Big Co’s Resistance to “Radical Innovation”

Wired has just come out with their “Wired 40” list of the most innovative and progressive companies. They identified 5 major trends, power to the people being one of them.

Look at the trend today around Internet-based technologies. There are millions of individuals sharing information on blogs, sharing photos & videos, and participating in forums. Business and government are slow to adopt these new innovations using the Internet because they are seen as “radical” and therefore scary and risky. Government and large corporations are much more comfortable with evolutionary improvements. Even though they have been developed by and for the masses (ie MySpace), the applications of these technologies hold great promise in the business world. Those that choose to adopt them more aggressively will make great strides in moving ahead of their competitors that choose a more evolutionary path.

Let’s focus for now on internal communication (there’s a lot of ink on giving customers a voice so I won’t go there). Imagine being a large organization with thousands of employees spread throughout the world. Wouldn’t you jump at the chance to tap into all of the ideas that people have? Wouldn’t you want to give every employee a voice, a chance to be heard? Distributed intelligence – think about it.

So why aren’t organizations jumping at the chance to give a voice to the front line? It’s because, for the first time, the frontline people can talk to, or at least be heard by, the top. But this changes the way top and middle managers operate. It’s a huge shift to bypass traditional communication and management channels. Companies are also very cautious about what information they want to share outside of their organization. Generally, this is controlled by a few executives who handle the PR for the company. Companies fear the negative.

Olivier Blanchard articulates this principal well with his post on “reaching for the edges.”  Translate his opinion to companies instead of individuals – they also tend to play it safe in the middle.

Those companies with forward-thinking top executives, who believe in the distributed intelligence of their organization, will be the ones to emerge ahead of their competitors. They recognize that there is far more to gain in ideas and positive word of mouth than there is to lose by some negative comments by disgruntled employees.