[Leadership laws] The innovation law of the egg-laying wool milk pig

You can't have it all, at once, right now, ... much as you may want that.

[Leadership laws] The innovation law of the egg-laying wool milk pig
Sorry, you can't have it all, at once, right now

The Innovation Law of the Egg-laying Wool Milk Pig

Innovation teams can produce great results. But not all at once!Only over time. With challenges along the way. And likely with new downsides once done.

Quick description

I've so looked forward to writing about this law–one of my favorites, even if it causes trouble for teams in real life!

I actually didn't come up with the image of this piggy. I shamelessly borrowed it from an old German idiom.

And just like that German idiom ("Eier legende Wollmilchsau") of a hypothetical farm animal that can do everything, innovation work that is simultaneously and instantly world-changing, industry-disrupting, profitable, cheap, efficient, and risk-free all at once, ideally using tech that anyone else considers purely experimental ... is just a myth.

So, as you'd imagine, the point of this law then is:

Even "agile," "lean," "lab" teams can't make profits instantly appear, as if by magic.

Savvy folks will already have spotted that this is essentially a re-statement of the "iron triangle" of project management. But it needed writing down anyway:

  • The Iron Triangle is buries the main message a bit: You can't have it all!
  • Abstract concepts like the Iron Triangle can be harder to remember than real-world images. Some folks might remember this little piggy better.
  • This is a real problem in innovation, even with the Iron Triangle having been around for a long time. Clearly the concept needs reinforcement.

It's actually reasonable for stakeholders of innovation teams to expect magical results. We have collectively spent so much time emphasizing how innovation work is "agile," "lean," "minimum viable" and all-around better, faster, scrappier, etc.! No wonder people would take us at our word. But shockingly, innovation teams have real-world limits, just like everyone else.

And that's not even considering all the inherent human biases that make us underestimate how much effort ideas take to execute!

Litmus test

  • Learn: How long did it take someone truly legendary, e.g., Google, Mahatma Gandhi, NASA, or the Roman Empire, etc. to do something comparable to what you are trying to achieve? And how much effort and money did it take them to achieve it?
  • Assess: Is the amount of time, effort, and risk that you grant yourself to achieve goals similar to these world leaders proportionate to how awesome you are compared to them?

How to do it

Don't just discard your egg-laying wool milk piggy!

It is actually still useful: It can help you as a description of a future vision. Just don't expect to see one anytime soon.

A better way for your team's everyday work–especially its v1 output–to give you one helpful aspect. Either eggs or wool or milk, to stick with our image!

Even that is actually not a given. Innovation teams may naturally prioritize output that is either easy to create or delightful to users. Your role as a leader is to help ensure that each release also supports your work's Acceptability/ Agreeability. It may take some head-scratching and close collaboration with the team to come up with something that achieves that. But it is both possible and critical.