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A Conversation with Jason Jennings on Reinvention vs. Innovation

January 13, 2012

On November 17, Linkage welcomed author Jason Jennings on the Thought Leader Series. In the 30-minute Q&A following his live broadcast, Jason Jennings used vivid examples to illustrate how Innovation wildly differs from Reinvention.

Linkage: Your book is about reinvention, not innovation.  In a nutshell, what is the difference?  How can an organization use innovation to reinvent itself?

Jason Jennings: Innovation is a key part of reinventionI will approach the question as simply as I canInnovation is a good ideaA good idea for a product, a good idea for a service, taking something that was old and making it new, I guess that is innovationI think that innovation is something that a company has to constantly work on, and the way you work on innovation is by being open to reinventionReinvention is not being at point A and then saying, “Oh, we want to get to point B, and go to point B.”  That is not reinventionReinvention is going from point A to B to C to D to E, and saying, “WowThis ride feels fantasticI want to keep going.”  Again, to invoke the name of Dan Dimicco the CEO of Nucore, I said, “How far do you go with thisWhat are the goals and objectives?”  He said, “Jason, let me tell you this.”  He said, “Everybody in the company, all 25,000 of us were just climbing a mountain.”  He said, “There’s only one problem.”  He said, “There is no topI mean, we cannot see the topWe do not know where the top is, but we are just going to keep climbing and enjoy the journey as much as we possibly can.”  So innovation is fine, but innovation is better if it plays an integral role in a culture of constant reinvention.

We have a lot of interest in the letting go principleYou talked about it a little bitCould you cite classic case studies of companies that failed to let go at the right time?

Well, I think that the graveyard of dead corporate entities is probably filled with companies that absolutely could not let goI am not always the quickest on the draw, but one of the best that comes to mind is Circuit CityIt was only a few years ago that Circuit City was being touted and written about as one of the greatest companies on the planet. And they went upside downThey could not let go of anythingThey held onThey held onThey held onI think that would be another good example.

I know you mentioned Kodak.

The engineers at Kodak told the executives, I mean, twenty years before it happened, “Film’s going – Film is going away, dudesThere’s going to be no film at eleven.”  20 years.  They had 20 years advance notice, and they could not; they could not let it goThey just could not, would not let it goYou know, they are going to wait until the next person takes over and let them deal with it.

And Blockbuster comes to mind.

Blockbuster comes to mindThey refused to change, and in fact I write about Blockbuster in the bookBlockbuster had so many opportunitiesThey could have done what Netflix didThey could have done what Redbox didI mean, could not do it, could not do itWe are going to keep our same modelWe are never going to let goWe are going to force you to come into our stores, and then we are going to make the most of our money from late feesNow, how is that for a business model?

And you talk about the Southwest Airlines example.

I think many of the viewers do not know the Southwest story30 years ago, as airlines were being deregulated, there was just a spade of all these new discount airlines that were coming on the scene, and there was this one in Texas that had 3 airplanes. The problem was they did not have enough money and they were going to have to sell one of the airplanes or lay off peopleThe CEO, Herb, said, “I promise we are not going to have layoffs, and we absolutely cannot sell an airplaneWe got to figure something else out.”  Finally the team got together and said, “What if we could turn around an airplane in 10 minutes?”  They figured out that instead of 300 flights a week that they were making at that time they could actually probably make 330 or 340 flights a week, and it became the Southwest storyNow, why is that such a big story? If they had had all this venture capital, they would not have figured that out

Mike Long, of Aero Electronics, who I believe is one of the most talented CEOs anyplace in the world today, and is an incredible reinventor once said, “Look: if you’re going to be successful in business, find out what’s hurting peopleFind out what the pain isAnd then figure it out. You don’t have to spend a lot of money to figure out how to help people. That is how we’ve made an incredible success of this company.”  And it truly is an incredible company to watch.

Jason Jennings’s next book The Reinventors-How Extraordinary Companies Pursue Radical Continuous Change, is due out in April. It will reveal the secrets of organizations that have successfully reinvented and transformed themselves.  To access a recording of Jenning’s full Thought Leader Series broadcast with Linkage, visit us online or call 781-402-5555.

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