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From Corporate Labs to Composable Innovation

Innovation has long been synonymous with sprawling corporate laboratories, bustling with teams of researchers pushing the boundaries of science and technology. In the 20th century, titans like General Motors, Eastman Kodak, and General Electric  led the charge, their vast resources fueling breakthroughs not only in their industries, but adjacent ones too. They embodied the maxim: to innovate is to invest heavily.


However, the 1980s marked a pivotal shift. As globalization took hold and digital connectivity expanded, the ecology of innovation shifted. Companies began to rethink their vertical integration strategies; the exploration model of the past was not viable to many stakeholders of the day. Innovation could no longer be contained entirely within the walls of their organizations. The playing field leveled as knowledge spread, access to capital became easier, and high-tech equipment more accessible.


Today, innovation is highly decentralized. The next revolutionary motor controller could originate from Ford's deep-tech labs, a senior project at the Colorado School of Mines, or even a high school FIRST Robotics team in Arizona. New ideas have always been free but the ability to make them a reality has never been greater. Capabilities that once were confined within the walls of a few are now accessible to many, ready to transform ideas into tangible innovations.


Enter the concept of Composable Architecture, a term that surfaced about a decade ago. It challenged the norm of monolithic IT systems, advocating for modularity—think of it as the technological equivalent of building digital systems with LEGO bricks. By 2020, this idea evolved into "composable everything," championing flexibility and adaptability across various domains. It's about assembling capabilities with plug-and-play ease, that can be mixed and matched to achieve different needs and solve different problems. Adapting to changing needs with agility to create strategic choices.


Composable innovation allows organizations to dynamically assemble knowledge and capabilities to explore their ideas. My experience with innovation teams embracing this composable mindset has been eye-opening. The teams consistently delivered disproportionate ROI due to our strategic approach to innovation: seeking collaboration over creating in-house capabilities, rapidly prototyping with partners to gather insights, and leveraging a robust innovation network to bring a diversity of perspectives onto an opportunity.


Crafting an ecology that thrives on composable innovation isn't overly complex, but its success hinges on three pillars: strategic alignment, the competitive environment, and the culture of the organization. By fostering these elements, companies can position themselves at the forefront of innovation, turning possibilities into realities with unprecedented speed and efficiency.


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