Monday, August 20, 2007

Innovation Maturity

Innovation, like many other corporate capabilities, evolves over time and as the people involved gain understanding and knowledge. Think about some of your existing corporate processes and capabilities. They've been honed and refined over years (in some cases decades) of experience. You expect those capabilities to work at peak performance, since they are hard wired into the corporate culture and into the expectations of all the employees. Would you expect a brand new capability or process to work perfectly the first time out? How long does it take for a new process or capability to become ingrained?

Innovation in most firms is really just getting started. To that end, it's a lot like a small child, succeeding ocassionally, stumbling occasionally, learning by doing. As the capabilities become well understood, the innovation processes and teams gain more confidence and the ability to repeat the processes and demonstrate more consistent outcomes. Right now, in many firms, innovation is in the awkward teenage years, wanting more autonomy and to stretch responsibilities. However, the parents aren't quite ready to hand over the keys. The senior executives want to see more consistency and more results.

To become more proficient at innovation requires some significant changes in attitude and perspective, however. Firms that are proficient at innovation are open to change and to risk, and have an expectation that innovation should happen and will happen. These individuals seek change and new solutions. A firm that is more focused on process excellence and cost cutting seeks ways to avoid change and risk, so you can begin to see the dynamic of a teenager and the parent. The teen (innovation team) wants more autonomy and wants to take more risks, sure the future is bright. The parent (executives) want the teen to grow, but don't want to assume any costs or risks. The child risks being suffocated for its own good.

However, the senior executives of most firms then demand results - where are the new ideas? What return have they generated? Small ideas that expose the firm to small risks and long decision timeframes return small benefits. There's some schizophrenia in the executive teams to keep the innovation team under restriction but expect great results from a process that has not fully matured.

We as innovators need to recognize the steps to "maturity" and the fact we can't change a firm overnight. It takes careful growth and demonstration of some return and benefit to change the attitudes, and in many cases the innovation processes and methods can't become mature overnight. Likewise, the senior executive teams need to give innovators room to experiment, grow and mature, in order to become a more consistent capability. This maturity takes time, patience and consistent investment, but will pay off in the long run.

If 3M and Proctor&Gamble are "mature" from an innovation perspective, where does your firm's innovation capability lie on a maturity spectrum? What will it take for your initiative to become more mature?
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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 5:09 AM


Blogger Paul Hobcraft said...

I do think your maturity observations are good. There are a awful lot of companies taking first "baby" steps or struggling with their teen years.
Where I do not agree is on P& G or 3M. These are more early to late twenties, seeing the world differently and wanting to try out new concepts. We look to them as they pioneer but it does not mean innovation with them is mature. I think we have the best yet to come, undiscovered and it might be some of the current teens learn and surpass the current group we constantly refer too.
3M is coming back after some lost years and P&G had a real imperative to change. Neither is a certainly to keep ahead of the others as we push the innovation knowledge into the thirties.
Lastly how many companies would put themselves in any emerging thinking about teens when it comes to Human Capital development, Balancing work and life issues, adapting to the speed of communications hitting us, the global competition. The really critical thing is to be open, to experiment, to push change. To many teenagers become sullen, a little withdrawn and fail to show their true potential. We need to nurture more that is for sure.

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