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CAIL Innovation Blog

The Importance of Defining Moments to Innovate for Impact

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What are Defining Moments ?

Defining Moments are –

  • identifying the emergence of a significant opportunity
  • the decision made at a  “ Y “   in the road
  • making good on an opportunity
  • realizing a new way to create value
  • a fundamental recognition that the future will be very different than the past

…. with a willingness to explore and try the new to get past blind spots and concerns about unknowns

Examples of Defining Moments –

  • John Lennon and Paul McCartney meeting and forming the Beatles
  • Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak forming Apple
  • Bill Gates and Paul Allen forming Microsoft
  • The formation and major accomplishments at Ford, GM, GE, Exxon, IBM, P&G, Walmart, etc.
  • The launching of Google, Airbnb, Uber, Netflix, Amazon, Alibaba, Tencent, Facebook, etc.
  • The Eniac computer, System 360, GUI/Mouse/Point-and-Click computing, Social Networking, etc.
  • The US Interstate Highway system, cross country railroads, the airplane, the wheel, explosives, TV
  • World Wars, major conflicts between countries or regions, the Atomic bomb, firearms, etc.
  • Establishing the Space Program, World Trade Organization, Democracy, Science, etc.

What do Defining Moments have to do with Business and Innovation ?    

A lot, if you’re :

A. a startup having potential to – meaningfully effect change, be disruptive, or trigger a paradigm shift
B. an enterprise that could be disrupted by a startup or opportunistic competitor

What’s the Challenge with Defining Moments ?

Defining Moments or Disruptive Innovation usually aren’t recognizable in the beginning. Because of this, by the time those in an enterprise realize a significant change is in the making, it’s usually too late to effectively counter new capabilities having high appeal, or a compelling new value proposition, or the momentum building for the new players. As such, for enterprises, it’s difficult to know what, when and how to – appropriately respond, update their business model, change their culture and organization, re-prioritize tasks, etc. in a meaningful and timely way. Basically, things get out of control – which gets worse over time.

What’s the Risk of Missing a Defining Moment ?

Missing one or more defining moments typically results in organization or product marginalization, decline and eventual extinction. For evidence of this, observe the growing number of companies falling off the Fortune 500 as well as the decreasing ranking on the list of established companies in mature industries. This is occurring because of the increasing importance of being sophisticated in digital, the nature of new grass roots driven change, a technology centric paradigm shift, rising User expectations, irreverence to the status quo, or a series of events and work against the traditional ways of doing business.

What’s the Upside of Creating a Defining Moment or Being a Fast Follower ? 


–  the organization to create opportunities, meaningfully improve outcomes, attract talent, etc.

–  people to realize their potential, gratification, build confidence, create wealth, etc.

How do you Recognize or Create a Defining Moment ?

  • be interested in opportunities, new thinking, concepts, people, strategy, networking, collaborating, etc.
  • a willingness to explore …. to try and do new things
  • be innovative / creative / opportunistic
  • be results oriented ….  ie:  more $, creating new value, competitive advantage, etc.
  • be flexible on how to achieve results
  • recognize and value different and complementing competencies
  • be highly competent in your field
  • be able to leverage competencies in new ways for advantage
  • make collaborating an interesting and rewarding experience
  • can create synergies for advantage       …. ie:  1 + 1  =  3 or 5 or 10
  • have highly developed look ahead and analytical skills to assess opportunities, fast track building the solution, achieve traction in the market, meaningfully improving outcomes, etc.
  • be highly ambitious and resourceful
  • be driven to meaningfully make things better, effect real change, make a difference, etc.
  • have strong people and communication skills
  • say what you will do – and –  do what you say
  • while acknowledging the past, be focused on the future
  • be sophisticated in managing risk – to minimize issues as well as align risk and reward
  • is good at creating and applying metrics
  • highly values good decision making, strategic thinking, executing on plan, etc.
  • learn fast


If the goal is to have a bright future by meaningfully growing relevance and revenue, expanding opportunities, increase organization appeal, attracting top talent, etc. – it’s critical to identify, create and make good on Defining Moments – or be the victim of someone who did ! And given the nature and increasing rate of change, time is of the essence.

To recognize and significant benefits from “ Defining Moments “, it’s paramount to make business innovation more rewarding based on –

Process and Predictability “    +    “ Insight and Inspiration

While Innovating with “ Process and Predictability “ is well known in enterprises, disruptive innovation also requires “ Insight and Inspiration “ . An analogy is being able to walk and talk at the same time !

Next  Step

In this context, to “ Innovate for Impact “ and “ make good on Defining Moments “ is very challenging.

Because of this, to better position the organization for success going forward, it’s important to recognize the requisite thinking, knowledge and conviction is foreign to many people. To get past this there is a need to –

1. Develop the mindset to identify, create and execute on a Defining Moment or opportunity

– AND / OR –

2. Identify and collaborate with people having an opportunistic mindset who are highly talented    and ambitious with very strong business and technology skills
                      …. ie: successful – entrepreneurs, disruptive innovators, early stage venture investors

To share insights on better understanding Defining Moments, creating opportunities, or other considerations to make innovation more rewarding, please contact –

Ron Thompson  at  or  call 1-800-668-5769  or  visit .

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