Microsoft’s move this week to buy LinkedIn offers a profound lesson most analysts lack the stamina to catch. On the surface it appears to be another potentially brilliant move in the chess game CEO Satya Nadella has been playing since he took the helm of Microsoft in 2014. You can see a transformed Microsoft emerging when you consider the assets they now have in play: a purely cloud-based Office 365, the most popular VoIP solution (Skype), two of the most active online gaming communities (Minecraft and Xbox/Halo), etc. The company looks radically different from the company that used an installed operating system to muscle companies into adopting its work productivity software. Now with LinkedIn, it buys itself a chance to move itself up from last place in the five-way race that now defines tech (Amazon v. Google v. Apple v. Facebook v. Microsoft).
“As the rate of change escalates exponentially, the old ways of organizing and educating, which were designed for efficiency and repetition, are dying.”
– Bill Drayton, Founder, Ashoka: Innovators for the Public
We all know that companies that thrive in the future share certain traits. They need to listen to core customers and excel at sensing new trends.
“All men can see these tactics whereby I conquer, but what none can see is the strategy out of which victory is evolved.”
It is so easy to miss! When the future was lobbing softballs at you, you could hit the trends every time. But the future has upped its game. It’s throwing fastballs and curveballs now.
What software company would’ve thought five years ago that Amazon would be its biggest competitor in the cloud? What automobile manufacturer thought five years ago that a simple mobile app would force them to rethink their business?
The anger that fuels my mission today surges from a speech I heard a year ago, in Las Vegas, in a packed conference hall. The keynote speaker opened with the line: “I have come to believe that large organizations cannot innovate. They produce ‘innovation antibodies’ that attack new ideas.”
You have an idea that will generate new profits for your company and make you even more of a hero. You can already feel the pats on your back and the industry keynote speech you will deliver, humbly explaining how you did it.
The world seems to have suddenly discovered a nirvana of agile prototyping. Some call it lean or lean start-up, some use human-centered design or design thinking, and you may even hear reference to agile or scrum. Whatever the name, the core message is the same: stop trying to build an idea (a business plan, product, marketing message) to perfection. Instead, conduct small experiments with your stakeholders to learn and improve.
The days when innovation was the sole responsibility of the chief innovation officer or corporate venturing group are over. Today companies are realizing they need to harness the innovative power of all their employees if they want to grow.
Here is the fundamental issue: innovation seems too risky. Your company says they want it. They hold innovation events, call “innovation” a top priority, and build internal innovation teams. But no one, even the most admired innovators, is confident their efforts are paying off.