ests, these participants serve to activate the IT innovation wave machine. This IT innovation wave machine has a certain limited capacity in terms of the attention of its insti- tutional participants. It is therefore largely devoted at any one time to only a few of the many innova- tions that compete for its support, and these are the ones that promise the most returns for their efforts to the individual players. As a consequence, the launch of any new IT innovation is always problem- atic, as relatively few devotees seek to turn already-occupied institutional attention to it, com- peting with other hopefuls who also clamor to be the next new favorite. At the same time, with a seem- ingly never-ending stream of such new prospects, the wave machine may choose to release its grip on those innovations that seem to have lost whatever adoptive momentum they managed to achieve,
82 MIT SLOAN MANAGEMENT REVIEW WINTER 2012 SLOANREVIEW.MIT.EDU I N F O R M AT I O N T E C H N O L O G Y whether the waves they generated were large or small. In this way, the machine frees capacity to ac- commodate the most promising among the newest. Innovating Mindfully — Rather Than Mindlessly What lessons follow for the executive who inevita- bly confronts these waves, one after the other, as his or her industry is pummeled by the promise of the new in IT and told that its future hangs in the bal- ance? The primary lesson lies in recognizing the differences among the components of a particular wave complex — discerning, for example, whether actual adoptions of a new IT measure up to all the talk about it, or whether adoptions seem to be plen- tiful enough, but successful implementations are suspiciously few, or whether anyone is really gain- ing value from their implementations. An executive can face each new IT innovation either mindlessly , by jumping on an innovation’s bandwagon without giving much thought to the unique circumstances of his or her company, or mindfully , taking those unique circumstances into careful account in de- ciding whether, when and how to join others in embracing a given IT innovation. (See “How to Make Sense of IT Innovation Waves,” p. 80, for a brief guide to initial questions managers should ask, along with mindful follow-up questions.) While it may seem obvious that executives should proceed mindfully rather than mindlessly, that is easier said than done. 18 The IT innovation wave ma- chine presents a powerful institutional force that can be difficult for an executive to resist. Most executives would like to be known as innovators. Within the company, many IT executives can build their profes- sional reputations by being IT leaders, pushing the company to embrace technological change rather than cling to its old ways. And when it becomes ap- parent that a particular IT innovation seems destined to sweep the field, few executives want to be in the position of being left behind, risking the competitive survival of their company.
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