Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Masters of Innovation

Business Week has a feature on innovation online called "In". You'll find there a number of interesting articles and some good overviews of what firms are doing around innovation. One of the most interesting presentations is the list of "masters of innovation".

Once I overcame my disappointment that I was not included in the list, I was interested to see who BusinessWeek picked as leaders in innovation. I don't know what rationale the writers used to pick the group, but the group is interesting nonetheless. Click here to see the group (Scroll towards the bottom and look for the IN 25 link).

What struck me most about the group is that it is dominated by women, in a list of firms that is almost to a fault dominated at senior levels by men. Why is that? Are women more naturally inclined to innovation? Of the 25 people BusinessWeek selected, only 8 were men - 17 were women. Again, I don't know the methodology or selection criteria, but odds are that in most senior ranks of large businesses, this breakdown is not the norm. I'd expect in most senior ranks that the relationship today is probably 2:1 ratio male to female. So there's something afoot here.

Of the industries represented, there is significant weighting towards consumer goods and technology, with almost every firm represented from the Fortune 500. While it is hard to discover what smaller firms are doing, I'd like to see BusinessWeek identify innovation in smaller firms and in firms outside technology and consumer products. Also, most if not all of these individuals were US based, which is probably a little short-sighted, in that there is a significant amount of innovation work being done in Northern Europe, especially the Scandinavian countries, and increasingly in India and China. However, both the US-centric focus and the focus on technology firms and consumer goods firms didn't surprise me.

I've seen a number of these new "Masters" speak and seen their work. I've had a chance to meet with Jeneanne Rae of Peer Insight, who has also been identified as a leader in innovation. Clearly there are a significant number of women who have staked out a differentiated space around innovation. Is that because innovation was considered too "new" or "risky" by established executives and women saw a chance to grow a new opportunity quickly? Is that because women have more creativity and empathy for customers and prospects and their antenna are more alert to opportunities in the market? There's no doubt that these folks are adding great value - but what can we learn from it? It surprises me that there's not some discussion about this and what these people have in common that other businesses can learn from.
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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 2:51 PM

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