Death by (Slow) Improvement

Good To GreatEveryone’s heard that a frog dropped in a pan of boiling water will jump out and survive. But a frog set in a pan of cool water while it’s being brought to a boil…well, you know the rest.

Beware “incrementalism.”  Wikipedia describes the concept as “a method of working by adding to a project using many small (often unplanned) changes instead of a few (extensively planned) large jumps.”   A similar example would be making subtle improvements to a service, program, or company—while the world goes on changing around us—or by us.

In Good To Great, the first chapter of Jim Collins’ unequaled business book is titled “Good Is The Enemy of Great.”   Why fiddle with it if it’s not broke—right?

Wrong! “Incrementalism” can be the death of innovation, and at the very least—slow down innovation to the point of insignificance.  And when businesses take a string of very small, for the most part insignificant steps unto themselves—and slowly marches along—the business itself can be left vulnerable to a competitor, supplier, or and entire industry “leap-frogging” over the top of them and leaving them behind.

For instance, in the building products distribution industry, I often suggest that “rule changing” behavior is needed that leaps ahead in huge bounds. Instead of an exclusive focus on slight improvements—such as order fill rates, accuracy, and customer services—distributors should be evaluating “reinventing” what they offer and what it is they do.

They might instead consider offering private labeling, installation and repair, construction services, and special warranty considerations that guarantee replacement value.

Those are the type of offerings that just might be considered leap-frogging.

And keep a company out of the pan of boiling water.

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