If only we could start 2011 and the new decade by putting up a “closed for renovation” sign clearing the way to transform our education, health care, energy, and economic systems. We don’t have the luxury. Tweaks won’t work and nothing short of systems transformation is needed. Our collective challenge in 2011 is to catalyze transformational change while continuing to pedal the bicycle of today’s systems. We need real-world platforms, connected to existing systems, with the autonomy and resources to design, prototype, and experiment with transformational solutions. Going to war with current systems won’t work. If we’re going to transform the next decade we should start by putting up an “open for renovation” sign.
Have you ever done a major renovation of your home while you were still living in it? We did. I don’t know what we were thinking. I’m not talking about a tweak. It’s the familiar story about a project that started off as a manageable kitchen remodeling. Then the “while we’re at it we might as well do this too” started. Before the dust finally settled, 75% of the living space in our home was transformed, all while we continued to live in the house. Talk about disruption! Like all transformations it took twice as long and cost twice as much as predicted. If you ask our three children, who had to live through it, I’m sure each would say they were scarred for life by the trauma. For two years we were nomads in our own home with sleeping arrangements changing constantly. It was an adventure to find the temporary kitchen location on any given day. Tweaking is easy. Transformation isn’t. No wonder our social systems are so resistant to transformational change.
In the end our house came out great and we were thrilled with the result but looking back we would’ve been better off if we had found an alternative temporary living arrangement. We don’t have the luxury of putting up a “closed for renovation” sign while we transform our social systems. We have to get better at experimenting with new system approaches while still living in the current ones. Big bang approaches to organization or system change seldom work. Instead of going to war to transform an entrenched operating model, create real world sandboxes right next door in which a new generation of transformative operating models can be explored. To enable transformative change consider creating connected adjacencies as innovation platforms.
The imperative is to do R&D for new business models and systems the way organizations do R&D for new products and technologies today. The trick is to explore and test new models while at the same time continuing to live within current ones. This requires establishing adjacent innovation platforms with the freedom to explore new ways to create and deliver value, especially approaches that are disruptive to the current model. Adjacent innovation platforms must have the freedom to experiment with different rules and financial models. Connected adjacencies require senior leadership sponsorship, support, and protection or they will fail. They must be free to recombine and connect capabilities in new ways unconstrained by the existing organization. Those working in the adjacencies must be empowered to borrow and flexibly deploy capabilities and technologies from inside and outside the organization in novel ways.
A decade is a terrible thing to waste. The first decade of the 21st century was transitional. We need the second to be transformational. Together we can co-create the future of education, health care, energy, and entrepreneurship. Let’s start by putting up an “open for renovation” sign as we welcome 2011 and the start of an exciting new decade. Here’s to innovating through connected adjacencies. Happy New Year!
Saul Kaplan is the Founder and Chief Catalyst of the Business Innovation Factory (BIF). Saul shares innovation musings on his blog at It’s Saul Connected and on Twitter at @skap5.