Always Going for the Big Push

Risking the Ship

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Historical Case

Ferdinand Graf von Zeppelin

Whatever Happened to the Zeppelin?

Great Britain set up the Imperial Airship Scheme in 1922 to strengthen links among the far corners of the British Empire. It was a big, government-funded push for a technology assumed to be superior to airplanes, and infrastructure and prototypes were built. However, the program proved fruitless as multiple high-profile accidents undermined public trust. At the same time, the design of the airplane matured in an evolutionary fashion without much government money.

“Unless commitment is made, there are only promises and hopes...but no plans.”

— Peter F. Drucker

Business Case

Rising Bars: Ecosystems of Mobile Phone Platforms

Apple and Google invested heavily in their mobile phone ecosystems and now enjoy strong positions with their respective iOS and Android operating systems. Seeing this success, other players attempted similar bold investments, including Microsoft with its Windows Phone 8 and BlackBerry with its BlackBerry 10 operating system. However, although the market continues to change, it is now less malleable, with dominant ecosystems
already in place that make it more difficult to disrupt the market with big-bet initiatives. As a result, Android and iOS retain their top market shares at 62 percent and 33 percent, respectively, while Windows Phone and Blackberry have a combined share of just 5 percent.

Focusing Resources on a Single Option Is Dangerous


Warning Signs to Heed

  • Repeated or persistent attacks on entrenched market positions that are hard to displace
  • Big-bet projects that persistently fail to deliver
  • A belief that silver-bullet initiatives will restore competitiveness


Beacons to Navigate By

  • Parallel execution and periodic selection among a portfolio of initiatives 
  • Feedback loops that capture, assess, and amplify signals from the environment to guide research
  • A modular organization that can be rallied and regrouped around successes emerging from exploration of a portfolio of experiments