Is it possible for a company to over-innovate? I was asked this question recently by Tom Jantzen.
The simple answer is “Yes”. Companies can over-innovate although I would say that under-innovate is the more likely problem at most companies.
When companies over-innovate, I think we need to look at both internal and external issues.
Internal issues have a lot to do with the thickness of the idea and innovation pipeline within your company. You might have a very strong idea generation process (the front end of innovation), but this does not matter much if you not capable of taking these ideas through the internal system towards the market. Execution is just as important as ideation.
Another internal issue could be whether your executives have the vision to see the full potential in the many ideas or whether they have the guts to move forward with them.
External issues are very much about the market and the industry in which the company operate. Are they even ready for your new innovation?
You should of course still try to bring the innovation to your current markets even though the industry struggles with it at first. Overcoming such initial resistance can help create strong positions, but you should not be naïve and blindsided either. Today, the timing of innovation is much more important than ever and it could very well be that you are too early with your innovation and then it does not really matter how hard you keep pushing it. Then, it is better to stay low with the particular innovation and stay ready to execute once the market is ready.
If you get no traction at all in the current markets, an over-innovating company in a conservative industry should try to turn this into a positive thing by looking at new opportunities in new markets. This could very well be within adjacencies of the current market or industry.
Since innovation today happens with partners, we have to link the internal and external issues. It might be that your internal innovation pipeline is fat enough to accommodate all the innovation your company wants to bring to market, but your external innovation partners might not be as prepared as you are. This should not stop you, but it might slow you down. Here you have to put in an extra effort to bring your current partners up to speed if you decide to stick with them. If not, then you need to find new partners.
I don’t assume many people will disagree that companies can over-innovate, but perhaps you have some different perspectives on why this happens and what companies should do in such cases.