Have a look on Linked-In and you will see ‘experts’ on entrepreneurship and innovation on millions of profiles. How are there so many experts? Simple. They once were part of an innovative company, they read some tips about entrepreneurship in HBR, or they just want to ‘fake it til you make it.’ Because the real experts were part of the business at the inflection point, that point where they discovered it and helped the innovation take off.
Inflection is everything. It’s why when we see new markets forming, we see tonnes of websites screaming that they are innovators, but in the end, only a few companies will rise above the rest. Usually, an inflection point is a discovery of sorts. When Facebook discovered, for example, that people like to share photos of their friends online and tag them. Or when Airbnb discovered that you need professional photos and reviews to build enough trust to book their listings at scale. There were other companies in their respective markets before either of them and yet they emerged on top.
To hit the inflection point you need to go deep. That’s why many innovators and entrepreneurs spend years, sometimes decades, inside a market before they hit it big. And at that point, the payoff is sweet – very sweet. Remember that innovation is always non-linear. Growth can be flat, or even negative, for a period of time and then suddenly … boom!
If you study the non-sensationalized history of many innovative companies over the last decades, you can see that they were generally incubating for many years before they hit it big. And many times, they had quirky revelations or sets of circumstances that led them to that moment. Rarely, do we see the Steve Jobs of the world lay the tracks for a specific innovation over a decade and deliver on it. Whether or not an innovation is hapless or intentional, the key lies in hitting that inflection point and then surrounding one’s self with the people who can manage that type of growth. If you don’t see a pathway to that inflection point, you are either doing something wrong or in an area of incremental innovation, which is the most dangerous situation to be in. There is no harm in creating a profitable business in an existing market, or riding existing innovations into new markets, but don’t trick yourself into thinking that you can fake innovate, as the proof will always be in the pudding – non-linear growth rates over a sustained period of time without massive marketing spend.