The Art of Sustainable Innovation

05 July, 2009
/ Comments Off on The Art of Sustainable Innovation
/ By Joshua


Jumpstart founders Joshua Avedon and Shawn Landres presented on the culture of innovation at last week’s ROI Summit. This item is crossposted on the ROI Community blog.

Joshua and Shawn at ROI in Israel
At one of Jumpstart’s sessions at the ROI Summit last week, one participant wondered if the idea of “sustainable innovation” is an oxymoron. Certainly history is filled with punctuated periods of new thinking and new approaches, but yesterday’s creative upstart often morphs into tomorrow’s stale establishment. It’s worth thinking about why and how some organizations manage to maintain their culture of innovation, while others use innovation to rocket to prominence, and then settle into a groove of doing the tried and true.

Apple Inc. is maybe the best example of an innovator that has never lost its edge. Notice their name is no longer Apple Computers Inc. – which makes sense now that they are a power house in the music and mobile phone business. That kind of responsiveness to an evolving marketplace, and an understanding of how to apply current skills to future challenges is the hallmark of a sustainable innovator.

The Jewish world often has difficulty recognizing how the market place has shifted, and even organizations with deep skills and significant accomplishments sometimes coast on inertia rather than find a way to innovate sustainably. Which is why when most people think of innovation, they think of new organizations. In that same session, we defined “innovation” as being operationalized creativity, which shouldn’t be the sole provenance of startups – we all know plenty of creative people who work within the mainstream Jewish world.

So while some folks in the establishment fail to support innovation, they also complain about the proliferation of new initiatives, arguing that there is too much duplication and all this innovation is fragmenting the marketplace. Then they usually go on to recommend that any vaguely related projects really ought to merge with one another, despite the fact that most mergers in the for-profit world lead to a net loss of shareolder value (and the Jewish world has had some less than favorable results in that realm as well). But many of us believe that argument is a red herring – a distraction from the fact that established organizations are not doing enough to reinvent themselves internally.

Sustainable innovation is a choice that leaders make when they know that their vision is more imortant than sticking to their original mission, or even more important than the existence of their organization. Sometimes completely reinventing yourself or even putting yourself out of business is the only way to build a future that isn’t just about organizational self-preservation. The young innovators at ROI are part of a tidal wave of innovation sweeping the Jewish world. And networks that cultivate long-term peer relationships (think ROI, PLP, Selah, BYFI Alumni, RIKMA, etc.), are critical to sustaining their work as innovators. Whether these leaders start their own project, transform an existing organization, or just work to change the conversation about where Jewish life is headed, all of them are learning the art of sustainable innovation.

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