Should You Catch or Fish for Innovations?

June 13, 2011  

On talk radio the other day, they were discussing the fishing industry. The conversation centered on how certain types of much more popular than others. I not sure of the specifics, but I think salmon, tuna, and sea bass are the hot fish.

Most consumers, when they go to the supermarket, ask for those specific fish. They have a recipe in mind and want to cook that. It was suggested that it would be better if people asked the “freshest” catch instead.

From their perspective, there are two reasons why requesting the freshest catch is good idea. The obvious reason is that the fish will most likely be tastier.

But there was a bigger reason; one that is critical to the industry.

If people stop asking for specific fish, it would allow fishermen to “catch” rather than “fish.”

The distinction might seem subtle, but it is important.

Fishing means you target specific fish, even if they are not plentiful or fresh.

On the other hand, catching means you get what you get; whatever is plentiful and ready to be caught. From an industry perspective, this is preferred.  It prevents over-catching of popular fish and helps the industry survive.

This got me thinking about innovation.

What is better: catching or fishing for innovations?

Although catching might be better for the fishing industry, fishing is better for the innovation industry.

When you “catch,” you tend to innovate around your capabilities (what you do well), what you do today, or what feels right. This is not a good strategy. If you do this, your innovations will not be grounded in what the market desires.

According to an Accenture study of executives in 639 companies, the number one reason for innovation failure was that their products and services “failed to meet customer needs.”

Your innovations need to be relevant to the needs of the marketplace.

Therefore, “fishing” for solutions that meet consumer needs it a more powerful strategy. Innovating on what is “important” helps focus your efforts, ensures relevance of solutions, and increases your overall capacity to innovate.

So, although the “catch of the day” might be a good strategy for selecting your dinner, using this as an innovation strategy might leave you with a lot of unpopular (and unsold) solutions.

P.S. For those of you who fish, if I got the distinction backwards, please don’t shoot me…I’m running from my recollection of the radio broadcast.

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