COFES 2011

COFES 2011: Innovation in the face of complexity

Joy’s law tells us that we should look outside the firm for innovation. Why? Startups and small, nimble firms are less constrained by legacy issues; nor are they constrained by complexity. When an outside firm has an innovation, it can choose where to let the innovation run, unconstrained by our handcuffs. When we have an innovation, it is limited by our priorities and funding.

Pioneering (innovation that opens new markets), receives distressingly low funding in mature firms, precisely because mature firms are designed to maximize revenue from current intellectual property. In other words, it is in the nature of mature firms to focus on things other than pioneering.

But pioneering is not the only face of innovation. As firms mature and grow, complexity becomes a main constraint. What is the domain of innovation in this context? How can firms foster such innovation within the constraints of complexity? What opportunities are we missing?


The domain of COFES is the realm of software for design and engineering.

Our customers are those that create the world around us. They design the roads and bridges, the buildings we live and work in, the things we use and see around us.

The place to impact all of this is at the planning, design, and engineering stage. It’s where the leverage is. Our customers have the leverage to change the world.

We provide the tools to these people who have that leverage.

We’ve been able to absorb much change in the past. But today, with increased population, increased infrastructure, and increased global interdependencies, we have lost much of our flexibility to absorb such change without hardship. The reasons for this are understandable and to be expected. With our larger population we have less room to maneuver and have significant investments in infrastructure – all a result of unconstrained growth without concern for long-term consequences.

What’s worse, we may be having an impact that is resulting in such change coming more quickly – within a lifetime rather than over generations.

Change will come. And it’s not just weather that we have to adjust to. Changes will be painful to many – deadly to some; others will reap unexpected windfalls. The balance will shift.

What can we do about it? We can choose not to ignore it. We can think about longer term implications of our decisions and have longer term horizons for our planning. 

We provide the tools to the people who have the leverage to implement change. We can help them  innovate better. 

At COFES, we ask “What can we do to make our customers more effective innovators?”

It’s not just about sharing best practices -- the bigger question is "How can we innovate in the development of better practices?”

Let's meet face-to-face and discuss these critical issues. We're all in this together.