Big bet innovation and other types of innovation

Big bet innovation or fail fast innovation — what do you prefer? Innovation is both an outcome and a process. Innovation is a change, but not all change is innovation. It is introducing something new, but it does not have to be “new under the Sun”. It is better than what came before. It is big and it is small. It is continous and it is step change. It is a series of punctuated equilibria.

Big bet innovation

In part 27 of the Innovation Series, Gene Hughson brought up the topic of big bet innovation. Some inventions are so disruptive that the resulting innovation leaves too little room for what came before. Gene mentions the Suez crisis as an example of the strategic tunnel vision that can follow from big bet innovation.

Do you remember the days when big bet innovation was the only kind of innovation that really counted? Some people called it “VP innovation“. Not that there was necessarily a VP of innovation but VPs wanted to show their mettle by introducing significant innovation. Putting a man on the moon for the first time is a typical big bet innovation.

Fail fast innovation

Current innovation fashion favours fail fast innovation, a culture of startups and entrepreneurship. Established companies all dream about being as innovative as a startup. Together with Kenneth Verlage of PostNord I have proven that they actually can be incredibly innovative. The innovation continues with new e-commerce showrooms for drop-off/pick-up of parcels.

Fail fast innovators tend to meet in cafés, far away from any hint of big bet innovation, right?Source: Startup Stock Photos via Pexel | CC0 1.0

Startups, innovators and entrepreneurs. Somehow we have come to think of them as young dynamic people. People who don’t have offices as they would if they worked with big bet innovation. Instead they meet and work in cafés.

We might be at the tail end of the popularity of fail fast innovation. More and more, companies are realizing that you cannot do significant innovation in a separate “innovation department”. Companies are also realizing that conservatism has some merit on the enterprise level. I have always been sceptical of the bi-modal IT model. Yesterday I learned that even Gartner themselves had signalled a different view on bimodal at their recent Barcelona event.

Continuous innovation

I predict that continous innovation will be the next step for innovators in large companies. Continous innovation is about finding problems and waste where they occur. It is about not letting big bets and strategic tunnel vision squeeze out our legacy and leaving it without maintenance. It is about incrementatlism, making things a little bit better every day.

To illustrate the differences between these types of innovation. Suppose you want to loose weight. The big bet solution would be liposuction. The fail fast solution would be hiring a personal trainer and trying various herbal teas. The continous solution would be to track your diet and exercise and adjust each a little bit every day.


Compared to big bet innovation, continous innovation has much lower risk. With time, the volume of improvement might be much bigger since each small increment builds on all the previous ones. That gives an accumulated interest effect in a way. Compared to fail fast innovation, continous innovation allows you to innovate in the core of your business rather than on the fringes.

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About Greger Wikstrand

Greger Wikstrand, Ph.D. M.Sc. is a TOGAF 9 certified enterprise architect with an interest in e-heatlh, m-health and all things agile as well as processes, methods and tools. Greger Wikstrand works as a consultant at Capgemini where he alternates between enterprise agile coaching, problem solving and designing large scale e-health services ...


  1. Continuous innovation is fine for commodity products. Apple is fitting that description lately. They are having trouble making those disruptive leaps they were capable of in the past. They need to get back to that and they seem to lack the visionary in the company to imagine the future and go for those big bet innovations which they are uniquely positioned to fund. I hope they get back to that.

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