Innovation Killers

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Innovation KillersHow Financial Tools Destroy Your Capacity to Do New Thingsby Clayton M Christensen Stephen P I and aufman Willy C Shih

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Innovation KillersHow Financial Tools Destroy Your Capacity to Do New Thingsby Clayton M Christensen Stephen R I and aufman Willy C Shih

For years we been puzzling about why so ve

many smart hardworking managers in well run companies find it impossible to innovatesuccessfully Our investigations have uncov

and shackles incumbent firms that attempt to respond to an attack The emphasis on earnings per share as

the primary driver of share price and hence ofshareholder value creation to the exclusion of

ered a number of culprits which we dis vecussed in earlier books and articles These

include paying too much attention to the s company most profitable customers thereby leaving less demanding customers at risk and creatiog new products that don t help customers do the jobs they want to do Now we like to name the misguided appli d cation of three financial analysis tools as an accomplice in the conspiracy against success ful innovation We allege crimes against these suspectsThe use of discounted cash flow DCF

almost everything else diverts resources away from investments whose payoff lies beyondthe immediate horizon

These are not bad tools and concepts we hasten to add But the way they are com monly wielded in evaluating investments creates a systematic bias against innovation We will recommend alternative methods that in our experience can help managers innovate with a much more astute eye for future

and net present value NPV to evaluate in vestment opportunities causes managers tounderestimate the real returns and benefits of

value Our primary aim though is simply to brng these concerns to light in the hope that others with deeper expertise may be inspiredto examine and resolve them

proceeding with investments in innovation The way that fixed and sunk costs are considered when evaluating future investments confers an unfair advantage on challengers

Misapplying Discounted Cash Flowand Net Present Value

The first of the misleading and misappliedtools of financial analysis is the method of




Innovation Killers

discounting cash flow to calculate the net

present value of an initiative Discounting afuture stream of cash flows into a presentvalue assumes that a rational investor would

simple numbers are generally trapped by Parmenides Fallacys It hard to accurately forecast the stream ofcash from an investment in innovation It is

be indifferent to having a dollar today or to

even more difficult to forecast the extent to

receiving some years from now a dollar plusthe interest or return that could be earned

which a firm financial performance may sdeteriorate in the absence of the investment

by investing that dollar for those years With that as an operating princaple at malees perfect sense to assess investments by dividing the money to be received in future years by i r where r is the discount ratethe an nual return from investing that moneyand n is the number of years during which the in vestment could be earning that return While the mathematics of discounting is log ically impeccable analysts commonly committwo errors that create an antiinnovation biasThe first error is to assume that the base case

But this analysis must be done Remember the response that good economists are taught to offer to the question How are you It is Relative to what This is a crucial question Answering at entails assessing the projected

value of the innovation against a range ofscenarios the most realistic of which is

often a deteriorating competitive and financialfuture

The second set of problems with discountedcash flow calculataons relates to errors of esti

of not investing in the innovationthe do nothing scenario against which cash flows

from the innovation are comparedis that the present health of the company will persist in definitely into the future if the investment isnot made As shown in the exhibit The DCF

rapa the mathematics considers the invest ment in isolation and compares the presentvalue of the innovation cash stream less s

mation Future cash flows especially those generated by disruptive investments are diffi cult to predict Numbers for the out years can be a complete shot in the darle To cope with what cannot be known analysts often project a yearbyyear stream of numbers for three to five years and then punt by calcu lating a terminal value to account for every

thing thereafter The logic of course is that the yeartoyear estimates for distant years areso imprecase as to be no more accurate than a terminal value To calculate a terminal value analysts divide the cash to be generated in the last year for which they done a specific ve estimate by r g the discount rate minus the

project costs with the cash stream in the ab sence of the investment which is assumed to be unchanging In most situations however competitors sustaining and disruptive invest ments over time result in price and margin pressure technology changes market share losses sales volume decreases and a declining stock price As Ealeen Rudden at Boston Con

projected growth rate in cash flows from thattime on They then discount that single num ber back to the present In our experienceassumed terminal values often account for

sulting Group pointed out the most likelystream of cash for the company in the donoth ing scenario is not a continuation of the status

more than half of a project total NPV s Terminal value numbers based as they

quo It is a nonlinear decline in performances It tempting but wrong to assess the value of a proposed investment by measuringClayton M Christensen cdvistenser@ edu hbs is the Robert and Jane Cizik Professor of Business Administration at

are on estimates for preceding years tendto amplify errors contained in earlyyear

assumptions More worrisome still terminal

whether at will make us better off than we are

value doesn allow for the scenario testing tthat we described above contrasting the result of this investment with the deterioration

now It wrong because if things are deterio srating on their own we might be worse off than we are now after we malee the proposedinvestment but better off than we would have

Harvard Business School in Boston

Stephen P Kaufman skaynanu a s hr a senior lecturer at Harvard Business School is the retired chairman

been without at Philip Bobbitt calls this logic

and CEO of Arrow Electronics Willy C Shih rshih uh s a senior lecturer eduat Harvard Business School held execu

Parmenides Fallacy after the ancient Greek logician who claimed to have proved that conditions in the real world must necessarily be unchanging Analysts who attempt to distill the value of an innovation into one simple number that they can compare with other

in performance that is the most likely result of doing nothing And yet because of market inertia competitors development cycles and the typical pace of disruption at is often in the

fifth year or beyond the point at whichterminal value factors in that the decline

of the enterprise in the donothing scenario

tive positions at IBM Graphics and SiliconKodak

begins to accelerate Arguably a root cause of companies persis



innovation Killers

tent underinvestment in the innovations

required to sustain longterm success is the indiscriminate and oversimplified use of NPV as an analytical tool Still we understand the desire to quantify streams of cash that defyquant fication and then to distill those

new capabilities are required for future suc cess however this margining on fixed and sunk costs biases managers toward leveraging assets and capabilities that are likely tobecome obsolete

For the purposes of this discussion we lldefine fixed costs as those whose level is inde

streams into a single number that can be compared with other single numbers It is an attempt to translate cacophonous ar ticulations of the future into a language numbers that everyone can read and com

pendent of the level of output Typ fixed calcosts include general and administrative costs salaries and benefits insurance taxes and so on Variable costs include things like raw ma

pare We hope to show that numbers are not the only language into which the value offuture investments can be translatedand

terials commissions and pay to temporaryworkers Sunk costs are those portions of fixed costs that are irrevocably committed typically including investments in buildings and capital equipment and R D costs An example from the steel industry illustrates how fixed and sunk costs make t diffi

that there are in fact other better languages that all members of a management teamcan understand

Using Fixed and Sunk Costs UnwiselyThe second widely misapplied paradigm of financial decision making relates to fixed and sunk costs When evaluating a future course of action the argument goes managers shouldconsider only the future or marginal cash out lays either capital or expense that are re quired for an innovation investment subtract those outlays from the marginal cash that is likely to flow in and discount the resulting net flow to the present As with the paradigm of DCF and NPV there is nothing wrong with the mathematics of this principleas long as the capabilities required for yesterday success s

cult for compan tha