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“Seeds of Innovation” and Darwin

The aim of this thesis is to apply Darwin’s theory of evolution to the seedbeds of innovation that shape the growth of companies during various phases of their business. In order to clarify this objective, the author will look into evolutionary innovation models as applicable to present-day businesses, and compare them with the Abernathy-Utterback framework which gives the complete innovation life cycle illustrating a new product/idea (Clark & Staunton, 1989, p.118). The intention here is to verify whether the Darwin theory supports or conflicts with the Abernathy model.

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According to Geoffrey Moore, no company can hope to remain in existence forever if it decides to “rest on its laurels” and becomes loath to carry out any further innovation (Moore, 2005, p.31). The rationale behind digging deep for new ideas is to come with business development plans that can be disruptive to the competitor, and allow more room for growth opportunities. Moore suggests that no organization can afford to stagnate due to bankruptcy of ideas, and the bigger challenge for executives is to redirect the company’s energy and resources to develop and market new innovation models (Moore, 2005, p.34).

Moore illustrates the case of IBM, a large, multinational IT firm listed in the Dow Jones Industrial Average of 30 largest companies, which woke up one day to smell the coffee when an aspiring Microsoft dethroned it to become the largest technology firm using ideas such as a user-friendly operating system (Moore, 2005, p.113). In a similar vein, Microsoft could not continue in its reign forever when another contender, Apple, overtook it to become the largest worldwide technology company (Moore, 2005, p.113).

According to Moore, the key differentiator in the success stories of each of these companies lay in their ability to analyze their business situation according to rapidly changing market needs, and come with innovative ideas that saw good reception from end-users. Moore’s research aims at lending vociferous support to the invincibility of Darwin’s theory of natural selection when applied to business.

According to Elaine Dundon, companies must keep the pot of innovative evolution “simmering” because technological changes, a rapidly expanding world full of new markets and competitors, and more demanding customers keep setting the stage for new creative ideas, while innovative organizations end up eventually being more profitable than the others (Dundon, 2002, p.2-5). In this regard, Dundon has identified at least two stages or phases of innovation growth listed below:

  • The Stage of Creative Thinking: At this stage, the organization is required

to empower its executives and engineers, with all the tools and resources needed to stretch their imagination further and brainstorm for new ideas. The key belief is to remain curious about changes and apply one’s own vision to come up with something that would one day address the business challenges of the future (Dundon, 2002, p.36). In retrospect, this stage is comparable to the “Fluid” phase of the Abernathy-Utterback model where radical innovations rule the roost and many different designs and ideas are brainstormed (Clark & Staunton, 1989, p.119).

  • The Stage of Strategic Thinking: In Stage II of the Darwinian model

Dundon advocates doing something extraordinary (based on the surfeit of knowledge and ideas developed in Stage I) to become the dominant force in a business vertical (Dundon, 2002, p.67-80). This corresponds to the transitional phase of the Abernathy-Utterback model where dominant ideas hold sway with more formal structure and task groups, and the stage for mass production is set (Clark & Staunton, 1989, p.119).

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  1. Clark, P. A., & Staunton, N. (1989). Innovation in Technology and Organization. London: Routledge.
  2. Dundon, E. (2002). The Seeds of Innovation: Cultivating the Synergy that Fosters New Ideas. New York : AMACOM Books.
  3. Moore, G. A. (2005). Dealing with Darwin: How Great Companies Innovate at Every Phase of their Evolution. New York : Portfolio Publishers.

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