Posts tagged ‘paranoia’

The Uses of Discomfort

In my last post I talked about how success at a certain business model tends to create an organization that’s invested in that business model. When it’s time to more forward, the organization rebels and sucks you under. Think of GM producing cars for a vast local market that was shrinking as imports went from an exotic choice to a commonsense one. GM was such an attractive edifice, no one was willing to tear it up to make it work in a new market. So the market tore it up instead.

Which raises the question: how and when do you innovate in order to prevent being swallowed in the mire?

It’s probably too late to do disruptive innovation when your business model becomes threatened – the time to do it is before your business model becomes too stable.

Google is a great example – from search to ads, to cloud to mobile, it keeps disrupting itself, and stays footloose.

Another example is Netflix. When they started, they could have been MailFlix – after all, they delivered all their goods by mail. But they knew that they were entering a Net-based world, and tying their fate to the postal system was not the way to go. They chose the unsettled, ever-changing idea of the Net.

Sure it’s uncomfortable working without a firm underpinning of stability. That’s why we need to be comfortable with being uncomfortable.

That’s not as unnatural as it seems. Yes, we all desire comfort and security, but we also have the need to be creative. Discomfort can be very energizing for the creative process. Look at Intel, a huge company that can only survive by innovating at a ruthless pace. Intel is constantly working to make their own technology irrelevant. Their former CEO, Andy Grove, called it constructive paranoia.

And paranoia means never having to say you’re comfortable.


May 12, 2011 at 3:29 PM 1 comment

The Six Nines of Innovation

Anyone familiar with system design knows the term availability – the percentage of time that a system is up and usable. A mission-critical operation needs high availability, ideally 99.9999% of the time. We call that a Six Nines operation.

Building a Six Nines operation takes three things: passion, paranoia, and discipline. And if you look at a truly innovative company culture, you’ll see that the same three qualities are part of it:

  • Passion – Innovation has to be really important, not just to the odd dreamer in the organization, not just to product development, but to the people in charge, right up to the CEO.
  • Paranoia – You need to be looking over your shoulder, not at the competition, but at your own complacency. The feeling that, “if we don’t innovate, we’re going to die” must pervade the organization.
  • Discipline – As far as innovation goes, this is the least intuitive of the three. But just as it’s at the core of Six Nine operations, discipline is also at the core of innovative companies.

Discipline is where companies fall short. Many of them try harnessing the ideas of the dreamers within their ranks, but when the ideas tank, they’re abandoned, with little attempt to analyze or understand the failure. The successful companies have the same failures, but they have the discipline to thoroughly analyze the failures, reconfigure, and try again.

Anyone can fail, but it takes discipline to learn from those failures, and to do it quickly, to keep the cycle of innovation going.

October 4, 2010 at 7:45 AM Leave a comment

Thompson Morrison

Thompson Morrison

About Thompson

As CEO of FUSE Insight, Thompson Morrison uses powerful new web interviewing technologies to help businesses better align their brand with the needs and aspirations of their customers. Learn more at


"The single most significant strategic strength that an organization can have is not a good strategic plan, but a commitment to strategic listening on the part of every member of the organization." -- Tom Peters