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  • Writer's pictureMartin Piskoric

Why Is True Innovation So Elusive?

Updated: Jun 25

Guest: Danny Nathan

"Portrait of Danny Nathan, founder of Apollo 21, speaking during an interview about innovation challenges in modern companies."

Innovation is the lifeblood of growth and relevance in today's fast-paced world, yet many established companies struggle to achieve it. Why is true innovation so elusive? This question drives our exploration into the intricate dance of innovation, as discussed by Danny Nathan, founder of Apollo 21, a company that blends management consultancy, product design, and venture studio principles.

The Innovation Dilemma

Companies often talk about the importance of innovation, but turning that talk into reality is where they stumble.

According to Nathan, "Innovation is hard today because organizations as they grow up get stuck in the mindset of focusing on what's working today at the expense of what might work tomorrow."

This mindset is the root cause of the innovation dilemma. Established companies, particularly publicly traded ones, prioritize efficiency, risk management, and capital preservation. These priorities create an environment that is inherently hostile to the exploratory nature of innovation.

Metrics That Matter

To innovate, companies need to embrace metrics that support learning and exploration, rather than just efficiency and risk aversion.

"Innovation requires exploration, and it is inherently a capital inefficient exercise. You are going to spend money to learn, to explore, to experiment, and to talk to customers" , Nathan points out.

The focus should shift towards understanding customer pain points and aligning those with the company's strengths to create new opportunities.

The Missed Opportunities

Nathan uses compelling examples to illustrate missed opportunities by incumbents. "Why didn't Blockbuster create Netflix? Why wasn't Airbnb created by Hilton, or Uber by traditional taxi companies?" The answer lies in the incumbents' blinders to their existing business models, which prevent them from seeing beyond their current operations. Companies need to shift their perspective from being a DVD rental service to an entertainment delivery service or from booking hotel rooms to providing places to stay, regardless of the format.

The Apollo 21 Approach

Apollo 21 tackles the innovation challenge with a structured process focused on customer development. This involves deeply understanding the business and its challenges, engaging with customers to uncover pain points, and then executing solutions iteratively. Nathan emphasizes,

"We start with some simple discovery... We want to talk to the customers and the key stakeholders that exist within your ecosystem so that we can mine them for opportunities where we can discover those pain points and those moments of emotion."

The Role of Failure

A significant part of Apollo 21's philosophy is embracing failure. Nathan shares his personal mantra, "Fail beautifully." He argues that failure should be viewed as an opportunity to learn and improve.

"Instead of thinking about failure as a negative, think about failure as an opportunity. As a learning experience, I now know what not to do because that didn't work."

Building a Customer-Centric Culture

One of the keys to successful innovation is creating a customer-centric culture. By involving customers in the development process, companies can ensure that their new products and services meet real needs. Nathan notes, "The first 10, 20, or 100 customers are already ready and waiting for that product by the time you get it built because when you talk to them, they're so excited by the idea that somebody is listening to them."

Key Takeaways

- Embrace Exploration: Innovation requires a shift from efficiency and risk management to exploration and learning.

- Customer Development: Deeply understanding customer pain points is crucial for aligning new opportunities with company strengths.

- Shift Perspectives: Companies need to look beyond their current business models to see new possibilities.

- Embrace Failure: Failure should be seen as a learning opportunity, not a setback.

- Customer Involvement: Engaging customers in the development process ensures products meet real needs and builds loyalty.


Why is true innovation so elusive? It is not just about having great ideas; it's about creating an environment that fosters exploration, embraces failure, and keeps a relentless focus on customer needs. As Danny Nathan and Apollo 21 demonstrate, with the right approach and mindset, any company can overcome the barriers to innovation and achieve transformative growth.

If your company is ready to break free from the constraints of efficiency and risk aversion and embark on a journey of true innovation, consider partnering with Apollo 21. Visit our website to learn more about our customer-centric approach and how we can help you discover and execute groundbreaking opportunities.

Explore the power of true innovation with Apollo 21 at


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