Can you have too much innovation?

Written by: Justin Cunningham | Published:
I actually think F1 is a good example. For some years now there has been a paradox at the heart of ...

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A recent study by the Cass Business School, part of City University London, concluded that excessive innovation can actually be detrimental. It used the Formula One motor racing series as a basis for comparison. F1 is unique in many of the ways it operates and while it is probably not the best case study for a generalisation, it is an interesting and thought provoking conclusion nonetheless.

So, can you really have too much innovation? Is there a point where too much change and too much development – especially in short periods of time – is detrimental? It is at odds with what I'm often told by business leaders about their desire to be first to market, the push for shorter development cycles and the need for continuous innovation to be implemented throughout. If there is such a thing as too much innovation they either haven't reached it yet or aren't letting on.

The study argues that exploring new innovative technologies can push already high levels of complexity too far and reduce effectiveness and reliability. Complexity, in my book, does not equal innovation. Innovation should add value, not complexity. Complex systems are inevitable, of course, but never make a system more complicated than it needs to be.

Engineering is about finding the right balance. Excessive R&D with no direction is certainly not going to be good for any business, but so is too little. While everyone seems to talk about the need for innovation these days, a buzzword of old is often forgotten: elegance.

Perhaps the study has a point here. While many try to be innovative, what is actually needed is elegance; simpler more effective ways of working by removing the unnecessary. So be clear when talking about the need for innovation to avoid your message getting lost in rhetoric.

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I actually think F1 is a good example. For some years now there has been a paradox at the heart of F1. The objective of the race is clearly a singular one, namely to be the fastest to the chequered flag. Yet each season sees ever more regulations to restrict the speed and acceleration. We have long since had the technology to both limit top speed on vehicles and also to make vehicles travel at almost 10 times faster than the legal road limit. What more do we need to prove from F1? Perhaps the best innovation F1 could now adopt might be penalty points related to fuel used. This could take development down a more useful and elegant route for us all.

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