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Left Unchecked, Innovation Could Derail Your Business If not properly evaluated, advances could cause disruptions that destroy your company.

By Tom Cochran Edited by Dan Bova

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.


In turbulent markets, a competitive edge is the divider between those who succeed and those who struggle. Technology's edge comes in the form of innovation, creating value where previously there was none. Businesses must embrace innovation as a key element of their strategy, necessitated by the rapid pace of the digital economy.

An often neglected but critical piece of information is that innovation inherently has the ability to destroy a business. At first blush, this may appear to be a logical fallacy, so allow me to explain.

Propelled by technological innovation, an organization will evolve from one method of operating to a newer, hopefully more efficient state. This evolution can take a business from a known, stable operation to one with countless unknowns, each presenting risk to a company. To the risk averse, this conundrum generates great anxieties surrounding the viability of one's business.

Technology's primary purpose is to increase operational efficiency by providing secure, stable, and scalable systems. It functions best within a standards-based, process-driven framework, allowing it to become embedded within the fabric of an organization, and eventually an indispensable extension of the company and all employees. A company's technology is so critical that it is expected to operate uncompromisingly without fail.

Related: Finding the Right Questions to Ask to Resolve Your Company's Issues

Innovation is born of experimentation, and is frequently serendipitous. The unplanned nature of many innovations necessitates a high degree of creativity. The most conducive environment for creative thinking is one with few restrictions or parameters within which one must operate. When managers ask employees to start thinking outside the box, it is implicit that rule bending or breaking is acceptable, as long as that the innovative outcome has the potential to generate the desired outcome.

Since technology thrives with standards and innovation succeeds without restrictions, it should be clear that the two are opposing forces in a symbiotic relationship. Technology is used to innovate, and innovation leads to better technology.

It's no accident that the words "disruptive" and "innovation" are frequent bedfellows in the world of entrepreneurship. Innovation, whether successful or not, will create disruption. The important outcome to focus on is whether that disruption is internal to your company or external to the rest of the market. With proper foresight, the relationship between technology and innovation will be positive.

No business decision can be made with 100 percent certainty. But, as a company leader, it's your duty to shepherd your company through turbulent times, and innovation is the tool you use to propel you ahead of the competition. Given the uncertainty and risk associated with innovating, eliminate as much of the guesswork as possible to increase your likelihood of success.

Collecting, objectively analyzing and subsequently basing your decisions on data is your path forward. A great example comes from the social beast of Silicon Valley, Facebook. It recently announced a mobile testing framework called Airlock.

Related: 5 Key Milestones in Facebook's History

At a company such as Facebook, innovations occur on a daily basis. But, with the scale of their user base comes a significant increase in risk. Rolling out the wrong innovation to users can have a seriously negative impact on their business (e.g., Facebook Beacon).

Airlock allows Facebook's engineering team to run multiple concurrent tests, within a controlled environment, to capture empirical evidence as to the success or failure of a given experiment. This all happens without disrupting more than a small fraction of their test users.

Facebook is now a decade-old company that needs to continue to innovate, while also operating in a nimble fashion, in order to survive. With a testing framework such as Airlock, it has successfully minimized transformation risk by enabling informed, data-driven innovation decisions.

Over the last two decades, the speed of the internet has accelerated the collective velocity of company innovations. Companies rise as fast as they fall, and a number of these are due to innovation causing significant market disruption, or conversely, internal disruption.

Innovation is not inherently good. The technology landscape is littered with failed innovations (e.g., Laserdisc, Apple Newton, Concorde, Betamax, Windows Surface). Only the right innovation is good. Otherwise, innovating is really just changing the status quo, breaking inertia and introducing new ideas into a company.

Make sure that you're basing your innovation decisions on data that has been collected and analyzed, providing you with a clearer roadmap to follow. Change creates instability, and when you unleash this on the technology that you depend on, you better be sure the end state is worth the cost of the transformation.

Related: Ever Heard of a Patent Map? They Can Help Predict the Future.

Tom Cochran

U.S. Department of State

Tom Cochran is the deputy coordinator for platforms at the U.S. Department of State. In this role, he is responsible for the global infrastructure supporting U.S. embassy web sites and a network of 700 American Spaces for public diplomacy and engaging foreign audiences. His most recent previous positions have included chief technology officer at Atlantic Media and director of new media technologies at the White House.

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