Thursday, January 05, 2006

Discuss amongst yourselves - What's the BIG LIE?

Time to weigh in this ongoing discussion in the innovation space. In case you haven't been following along:

Several weeks ago Jeffrey Baumgartner, head of a Belgian innovation consultancy, wrote a paper that argued, basically, that we are all overly complicating innovation. His article, available at www.innovationtools.com, is entitled The Great Innovation Lie. At it's core, innovation is simple. Well, that sparked a spirited response from Boris at Imaginatik. He felt that innovation and idea management was not given proper due by Mr. Baumgartner and that he had overly simplified the issue.

Now, I see that Chuck Frey has blogged about this as well, and I just received an email newsletter from Joyce Wycoff, who appears to agree with Jeffrey Baumgartner, but suggests that there are other innovation "lies", such as "we don't need more ideas, we just need to implement the ones we have", "innovation must be radical not incremental", "we can expect innovation from people who are already overloaded" and several others.

Hmm. Is there a BIG LIE in innovation? Is it easy or hard? Do we have enough ideas or too many? Can software or process make an improvement, or do they just get in the way?

What we are seeing is a normal shaking out process in what is still a very new industry. In effect, all of these folks are right. Depending on the circumstance, innovation is:

- overly complicated in some cases
- necessarily complex in other cases
- best supported by new processes in some cases
- etc

Let's face it, there are as many different challenges and issues in innovation as there are in any other major business function, only more so, since innovation often cuts across several business functions. Other business functions have been successful using tools and processes to solve some problems, but not all problems. Why should innovation be any different?

Joyce points out what I would consider to be a lot of cultural issues. Do you have the right people? Are they available for innovation or is it a part-time job? Does management support the initiative? Strangely enough, these are very similar questions to ones we asked management teams when ERP (SAP, Oracle, Baan, etc) were being implemented by every firm on the block.

Innovation will be different in a services firm, with different outcomes and different processes and teams, than it will be in a products firm. I suspect that innovation processes will be implemented differently in consumer packaged goods firms than in automotive firms, just due to the necessity of innovation and the corporate culture.

What's the big lie? That anyone, anywhere has a complete grasp on what innovation is, and how it should be defined. This, ultimately, is a question that needs to be answered in the context of a particular industry or firm, and in light of a particular problem.
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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 5:06 AM

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