“My definition of ‘innovative’ is providing value to the customer.”
Mary Barra has been CEO of General Motors since 2014. Her quote above both resonated with me and troubled me. It is a widely used quote and has a reasonable air to it. On the other hand it struck me as a slippery slope – if proposed innovations don’t immediately demonstrate value to the customer, are they rejected?
“The two words that kill any innovation: Prove it.”
Roger L. Martin
Roger Martin, former dean of management at University of Toronto and the author of several business books, presented this argument in a Harvard Business Review article.
In the article Martin makes a strong case that if the idea being proposed is truly innovative, then the proof simply cannot exist.
I am not proposing that Barra has a flawed understanding of innovation. Her definition of innovation is correct – innovation is creativity that provides value, period. My concern is that the quote sounds like a justification for demanding proof before innovation is attempted.
For me these two quotes examined together are a reminder that caution works both ways; you can cautiously examine new ideas against known criteria, and you can be cautious about rejecting new ideas out of hand knowing that proof in advance may be an impossible standard to meet.
Once again the solution is to experiment the lean startup way, with the smallest, least expensive trial to see if assumptions can be confirmed, and lessons learned along the way.