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The Law of Thirds.

Posted by: Bruce Nussbaum on October 13, 2006

I’ve been gathering data on how innovation really happens in big corporations (yes, like a lot of other people) and now believe that a law of thirds applies. Maybe even a law of fourths.

When a new CEO arrives at a big corporation and embarks on radical change to build an innovation culture, one third of this person’s senior managers will “get it” and stay, one third will oppose it and be gone and one third will be in the middle—but only one third of that middle third, in the end, will join the new regime.

Sound right to you? Or is it the Law of Fourths?

Reader Comments

Jim Meredith

October 14, 2006 1:29 AM


What kept the third that "get it" from having achieved innovation under the previous CEO? What kept them from influencing that CEO?

Of the third that "get it" under the new regime, is it only a third who are real innovators and he rest only politically "getting it"?

In other words, Mark, a third of an organization who are innovators or potential innovators seems like a large number of senior staff to have been so inneffective under the previous regime.

Is there a law of latent thirds---and that it is the motivational character of the leader that releases the innovation already present in organizations?

saul kaplan

October 15, 2006 4:24 PM

My experience suggests a more skewed distribution (pareto-like perhaps) with most innovation coming from passionate efforts and individuals found in unexpected corners of the organization and from connections to ideas and capabilities outside of traditional organizational boundaries.

The barrier isn't a culture of innovation that turns everyone into an innovator. It is how to enable innovators to experiment with new business models or ways to deliver value while continuing to deliver the results of today's business model. Easier to say then to do! Organizations must do R&D for new business models the way they do research for new products and technologies today.

As the half-life of any business model continues to decline experimentation will become an imperative and a key component of strategy development.

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Want to stop talking about innovation and learn how to make it work for you? Bruce Nussbaum takes you deep into the latest thinking about innovation and design with daily scoops, provocative perspectives and case studies. Nussbaum is at the center of a global conversation on the growing discipline of innovation and the deepening field of design thinking. Read him to discover what social networking works—and what doesn’t. Discover where service innovation is going and how experience design is shaping up. Learn which schools are graduating the most creative talent and which consulting firms are the hottest. And get his take on what the smartest companies are doing in the U.S., Asia and Europe, far ahead of the pack.

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