I wrote a long post about the nature of innovation and where SAP is heading in order to foster more of it, the other day. Sadly, I missed some of the TechMeme goodness on the subject because I didn’t post til Monday.
Well yesterday Nicholas Carr more than made up for it with what can best be described as a Random Act Of Traction. He wrote a great note called Firestorm! which quoted my blog pretty extensively. One of the points he amplifies is my take on the randomness of innovation.
Round about the middle of his ramble, just after he tosses in a photo of the Kindle, he states a point that we too often lose sight of in our desire to convince ourselves that we are Masters of Our Fate: to wit, most of the great business model “breakthroughs” are really just accidents that happened to happen while some dudes (gender-neutral) were doing something that interested them. (Governor points to Google and Facebook as recent examples.) It’s only afterwards that the eggheads and pundits rush in to create the illusion that Painstaking Business Logic and Carefully Plotted Strategy were at work from the start. We are as Gods on Earth – at least in retrospect.
Innovation emerges from indirection. (Remember: nobody knows nothing.) And indirection is a quality that is not dreamt of in the philosophies of the big-ass enterprise software applications, like ERP, that are characterized by having three initials and enormous sales forces.
I was just on the phone talking with Hugh MacLeod talking about the hiding to nothing of measuring engagement, against somewhat spurious numbers like “page views” when he came up with the delicious phrase to describe engagement breakthroughs “random acts of traction” -which for me echoes the Black Swan, and for some reason this amazing film.
Exemplar: Last year’s SXSW fostered many random acts of traction, which led to Twitter’s current position as the ADD-driven social software maven’s best friend. Random acts of traction are all around us. But to benefit from them you have to be networked and networking. Gartner may be right to tell enterprises not to invest in building their own social networks. But use them you must. Ask Gartner analyst Jeff Mann (thanks esjewett!). In the 20th century economic success in IT was established by raising barriers to entry. In the 21st it will be about lowering barriers to participation. Economies are networked, and the invisible hand is a great one for random acts of traction. Just add some grit here, pour some water on there, and pat a little snow just there…. or maybe just pour on the gasoline…
As Nick concludes:
“Whether it’s SAP or Google or Salesforce or Facebook or 37Signals or Workday or Ozzie’s Microsoft or some unknown kid spilling Red Bull on his keyboard, the kindling has been lit and there’s no stopping it now. Just as pickup trucks can be brawny yet nimble, enterprise software can be stable yet sexy.”
For bonus points: How do you foster and meet the “hidden demand“? By far my favourite blog of the week came from Jake Kuramoto. It makes me happy to see representatives of Oracle and SAP happily co-innovating, working out stuff (on twitter natch!) that will potentially benefit both company’s customer bases. These guys can see opportunities beyond the shackles of success. They don’t have to agree, but the discussion makes them and us smarter. When it comes to social networks should the enterprise adopt “consumer” flavours, clone loose-coupled services, or build out its own platform? The conversation likely makes a nice companion piece to the Gartner report I point to above, assuming you’re a subscriber. For more ‘innovation by developers’ goodness SAP Composition on Grails looks quite the thing.
Picture courtesy of Sontra at Flickr.