Frenemies: Innovation Versus Planning

January 28, 2015 by

Frenemy: Refers to either an enemy pretending to be a friend or someone who really is a friend but also a rival. Innovation and planning can be “frenemies” within organizations, which savvy leaders can turn from dysfunction into opportunity.

The innovator’s view often sees planners as bureaucrats thwarting their desire to bring amazing things into the world, weighing them down and delaying as arduous administration. The planners view often sees innovators as creative but undisciplined, eschewing deadlines and dismissing the importance of logical implementation.

“He has half the deed done who has made a beginning.” – Horace

Innovation and planning are like the right brain and the left brain. You need both, you need to value both, and you need to encourage a constructive tension between both. Innovation is only half the deed. Planning enables the other half – delivery.

Innovators need space and tools to rapidly ideate, fail, and try again, until something takes hold. In IT, that means things like sand boxes and rapid prototyping; environments that are, to a large extent, walled off from production systems.

Planners (and by association, operations) need tools and methodologies to ensure stable and secure systems and environments, including logical (but swift!) progression of innovations into production.

“Momentum is a fragile force. Its worst enemy: procrastination. Its best friend: a deadline (think Election Day). Implication #1 (and there is no # 2): Get to work! NOW!” – Tom Peters

Innovators and planners need to recognize common ground. A leading example is time-to-market, which applied to either a new application for internal consumption or a product destined for the consumer market, is increasingly critical. Innovators want their ideas to see the light of day quickly and be used by large numbers of delighted customers. Planners want large numbers of delighted customers to have performant, secure experiences. The overlap in the Venn diagram of these desires is “large numbers of delighted customers.”

Innovators should invite the planners to help them understand how to get their ideas to market sensibly and at the requisite scale. Planners should demonstrate genuine curiosity in the innovations, and apply flexibility and agility in the planning mechanism.

And a deadline is a very good thing. Dates drive accountability and action.

“If everything seems under control, you’re not going fast enough.” – Mario Andretti

Leaders need to value both sides of this equation. Innovative leaders may eschew planning – planning requires a degree of transparency and trust that the plan won’t overshadow the goal. Planning is a vehicle for delivery, it is not an end in itself. Planning leaders need to apply a light touch so that innovations move along as fast as is possible. For example, planners may love a project that is “on plan,” however they shouldn’t confuse an on-schedule project with a project that could be moving faster. Planning needs to allow for optimal speed, not optimal control.

The natural tension between innovation and planning can be leveraged. The creativity and impatience of the innovator allows for breakthroughs. The logic and structure of the planner allows for the breakthrough not to break upon delivery. These two skillsets need not polarize when they can challenge each other to create and deliver at velocity.


Recommended reading > The Innovator’s Dilemma, by Clayton Christensen.

IT leaders need to not only be bimodal, but multi-modal (read more in this Huffington Post article:

Listservs are to collaboration tools what the buggy is to the car. (Sorry listserv die-hards, but why are we still having conversation threads in the morass of our email when it can be in enterprise social tools like Yammer or Chatter?)

“Business is like a man rowing a boat upstream. He has no choice he must go ahead or he will go back.” – Lewis E. Pierson, president of the Chamber of Commerce of the United States in the 1920s. I like the spirit of this quote, other than sole use of male pronouns. I’ll give a pass to Mr. Pierson given the era in which he lived and worked, but I don’t give a pass to anyone in this century who doesn’t fully recognize the contribution of both genders.



One response to “Frenemies: Innovation Versus Planning”

  1. Thanks for the book recommendation! The Innovator’s Dilemma is available (as an online book) at no charge for MSU staff and faculty through elevateU. Other books by Clayton Christensen are available there as well. Go to EBS>ESS>ProfessionalDevelopment>elevateU to find this book and thousands of other resources.

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