Thursday, May 11, 2006

Turning interest into action

Over the last eight months or so there's been a tremendous bow wave of interest generated around innovation. I know I've talked with more people about innovation, ideation and idea management over that span than probably over my entire working life. There is clearly a significant amount of excitement and interest around innovation.

Attending conferences and talking with customers and prospects, I see individuals with titles like "Innovation Process Manager" and "Director of Innovation" in a number of firms. I know in several firms we are working with, managers have specific metrics and are being measured and compensated for their innovation results. This indicates that there is some real movement behind the excitement around innovation.

However, I think there's still a disconnect between the talk and discussion around innovation and the engagement in the day to day realities within many firms. I suspect that many people agree that innovation is important, but are uncertain how to get started and how to determine and quantify the benefits.

There are several reasons for this:

1. Uncertainty around how to get started
2. Too much change and risk involved
3. People think innovation is a passing fad

To address the first one, use the Chinese proverb "The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step". Start right where you are by capturing and developing a set of ideas, even if they are just your own ideas. Grow the innovation team by incorporating your work team or people within your business process. Don't wait for the blessings to get started to come down from on high. Build a process and demonstrate its value. People within the organization will find you.

From a change and risk perspective, much of this is perceived and not actual risk. Many firms are trying to accomplish innovation tasks and idea generation. It's just that they do it poorly and haphazardly. The risk isn't in improving the process and managing it more effectively, it's that you'll continue with your existing non-process. Sure, over time you want to find ways to get more buy-in and possibly compensation for what you do, but don't let that stop you.

If you are not moving forward with innovation because you think it's a passing fad, then you are sadly mistaken. Our economy is shifting, and two predominant themes are emerging. One is that the US is rapidly becoming a services based economy, and the other is that only truly value added actions and people will be rewarded. This means you need to be adding value through cutting costs, delivering better services or bringing new ideas to market as new products and services.

What's holding up your organization from becoming more innovative? Cultural issues? Fear of failure? Uncertain where to start? Here's a tip: start doing something, especially around defining a process for sustainable innovation. Start small and demonstrate some success, and the other stuff will work itself out. Don't stand on the sidelines waiting for the fad to pass, or for someone to give you the OK to proceed. This is one train you don't want to miss.
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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 12:59 PM


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