There are four traps that incumbent innovators often fall into. First, their managers are usually trapped in a dominant logic on which they base decisions and miss innovation opportunitoes that come from defying the dominant logic. Second, successful incumbents (especially if they created the status quo) risk being overconfident in their own insights and networks, which means they miss smart new ideas they’re not plugged into. Third, they too often rely on people like themselves, thereby ignoring the creativity dividend that comes with diversity. Finally, they may well be locked into a dominant culture rooted in the dominant model, which imposes social penalties on people who depart from standard practice.
There’s a good reason why we’re suspicious of new ideas: Many are unrealistic. But over time managers get conditioned to discounting anything that isn’t familiar. They dismiss ideas that challenge their assumptions about how the world works, make judgments based on stereotyping, and create cultures that limit their choices.
The secret to avoiding these traps is to become a smart contrarian – someone who looks for business practices that don’t make sense, who’s not too reliant on a small group of like-minded people, who can embrace diversity, and who’s happier on the sidelines. Let’s look at what that involves.