Pushing the boundaries – Epilogue

Over the past few weeks I’ve visited the four quadrants of the innovation landscape (the short series of posts started here) to get a better idea of the boundaries between the quadrants and how they are pushed. Now it’s time to zoom out again to take a look at the landscape as a whole, with two questions to consider: Is the landscape as symmetric as it seems? And how fast do the boundaries move?

Symmetry! Really?

At first glance, the landscape appears as symmetric, but could that possibly be true?  What we’ve found so far is the following:

  • the first quadrant (business as usual) cannot push the boundaries by itself; rather, it depends on innovation in the other quadrants ;
  • the second quadrant (research) pushes the boundary of ideas and knowledge, thus growing the stock of available tools and building blocks for innovation ;
  • the third quadrant (disruptive) pushes the boundary of established rules ;
  • the fourth quadrant (wicked) doesn’t push, it pulls the boundaries.

For real symmetry in the landscape, the second and third quadrants would need to mirror each other. But to my mind, that is not the case. On the contrary, I observe important differences between research and disruption. On one side, research is a structured process to generate novel ideas within a stable framework of established institutions. On the other side, disruption builds on known ideas, but does not have a structured approach; rather it depends on entrepreneurs to identify opportunities and to pursue their vision of solving a problem that nobody else is willing or able to see. The differences in clarity of structured process and in certainty of applied rules led me to believe that the second quadrant generates far more innovation than the third quadrant, that research is more productive than disruption. Hence, at least from a perspective of quantitative delivery, the innovation landscape is asymmetric.

To test the breadth and limits of this asymmetry further, I’ll take a more detailed look at the innovation landscape from three different perspectives: one is defined by society and politics (including the difference between an individual society and the global set of societies), the second is shaped by business and economics, the third is driven by science and technology. In addition, and separately, I’ll revisit the roles of the innovation protagonists, of institutions, organisations, and entrepreneurs, and how they reinforce the asymmetry of innovation across the landscape.

Speed matters

Innovation is a dynamic process that has at least four different time-related dimensions. Two of those dimensions are directly engrained in the two axis that shape the innovation landscape: one is the speed of generating new ideas, the other is the speed of finding new problems (and their pace of evolution). Two other dimensions are outside the landscape, hovering above: one is the speed of generating solutions (connection ideas to problems), the other is the adoption speed of these new solutions (implementing the viable solutions). Taken together, and through their combination, these four dimensions shape the dynamics of innovation; they define how fast the boundaries are moved.

However, the dynamics of innovation deserve dedicated attention. As a starting point, I’ll build on Clayton Christensen’s theory of economic growth, which I believe contains the core elements of innovation economics and its most relevant time aspects.


The innovation landscape with its four quadrants and the boundaries between them has emerged into a solid reference frame for investigating innovation from very different angles. Therefore I’ll continue employing it in discussing the speed of innovation or the roles of the innovation protagonists and their fitness for successful innovation. Food for further thoughts and posts over the weeks to come …


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