Adapt, or die. This is the law of nature, but it holds equally true for businesses, and research reveals a surprising trend. Market leadership cycles are becoming shorter. Just a few decades ago, companies comprising the Fortune 500 were the unrivaled incumbents of the business world. The average life span of these organizations is steadily shrinking, decreasing from 61 years in 1958 to less than 18 years today. And this fact has caused the quest for adaptation and innovation to assume an unprecedented urgency.

At Pivot International, we are global leaders in helping companies develop and deliver innovative products that position them as stalwart industry leaders. Driving innovation begins with innovating from within, continually reinventing how to best serve customers in response to an ever-changing world and market. Now in our 50th year of product design, development, manufacturing, and supply chain management, our pedigree of architecting for innovation speaks for itself. We are the driving force behind dozens of successful, award-winning products across fourteen industries, including medical, industrial, consumer, and more.

How can companies effectively architect for innovation to reduce their chances of obsolescence and extinction, consistently perform at the top of their game, and lead the market? Here are five insights that can make the difference between entropy and innovation, and help you discover the hidden blueprint inside your organization.

Opportunity Lies in the Gap

Architecting organizational structures that drive innovation requires identifying and harnessing informal networks, breaking down siloes, and recruiting participation from stakeholders far outside the C-suite. To adapt and innovate, companies first need to get up close and personal with the threat landscape in which they find themselves. Only by taking inventory of actual threats and other ecological pressures can businesses hope to accurately discern the gap between their current limitations and the adaptive challenge they are facing. (It’s in this gap that opportunity lies.)

“The Tree That Cannot Bend, Breaks.”

Nothing in nature or in a successful business is uncompromisingly rigid. Survival depends on flexibility, and innovation depends on the ability to adapt to ecological pressures and threats. Contrary to popular misconception, survival of the fittest is less about a focus on maintaining dominance and more about a focus on reenvisioning the threat landscape as one of opportunity. (The former puts companies in a reactive, defensive position, while the latter frees them to move freely to thrive in conditions that prove deadly to their competitors.)

As in nature, highly innovative companies are characterized by organizational structures in which flexible hierarchies, networked collaboration, and distributed governance feature prominently. And although such companies can provide meaningful inspiration, creating the organizational architecture for innovation can be challenging. Up to 90 percent of organizations aspire to such architecture, yet only 11 percent of executive teams say they’re confident about the undertaking.

Innovation is the Journey, Not Just the Destination

World-renowned leadership consultant and coach Marshall Goldsmith reminds us, “What got you here won’t get you there.” In other words, companies must be willing to decouple from their established business model and seemingly tried-and-true strategies. They must also eschew “copycat” approaches that focus on emulation (of market leaders) at the expense of innovation. This demands an appetite for experimentation and risk-taking. Innovation doesn’t lie at the end of this experimentation. Instead, this experimentation is itself an exercise in innovation and should be regarded accordingly.

Iterative Prototyping — An Illustrative Example of Innovation in Action

Perhaps nowhere can architecture-for-innovation be seen more concretely than in the practice of iterative prototyping where teams set out to solve adaptive challenges through a series of controlled “fail forwards.” Iterative prototyping illustrates the power of process-based, open, experimental, collaborative, “freedom-within-a-framework” architectures of innovation. At Pivot, these adaptive challenges are undertaken within the broader context of DFM — Design For Manufacture — a specialized competency that drives innovation by contending with the threats of cost and scale posed by large-volume production.

Architecting For Innovation, Inspired by Nature

Autopoietic. It’s a fancy term for the loosely networked, self-organizing processes exhibited by all living things from cell colonies to wetlands to business organizations. All company cultures have informal (hidden) social networks that self-organize and operate outside the bounds of formal roles and titles. It’s in them that the real action is found.

These networks (which exist at all levels of the organization like eddies within a larger body of water) can illuminate the pathways through which information flows, influence is exercised, alliances formed, and decisions made. Once these networks are identified, they can be mapped to serve as the basis for architecting structures that drive innovation. Said differently, companies don’t need to architect structures for innovation from scratch. They just need to discover the blueprint hidden inside their own organization. This “follow the flow,” nature-inspired approach to innovation is known as “biomimicry,” and it’s being increasingly deployed to solve adaptive challenges in the service of innovation.

Looking for an Innovative Partner to Help You Launch a Successful Product?

If you’re seeking a proven partner to help you design, develop, manufacture, and deliver an innovative product, Pivot is the answer. With a diverse suite of digital technologies, extensive product portfolio, a seamless approach to NPD, and a reputation for close collaboration with our clients, we are committed to fueling your market success. To learn more about how we can help you achieve your business objectives, contact us today.