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A lion, a mouse and an antelope: Understanding your innovation impact

The unfortunately named US politician Newt Gingrich once told the fable of the lion, mouse and the antelope.

The lion dwells on the African plains, and is the predator-par-excellence. He can hunt almost any beast, striking them down with their powerful claws and teeth.

Now, a lion can pursue, capture, kill and eat a field-mouse – of which there are plenty bustling around the plains. However, the energy required to do this is greater than the calories contained in the little mammal.

So if a lion spent his whole day hunting and eating the easy mice, it would slowly starve to death.

Instead, the lion must hunt the antelope. These are much harder beasts to capture, and require more speed and strength to capture and kill. Once this task is complete, however, they provide an energy rich meal for the lion and his pride – allowing them to grow and plan the next hunt.

Mice are easy, and provide the illusion of a small win – but are effectively killing the lion.

Antelope are difficult and require investment, planning and effort – but allow for growth and a bigger future.

Innovators – and business leaders responsible for innovation and strategy – need to pause to reflect on their focuses as they direct the energy and resources of their organisation towards the future.

The temptation is to focus on the sure-wins – the incremental product changes, the new designs – that will keep clients happy and are low-risk. However, these small innovations can end up being field-mice – with the amount of resources put into development out-stripping the impact of these innovations.

Worse still – many of these organisations do not have measures in place to benchmark and understand the impact of their innovation. They do not know the resources they have spent, and do not know the revenue generated through their efforts.

Successful innovators invest their time in the antelopes – the changes, additions and developments that will deliver exponentially greater impact for their effort. This often involves going beyond what the client knows they need – and investing significant, focused effort in a short-but-intense sprint – testing, iterating, watching, adapting, questioning and launching.

When you think back on your organisation’s innovation efforts – what do they resemble? Are you hunting field-mice or antelope?

Jeremy Suisted is the director of Creativate, a New Zealand-based innovation and design agency.
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