Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Becoming a little innovative

You've heard it here before, but when car companies and drug manufacturers use the same marketing language, a new corporate initiative around innovation has been launched. The problem is, no one is really sure what "innovation" is or how to become more innovative. It seems to be well-understood that they need to be more innovative, but the steps to becoming more innovative and what that might mean as a result are not yet well understood.

This reminds me of the old saying - you can't be a little bit pregnant. You either are or you aren't. Seems the same to me with innovation. You either are innovative or you aren't. If you can't define it and can't communicate it to others, then you aren't.

What's happening right now is that many firms are recognizing the need to become more innovative. We've seen the recent studies from Arthur D Little and Booz Allen and others which suggest that innovation is the best source of new revenue growth and one of the last remaining differentiators. Senior executives are tasking their reports and teams with the requirement - "become more innovative". The question now is - what does that mean to your organization?

Should you focus on "incremental" innovation - just trying to make the products a little better all the time? Should you focus on disruptive innovation - trying to change the existing market entirely? Should you focus on new product innovation or service innovation or business model innovation? Where's the sweet spot for your company? Once you've got all this figured out, then the hard work begins. Unfortunately, most of the direction coming down so far from senior managers is very unspecific. Someone's going to have to decide what innovation means for your business and how it should be implemented. Someone's going to have to decide the purpose and investment that will be made in innovation.

So, once again the middle management will be left to determine what do make of a corporate directive. If this is the case, innovation will most likely be focused on incremental innovation around known problems in the product line or service area. Innovation will become a loose corporate mantra rather than a real focus.

What we need is some real direction from the top down. What changes are expected? How will we measure whether or not we are innovative? Just how innovative are we? Where's the innovation Jack Welch when you need him? If we aren't the first or second or third most innovative company in our industry, why should we compete?

Many people I speak with are getting the directive to become more innovative. Now, they just need more clarity on what that means.
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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 5:31 AM

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