What You Don’t See Can Kill You


Blind spots are everywhere.  The most familiar are those related to your car such as that zone you can’t see in the rearview mirrors when driving.  (Personally, I still can’t see that zone even after unnaturally turning my head over my shoulder.)

We also have mental blind spots.  There are aspects of our personalities of which we simply are not aware but probably drive others around us bananas.  As my mom used to say, “I’m the most normal person I know.”

Our human blind spots can cause trouble.  As innovators, our blind spots can cause failure.

Dr. Ron Adner tackles this topic and prescribes a solution in his book, The Wide Lens: What Successful Innovators See that Others Miss.  Adner builds the case that execution-focused strategies have actually led to innovation failures because we intentionally narrow our vision to see only those factors we can manage:  our customers, our processes, our employees, and our resources.

Adner advocates broadening our perspective to the “Innovation Ecosystem,” and expanding our VOC toolkit to understanding “co-innovators” and the “adoption chain.”  In other words, for new-to-world innovations who else are you dependent on and also needs to innovate in order to make your innovation successful?

Consider these examples from Adner’s book:

  • Philips Electronic pioneered high-definition television, creating numerous technological breakthroughs. It seemed like an innovator’s dream: product quality that consumers loved and competitors could not reproduce.  The blind spot:  HDTV could not survive without content – and the video cameras and transmission standards of the time could not support the innovation.
  • Sony’s rush to be the first to introduce an e-reader fell victim to a similar blind spot. Even the best e-reader could not succeed without easy access to digitized books.
  • Johnson Controls introduced a series of switches and sensors that dramatically reduced energy usage in commercial buildings. While building owners were ready to accept the new energy-saving products, the architects and engineers were much slower to adopt.

The need to thoughtfully consider the entire ecosystem is not a new idea, but it’s increasing in importance.  As Adner writes, “Dependence is not becoming more visible, but it is becoming more pervasive.  What you don’t see can kill you.  Don’t let your blind spot become your downfall.”

The road to product launch is complex and relies on a number of interdependencies.  In better understanding these interdependencies, or Voice of Ecosystem as some have called it, approach your VOC planning as you would any assignment:  identify the members of your ecosystem, assess the risks, develop hypotheses and a learning plan, and then execute the plan.

Leave a Reply