In 2013, once again, the Ise Shrine will be reconstructed in Japan. For the 62nd time. Every 20 years, this famous Shinto temple changes its physical form and location. It is home to two kamis, Amaterasu Omikami, an ancestor of the Imperial Japanese family, and Toyouke Omikami, bestowing rice and other foods, clothing, and shelter. The Shikinen Sengu ceremony has it that every 20 years the building, treasures, and food in this temple have to be renewed, in the same prescribed manner over the passing centuries.
Photo by Jonas Wiklund
This is an interesting tradition for the innovation scholars, as it emphasizes both change and following the rules. Although paradoxical, this is also the advice from the recent management literature on ambidexterity, or how firms should both excel at exploiting the routines set up for their current businesses while at the same time exploring the frontiers and innovating, even renewing themselves.
For business model innovation students, the conundrum is even more difficult as innovating business models is more challenging and often more costly than innovating a product or a process. Business models are tightly coupled with firm identities, thus changing or renewing them is more risky. How can established firms face this challenge of renewal? Maybe the analogy of the Ise Shrine and its ceremonies hides some answers about the solution to the paradox of efficient routines and successful renewal?
I will leave you to your own reflection with this video about IDEO and their way to design new products through a rather routinized innovation process. You can read more about IDEO in Hargadon, Andrew, and Robert I. Sutton. “Technology brokering and innovation in a product development firm.” Administrative science quarterly (1997): 716-749.:
I first came upon the reference to the Ise Shrine and its renewal while reading Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s classic book, the “Flow” (p. 80). Further research on the topic and interpretations are my own.