Monday, November 21, 2005

Repeatable Innovation

It seems to me that there are a few firms that have a repeatable, sustainable innovation process or framework. Proctor & Gamble, Chlorox and a few other consumer packaged goods firms seem to have a fairly well defined process to turn the crank and figure out how to innovate incrementally - that is, how to add bleach to Tide, or how to add the "grease fighting power of Dawn" to a tablet for your dishwasher.

I think some of the semiconductor firms like Intel and AMD probably have a fairly good idea of a product roadmap. They have a good understanding of the demands of the market and the speeds their chips must produce, and can produce, over the next 18-24 months.

These examples are ones where the market is fairly consistent and linear, and the incremental innovation is relatively obvious - the next turn of the crank so to speak. To give credit where it is due, these firms are looking ahead, reading the trends and incorporating customer needs and some future expectations into new products and services. They understand the product roadmap and the need to innovate new products and services - even if that innovation is simply an extension of an existing product. Most firms, however, don't even have a good sense of what to do next, much less a process to support new products and services.

What do most firms do to begin innovating? I suspect many of them think innovation is an occurence - something that happens once and cannot be sustained. In some cases, this might be true but that's unfortunate. I like to think of successful innovators as emulating the teams at GE and Motorola who implemented quality systems in the late 80s and early 90s. Their mantra was "Quality is a journey not a destination". What they meant by that was there was no "end point" - quality must be consistently improved. Innovation is similar - it should not happen once, and it must be carefully nurtured and grown.

If innovation is not going to be just a "once in a lifetime happening" but something we'll have to do consistently, then we need to define some process, which we can use and repeat and improve over time. Sustainable, repeatable innovation is our goal - constantly improving the approach till innovation is almost second nature in our business. Otherwise, the innovation focus will wither on the vine, as everyone understands it is just another passing management fad.

Whether you focus on incremental innovation, transitional innovation or a truly disruptive innovation, you and your team must implement the methodology and process to support the team for the long term. Innovation can be a once and done event, but it will not be sustainable without the process, methodology and cultural changes that take effort and time to build.
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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 8:30 AM

34 Comments:

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Mr. Phillips,

To reinforce your thesis, I think that companies that see innovation as a one time only event are like ships at sea. They are constantly buffeted by the problems of the day: getting the next product out, solving this quality problem, etc.. What they fail to understand is that is that they have to make time for innovation. Once innovation becomes and expectation, then the processes follow.

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