer at GE. She presented the paper entitled ‘To Innovate, Thrive in Chaos and Take Advantage of Change’ at the World Economic Forum at Davos.

Cliffs, contagions and chaos are the watchwords that describe the business climate over the past five years. We strive for resilience and try to tolerate chaos. But is surviving enough? As Nassim Nicholas Taleb points out in his new book, we need to become “antifragile” – to thrive in the chaos and take advantage of change. Leaders are increasingly realizing that taking smart risks is critical to success.

This sentiment came through loud and clear in GE’s annual “Innovation Barometer,” which gauges more than 3,000 executives’ perceptions toward innovation. While those interviewed agreed that innovation is critical to charting a new course in uncertain times, they have conflicting points of view about what must be done to maintain a competitive edge.

Overall, however, the survey reveals a growing willingness among leaders to challenge the status quo and look beyond traditional ways to find and deliver good ideas to market. To me, one of the most interesting pieces of the Barometer looks at the idea of collaborative innovation and how and why business leaders choose to partner to drive better innovation in new markets.

This move toward collaboration reflects a greater trend that prioritizes business model innovation over product innovation. Developing new business models requires fewer resources, particularly in emerging markets.

Greater collaboration is a cornerstone of our innovation philosophy at GE. In the past year, we launched customer innovation centers in Canada, China and Saudi Arabia in order to co-create and collaborate with customers and communities. It’s early days, but the results are promising. In Chengdu, China, for example, where our innovation center is focused on delivering healthcare to rural areas, product teams are embedded in local hospitals to understand needs that customers cannot communicate. As a result, this center has developed two new products that will launch in the next few months for China and then find markets around the world.

This power of collaboration is perhaps best demonstrated by one of its pioneers, David Kelley, founder of product design firm IDEO, which brought to life everything from the first computer mouse to the desks our kids will soon sit in at school. I watched Kelley on 60 Minutes recently and saw how he brings together a diverse group of people from anthropologists to journalists to create the breakthroughs we take for granted. This works, he says, because “you get to a place you just can’t get to in one mind.”

This process of collaboration for innovation’s sake can be dizzying at times. But as IDEO’s 35 years of leading the way shows, it’s this sort of novel thinking that keeps companies stable.

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