Monday, November 12, 2007

If you want to find innovation, don't look for market share

Here's a blanket generalization: market-share leaders don't innovate.

Exhibit A is the cellphone industry. The real innovation in the US mobile market is coming from T-Mobile, the fourth-largest operator. We discussed its combination WiFi/cellular package in an earlier post, and today the Wall Street Journal wrote that T-Mobile is the most enthusiastic operator partner of the Google-led Android alliance, seeing in it the opportunity to develop a distinctive user experience. And to help create innovative and better integrated services, T-Mobile is getting more involved in its handset manufacturers' design process.

One question is, why can't leaders be more innovative? The most straightforward explanation gets to the heart of the leader's paradox. Feeling they have more to lose causes leaders to become more and more conservative, settling for incremental upgrades and not seeing (or not valuing) the new and bold.

Fear of cannibalization also inhibits innovative thinking at market-share leaders. The question "What's this going to do to all the people we've sold the old product to?" has probably doomed thousands of worthy innovation efforts.

While upstarts and companies who are trying to catch up are freer to act.

The leader who figures out how to instill this type of thinking in a market-leading company should win the Nobel Prize for Management.

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Michelle Malay Carter said...


I think your observations are right on. Michael Raynor does a nice job of talking about this in his recent book, The Strategy Paradox: Why Committing to Success Leads to Failure.

I haven't read the book but heard him speak at a conference, and he addressed this very issue. He, as you, make some good points.