A trade-off between conformity and differentiation is the key to successful innovations

What determines the success of an innovation is rarely its intrinsic quality, its technical or economic performance. The graveyards are full of “brilliant” innovations that were not successful. The success of an innovation rather depends on its capacity to conform to the existing institutional framework in order to be accepted. But how do you stay different if you conform? This difficult trade-off determines the success or failure of the innovation. A historical example is that of Thomas Edison in his promotion of electric lighting over gas.


Is Meta the new Kodak? Eight history lessons on the necessity and risks of big innovation bets

Meta, the parent company of Facebook, is doing badly. The announcement of its poor results was very badly received by the stock market. The company lost 25% of its value in one day. The weakness of Facebook and the doubts about the relevance of the colossal investment made in the metaverse, a system creating a virtual world, question the strategy of the company. The weakness of the legacy activity, and the difficulty to launch a new activity, the situation of Meta is not unlike that of Kodak twenty years ago. A look at the history of the major bets made by companies to launch or renew themselves is useful to better understand the issues facing Meta and avoid hasty judgments.


Innovation: why the distinction between exploration and exploitation is problematic

In the field of innovation, the distinction between exploration and exploitation is universal. It is clear, it seems obvious, and it has become gospel in the world of innovation. Yet it is counter-productive, as it rests on questionable assumptions. It illustrates how the way we formulate a problem, i.e. our mental model, determines our ability to solve it. The wrong mental model locks us in, while the right one opens up possibilities. It’s time to let go the exploration/exploitation distinction.


The performance of organizations is a societal issue – My new piece on the Drucker Forum blog

Business performance is often perceived as having no societal impact. It seems to be a strictly financial matter and to concern only its shareholders, and nobody else, and as such is even morally suspect for some. We are happy for the company that has good results, and we may suspect that is at done at the expense of society. Yet, the performance of businesses, and more generally that of organizations, is a major societal issue, an observation made by Peter Drucker, and still relevant today.

Read the rest of the piece on the Global Peter Drucker Forum’s blog here.

Entrepreneurship and human action: Why the award received by Darden’s Saras Sarasvathy is important

Saras Sarasvathy, the originator of the entrepreneurial theory of effectuation, has just received the prestigious Swedish Global Award for Entrepreneurship Research. Organized since 1996 by the Swedish Foundation for Small Business Research (FSF) and the Swedish Agency for Economic and Regional Growth, the award recognizes researchers who made major contributions to entrepreneurship research. She joins such great researchers as Sidney Winter, Shaker Zahra, Kathleen Eisenhardt, Scott Shane, Israel Kirzner, William Gartner, William Beaumol or Zoltan Acs and David Audretsch. The prize is the recognition of more than twenty years of efforts to promote a radically different approach to entrepreneurship. But its significance goes far beyond that, as effectuation is above all a vision of human action and freedom.


Responding to the Covid-19 Crisis: Three Courses of Action for a CEO

[Version française ici]

In these times of coronavirus epidemic, I have the opportunity to talk to people from very different backgrounds (emergency doctors, researchers, self-employed people, entrepreneurs, retirees, business leaders, etc.) to understand how they “live” the current crisis both personally and professionally. From these discussions, I can draw three courses of action that a CEO can usefully adopt in the face of the extreme and unprecedented situation we are experiencing. (more…)

The Three Principles that Entrepreneurs Use to Control their Risk

How do entrepreneurs manage risk? A persistent and widely shared belief is that entrepreneurs are risk seekers; that they like taking risk. Ask anyone in the street or in a classroom, and they will tell you, “An entrepreneur is someone who is courageous, who likes to take risks.” But nothing could be further from the truth. Entrepreneurs don’t like risk; no study has ever shown that. What studies show is that while entrepreneurs are willing to take risks, because they recognize that it is necessary, they try to control them. To do that, they use three principles that are at the core of the entrepreneurial theory called effectuation, proposed twenty years ago by Darden professor Saras Sarasvathy.


Stop Bothering your Employees with Entrepreneurship

It is decided, the theme of your next company convention will be “All entrepreneurs!” You’ll talk about Google, Tesla, Facebook, plus a Chinese champion for good measure. The manager of your Lab in San Francisco will come to talk about the latest local innovations. You will show a film that will explain “the six qualities of a good entrepreneur” with rock opera music. After a closing speech by the leader who, in essence, will say that it is only a matter of courage, the roadmap will be clear.


Entrepreneurship for all: the beautiful story of Madame Tao

Overwhelmed by stories of fundraising, pitches, startups, incubators and the frenzy of hackathons, we often forget that the vast majority of the entrepreneurial phenomenon is in fact fairly mundane and banal. Well banal, in a way. Let’s say that the heroism of some entrepreneurs is far from the kind we hear and read all the time in the media. Nothing illustrates this better than the story of Madame Tao Huabi, which seems to have come out of a fairy tale.