Home Articles What is dual cycle innovation? (It’s not a vacuum cleaner)

What is dual cycle innovation? (It’s not a vacuum cleaner)


Why is it that some organisations have the ability to re-invent entire industries? Some even do it time and time again! Where does this source of continuous innovation and foresight come from?

It is widely acknowledged that customer focus is a major driver for today’s innovations. But it is the transformational opportunities (those that transcend adjacent opportunities) that drive industry renewal.

Commercialising these opportunities requires shifting today’s behaviours; learning from what we do today as well as projecting what we will do tomorrow.

By encouraging and coaxing both of these cycles of behaviour, an organisation is able to create a culture of foresight.

A SWOT is not enough.

All good organisations possess the ability to challenge the way they do things.

Many do this by focussing on customer needs, conducting SWOT analyses (that’s plural; a SWOT is only a snapshot of an industry at that point in time, not time in perpetuity) and improving internal processes and systems.

Really good organisations are able to innovate and improve what they know. Great organisations are able to inject this behaviour into their culture, thereby constantly improving the way they do things, based on what they know.

What the great organisations are able to achieve is the continuous ability to regenerate their own core strategies, based on what they don’t yet know, re-inventing entire industries along the way. They are able to train their cultures to challenge internal and external assumptions all of the time – a circular projection and review of core competencies — to develop a sustainable future.

Creating a culture of foresight, therefore, involves challenging the competencies that made the organisation successful in the first place.

Customer focus will only get you so far.

Henry Ford famously remarked, “If I had asked my customers what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse”.

Customers can help you improve what you know, but can’t help you envision the future.

Progressive thinking at an industry level followed by pragmatic thinking at an organisational level may lead to industry transformation. This process must be cyclical to successfully drive innovation from a systems, processes and product improvement perspective.

To reinvent its industry time and time again, an organisation must regenerate its core strategies.

This process then becomes a key competency in itself. Building a culture of foresight enables an organisation to gain insight into the unknown. By projecting how things could be and reflecting these ‘futures’ against its core vision, an organisation is able to alter the way it does things today in order to create the discontinuous opportunities which will define its future.

So what is Dual Cycle Innovation?

Depicted below, the first cycle involves industry regeneration through critical and problem-oriented thinking. The second cycle shows the evolution of organisational foresight by constantly challenging, learning from and re-inventing its own orthodoxies.

Ideally, these cycles will be in motion simultaneously.

A good organisation has a strong vision; a powerful and succinct interpretation of “what we do”. The great organisations are able to create a culture of foresight which continuously asks “how else can we do what we do?” and isn’t afraid to implement the unknown.

Does the Dual Cycle Model exist in my business?

Ask yourself:

  • How strong is our vision? Not what’s written on the walls in the office, what is in our employees heads?
  • Do we know “what we do?” A tougher question to answer than it fist appears; “we make…x” is not “what we do”, it’s another example of “how we do it”.
  • Do we constantly ask “how else can we do what we do?” See above.
  • Do we encourage questions? And what happens when someone disagrees with upper management decisions?
  • Do we challenge our core competencies? And do we really know what these are?
  • Are we willing to change the way we do things? It’s easy to say “we do”, but what if it affected profits in the short term?
  • Do we continually draw in information to better understand the future of our industry? How good are we at ‘metascanning’ (and do we know what ‘metascanning’ is)?
  • What happens when things fail? Is this seen as a negative, or do we live by the famous Thomas Edison adage that we “haven’t failed. (We’ve) just found ten thousand ways that do not work”?

What can we do to create a Dual Cycle culture?

  1. Understand how Cycle 1 functions today
  2. Encourage supporting behaviours
  3. Identify key talent
  4. Plan an innovation project to begin Cycle 2
    • Where are the good ideas?
    • How will we gauge success?
    • What do we do with the opportunities that evolve?
    • How can we embed the core learnings into our existing culture?

Ben Flavel (MEI) is an entrepreneur and innovation consultant assisting corporate, SME and fast growth companies through innovation creation and evaluation, culture development and strategic renewal. If your business is looking to frame the ideas that will influence your future, Ben can be contacted on 0417 323 809 or [email protected].