Like Isaac Newton’s “eureka” moment, which led to his theory of gravity, leaders know that stable circumstances never last and they must eventually destroy what they’ve created or a competitor will do it for them. Their “eureka” moments have led them to be the destructive forces that chip away the edges of their own organizations.
The bestselling business book “Creative Destruction” points out organizations that sustain success understand innovation’s creative process of search, incubate and “eureka.”
In the incubation stage, ideas simmer, and it may appear as if work on the problem has stopped. The book’s authors call this the heart of the creative process and point to Newton as having a good description: “I keep the subject constantly before me and wait until the first dawnings open slowly, little by little, into the full and clear light.”
Finally, according to the book, we reach the “eureka” stage, which is the point in the process when many unrelated and even contradictory ideas and goals somehow come together and are combined to create something new.
A decade after “Creative Destruction,” Peter Denning and Robert Dunham, authors of “The Innovator’s Way,” give more current examples of what Newton described by explaining how the Corning Co., founded in 1851 as Corning Glass Works, serves as a good example of multiple “eureka” experiences that lead it to several new and successful incarnations.
Corning began extending its glass business and introduced new product lines early on. It partnered with Pittsburgh Plate Glass in 1937 to make construction glass, formed Owens Corning with Owens Illinois in 1938 to make fiberglass and formed Dow Corning with Dow Chemical in 1943 to make silicone.
Following the creative-destruction mindset, Corning chipped away at its edges and sold off its consumer products division when it still represented half of both sales and employees. Always putting innovation above control, Corning was first to solve the problem of optical fibers losing light over distance.
Obviously, it’s exceedingly difficult to strike the right balance between creation and destruction. Recording companies couldn’t abandon vinyl records until they had tapes in place or abandon tapes until CDs and now digital files were ready. You can’t destroy the core of your business too early, but, to remain in business, you must immediately create a new core as the old one begins to slow down.
Many larger corporations are beginning to follow the example of Corning. General Electric (GE) and Cisco are prominent examples. When Jack Welch came to GE in 1981, the company’s philosophy was to defend first and attack only if necessary. Welch turned that thinking around by making 108 acquisitions in a single year and started the process of destroying units unless they ranked first or second in its category.
For Cisco, launching intergalactic probes has always been part of its credo because its “eureka” moment was the realization that since most innovations don’t happen in your company, you must look for them elsewhere. Long-term success demands that leaders and management seize opportunity by letting more new ideas simmer and incubate. That will lead to multiple “eureka” moments and the knowledge of exactly what must be created and what to blow up.
Questions for discussion:
• Are you willing to destroy your own current business model in order to replace it with something that is better?
• Do you and your people look for unrelated ideas and information that can be combined to produce greater customer value?
Joe Murtagh is The DreamSpeaker, an international keynote speaker, meeting facilitator and business trainer. For questions or comments, contact Joe@TheDreamSpeaker.com, visit TheDreamSpeaker.com or call (800) 239-0058.