Peter Drucker talked about seven sources of innovation opportunities, and unexpected success was one of the sources.
Drucker also indicated that often managements tend to neglect it or actively reject it.
Compared to the other six categories of innovative opportunities, capitalizing on the unexpected success is arguably the least risky and requires the least additional effort.
One reason why we overlook this unexpected opportunity is our tendency to adhere to the status quo, anything that has lasted a fair amount of time must be “normal” and go on “forever.”
Drucker explained the reasoning further by using an example of a major U.S. steel company, rejected the “mini-mill” concept back in the 1970’s.
Management knew that its manufacturing processes were rapidly becoming obsolete and would need billions of dollars of investment to modernize. At the same time frame and almost by accident, the company acquired a “mini-mill.”
The “mini-mill” soon began to grow rapidly and generate profits. Some in the company believed and proposed that available investment funds be used to invest in additional “mini-mills” and to build new ones.
Top management eventually rejected the proposal, citing the belief that the integrated steelmaking process is the only right one with everything being a fad and unlikely to endure.
As history would show, thirty years later the only parts of the steel industry in America that were still healthy, growing, and reasonably prosperous were “mini-mills.”
Drucker taught us that unexpected successes jolt us out of our preconceived notions, our assumptions, and our certainties about the reality. That is why it is such a fertile source of innovation.
Do not overlook or dismiss unexpected success. Identify it, learn from it, and absorb it into your DNA through change management effort.