Thursday, February 16, 2006

Biggest roadblock to corporate innovation

I've been talking a lot recently to people in mid-sized and larger organizations who want to improve their idea management and innovation capabilities. It's fairly clear that we don't have to educate people as to the "why" of innovation - I think most people get that and are beyond it.

Even the "what" and the "where" are reasonably well understood about innovation. It seems to me the biggest challenge is the "how".

How do I get people interested? How do I get them to share ideas? If ideas are shared, how do I get them to collaborate?

We've grown our cultures to assume that if it needs to be done, I'll do it myself. Basically, in many firms, we encourage competition and knowledge/information hoarding. Which means in many firms we have lots of small teams and individuals with great ideas, busily working on those ideas in isolation. There's really no incentive to share information, ideas or processes.

The "how" of innovation comes back to three components that I constantly reinforce. Those are:

- Culture
- Process
- Collaborative systems

Which is the most important? Culture. If people aren't motivated to share information or ideas, or feel they should only work on "their" ideas, then we give up a tremendous amount of insight and brainpower, locally optimized but globally sub-optimized.

Process is also important. What other business function lacks a defined process? Not sales. Not finance. Not purchasing. Not manufacturing. And other than sales, all these other processes and functions are about cost cutting and efficiency, not about growth. A process means more people share more common language, culture and methodologies, so they can work together more effectively.

Collaborative systems also play an important part. If each small team has its own Access database or spreadsheet of ideas, I'm left with a virtual archipelgao of information sites with no integration and lots of duplication. There's no visibility or accountability. Bringing ideas to a common integrated database means others can see and interact with the idea. It also surfaces a lot of the ideas and helps determine the "best" ideas.

Many of the problems firms face in innovation is not the desire, or the intent to innovate. The problem is encouraging people to share ideas and participate in the process. This is a cultural, compensation and motivational problem that can't be fixed by processes or software.

You want people to work together and improve innovation? Do you compensate them to do that? Are they motivated and incented to do that? Does senior management encourage that behavior?
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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 8:03 AM

38 Comments:

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A great perspective. I've worked with 1 in 5 of the Fortune 100 on these issues at Imaginatik, I'd take the emphasis off the culture a little though, especially after finding that one F100 CPG leader rolled out an innovation culture program, without collaborative tools, to get employees engaged in the innovation process. The effort was simply wasted. Process, collaborative tools and culture typically go hand-in-hand on the same level. Happy innovating, Gavin_nathan@imaginatik.com

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