What Jeff Bezos Gets Right About Innovation That So Many Others Get Wrong

Entrepreneurs need to focus on more than just creating change.

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BY Jeffrey Phillips - 15 May 2017

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Innovators and entrepreneurs share a common trait: they are interested in change. Innovators want to create new products and services that respond to change or create change. Entrepreneurs are innovators who want to implement great ideas that often change business models or even industries. What innovation really means then is putting great ideas into action, and the very act of innovation is an act of change.

But there's often too much focus on simply changing things up, and not enough on what change is valuable when innovators and entrepreneurs start to develop new ideas. In fact, while we are often trying to predict what's likely to change, and figuring out how to create products that will meet new demands, we often neglect the flip side of this analysis: what isn't going to change. This is important because it's often easier to predict what won't change, and to act on that insight, than it is to predict what might change, and act on those beliefs.

Great minds steal

I'm stealing this idea from Jeff Bezos, a one-time entrepreneur and innovator who will soon be one of the wealthiest men on the planet. Bezos is quoted as saying he's more interested in what won't change than in what will or might change.

Now, for a true entrepreneur or innovator, we may be led to scoff at such a remark. It may seem that the only way to compete is to upset the natural order, get ahead of significant evolving changes that the other competitors don't anticipate. But change and its impact are unpredictable. You may anticipate significant change that never happens, or does happen but the impact is less than you expected.

Two Innovation Opportunities

There are two innovation opportunities identified here: opportunities to innovate in and around the factors that won't change (as Bezos says, people aren't going to change their appetite for low prices) and opportunities to innovation in and around the factors that might change (for instance, how we experience a product, or how it is delivered). Too often innovators focus innovating around the change opportunities, ignoring the opportunities to create new products, services and business models around what isn't likely to change.

In every situation, as you size up the opportunity to enter a new market, new industry or simply to create a new business, be sure to look at both sides of the ledger. What do customers hope will stay the same? How can you innovate around those expectations? If Bezos is right and they'll always want low costs, can you create new business models that lower prices or even pay the customer to use your solution?

On the other hand, be careful to fully vet what you believe will change, and the impact the change will have on customers and consumers. Disruptive change does happen, but it doesn't happen often and its effects are often unpredictable and have unexpected secondary and tertiary effects.

Not standing pat

Recognize I'm not advocating simply ignoring potential change and standing pat with existing products or services. Everything, even the anticipated lack of change, can be an innovation opportunity. The goal is simply to consider the full realm of possibility and spend your limited innovation time and effort to the best possible effect. Sometimes that will be improving what customers hope won't change. Other times it will be identifying change and creating products and services that will meet future demand. Both are always possibilities, and both should always be considered.