Want breakthrough growth? Turn to science fiction
Recently, the head of innovation at a major industrial conglomerate set up 10 cross-functional teams and gave them an audacious goal: to completely reimagine their businesses. To encourage fresh ideas and approaches, the company had the teams apply a design-thinking lens to customer research and prototype solutions using lean start-up techniques.
The innovation leader expected 10 transformational proposals to come in. What he got instead were suggestions along the lines of adding a connected data stream to an industrial tool. He was dumbfounded. Where were the radical new concepts? Had no one even considered creating a digital platform, or flipping the business model, or reinventing products?
The tendency toward incremental thinking plagues companies of all sorts — in spite of our increasingly sophisticated arsenal of innovation tools. And though incremental innovations do have a place in a growth portfolio, they won’t sustain a business over the long term. How can firms come up with something bigger and more meaningful? What’s constraining creativity? Why can’t every company achieve what Google calls “10x thinking”— ideas that lead to 10-fold improvements rather than the more typical 10% ones?
It’s tempting to point to technology, competition, or regulation as the culprit, but those barriers are much more permeable than we imagine. After all, people once thought that a moon landing was impossible, that instant photography was impractical, and that reusable space rockets were simply insane. Then John F. Kennedy inspired a nation, Edwin Land introduced the Polaroid camera, and Elon Musk launched SpaceX.