Does Innovation Have to be Chaotic?

“…, the slow search for precision and perfection might no longer be in Apple’s best interest. Mr. Cook’s goal, now, should be to alter Apple’s governing ethos to induce a small measure of chaos into his company.”

- Farhad Manjoo – NY Times, May 4, 2016

“Apple, Set to Move to its Spaceship, Should Try More Moonshots”


Does innovation have to be chaotic?

In the article referenced above, the author suggests that Apple accelerate the rate and intensity of its innovations. He asserts that the methodical approach they’ve relied on to date won’t be sufficient to maintain their leadership position in the tech sector. His proposed solution is that they inject more chaos into their operations.

Aligning innovation with chaos can be a barrier in the corporate world. Companies who have reached Fortune 500 levels of maturity have usually done so through standardization. They function smoothly through established processes, proven methods, and entrenched cultures.

So when managers with an entrepreneurial spirit, or worse yet, consultants from the outside, start talking about introducing innovative practices into the organization, its not surprising that many corporate executives want to put the innovation team and initiatives in an incubator somewhere offsite where their wacky ways won’t spill over into the rest of the company. Disruptive new product groups are meant to disrupt the external market – not their internal organization.

But innovation doesn’t have to be chaotic. While the outcomes might be unknowable, there is in fact a process to innovating. This process is Effectuation. Discovered through social science research, it is the way that successful entrepreneurs build businesses.

The current chaos approach to innovation inside companies doesn’t work for those innovating or for those managing the organization. Those charged with innovating are viewed as “flying by the seat of their pants”, making wild guesses and placing risky bets while the rest of the organization moves forward responsibly. And those in the core business chafe at being unable to track the progress of innovative initiatives or to hold innovation groups accountable for their actions.

Effectuation addresses this by providing these three components:

  • It is Replicable. Effectuation is a defined process. It is an approach with the rigor of business planning. It can be taught. It can scale. And it provides innovation teams with control over creating their future rather than the chaos of guessing what the future might be.

  • It is Actionable. Conversations and commitments are at the core of Effectuation. It is about getting results. Investments are not made without customers. Resources are not committed without progress.

  • It is Measurable. Teams can track their progress through the effectual process and can communicate this to the broader organization. No longer do innovation teams get a pass at quarterly meetings.

Does Apple need to continue to push the boundaries on its innovation efforts? Yes. But if it uses an effectual approach, it will be able to do this without unnecessary mayhem.

Instead of spending their energy on creating chaos they can spend it on creating their future.

--Written by Sara Whiffen, Founder & Managing Partner, Insights Ignited LLC