Serendipity and strategy in rapid innovation
Innovation is to organizations what evolution is to organisms: it is how organizations adapt to environmental change and improve. Yet despite advances in our understanding of evolution, what drives innovation remains elusive. On the one hand, organizations invest heavily in systematic strategies to accelerate innovation. On the other, history and experience suggest serendipity plays a strong role.
We created a model of innovation as a search for designs across a universe of building blocks. By measuring the number of makeable designs as we acquire building blocks, we find that the usefulness of blocks can cross over time. When these crossovers are unanticipated, they appear serendipitous. But when we can predict them, they offer a chance to strategically expand the size of the design space.
Our insights give quantitative backing to the “lean start-up” approach to building companies and provide a framework for understanding the poverty trap and how to escape it. Recognising how an organizations' priorities depend on its maturity enable it to balance short-term gain with long-term growth. In this way it can create its own serendipity, rather than relying on intuition and chance.