Invasive Principles #6: Hybridize

There is growing evidence that hybridization between non-natives and native species among animals, plants and microbes can give rise to invasiveness.  The advantage of hybridization is clearly the combination of the characteristics of the native species that have allowed them to adapt to their current environment with those of the non-native species that have predisposed them to disperse and spread.  The African honey bee was introduced into Brazil in the late 1950s where it subsequently interbred with the domesticated (i.e. originally non-native but now considered native) European honey bees.  The result of this interbreeding, the Africanized or “killer” bee, quickly began its spread north.  The European genotypes, which have been in the Americas for centuries, are slowly declining in numbers and are expected to disappear eventually.  The most recent research on these bees suggest that the hybridization process has not created a random genetic combination, as might be expected, but rather one that incorporates into the African subspecies the genetic evolution that has occurred over the centuries to better adapt the European subspecies to its environment.

Hybridization in business helps innovators improve the likelihood of success by linking their new offering, customer experience, technology or business model to an existing infrastructure or capability.  This tactic tends to have advantages for both the innovator and the hybrid-partner.

Despite its evident potential and its almost inevitable future success, the electric car has so far been limited in its success beyond the fleet category.  This is at least in part due to the lack of infrastructure that is needed to support the range that consumers expect from their automotive vehicles.   The Hybrid car has, by contrast, proven successful in a comparatively short time, partially of course because of the rising fuel prices during 2008 but also because cars like Toyota’s Prius require no new infrastructure and therefore present potential owners with no barriers to adoption.

Apple was not the first into the MP3 player market by any means but one of its most important innovations was to account for the existing investment that its potential customers had already made in CDs.  Providing them with an easy way to enjoy their favourite music on a new and attractive player proved wildly successful and completely eclipsed the other MP3 players that only provided the new technology.

From a business model perspective, Google may be recognized for its original innovation in search algorithms but its revenue generating model is entirely traditional, selling space and time to advertisers.  The television industry has been in existence for decades based on this same model of providing free content for consumers and providing paid-for access to the consumers for advertisers.  Thus Google has combined an improved version of a recent service, Internet search, with a business model from a different, but now-converging, industry.  This has created a hybrid that dominates the search industry, from which it took its product concept, and casts a threatening shadow over the conventional media, from which it took its business model.