Open your mind to the idea of innovation

The three most dangerous words in management? “Not invented here.” Only complacent leaders believe that their way of doing things cannot be improved upon. But that attitude can lead apparently successful businesses astray.

As Henry Chesbrough, executive director of the Center for Open Innovation at the University of California, Berkeley, has pointed out, senior management teams can fail to spot important innovations because the new business models they rely on do not easily fit in with the way things are being done now.

Researching the performance of Xerox, the copier and printer company, between the late 1990s and early 2000s, Prof Chesbrough found that, out of 35 projects that had been rejected as part of a review process, 10 had gone on to become highly successful businesses. Indeed, the combined market capitalisation of these 10 new ventures, even after the “new economy” crash of 2001, was twice that of the former parent itself. He calls these unfortunate rejections a “false negative”: the innovations had looked bad, but that was because senior managers were unable to recognise their virtues.

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About the authors

Stefan Stern writes a column on Tuesdays on management. He is winner of the 2010 Towers Watson award for excellence in HR journalism, and has previously won awards from the Work Foundation and the Management Consultancies Association.

Ravi Mattu is the editor of Business Life, the FT's management features section, and a former editor of the Mastering Management series. He joined the FT in 2000 from Prospect magazine

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