Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Does your innovation program have legs?

I was talking with an innovation practitioner in a firm recently and he admitted that if he were "hit by a bus" or left the organization, that action would probably effectively end the innovation effort in his firm. His organization's innovation efforts don't have deep roots, or perhaps the program does have legs, unfortunately they are attached to the main idea champion.

Right now, in a lot of organizations, I suspect that this is a common occurrence. Innovation is important but often not "urgent", and so it has been located in one small segment of the business usually supported by people who are very excited and enthusiastic about doing innovation, but beyond that small team there is little cultural alignment to innovation and little investment or adoption of the concepts or processes. This isn't really an indictment of most organizations; innovation simply hasn't been a focus all that long and in many cases hasn't built a clear value proposition, so many individuals and firms still have a "wait and see" approach.

When we talk to clients, we ask them whether they want an innovation "project" or an innovation capability or program. The distinction is that a project is a discrete activity with a defined end date that may or may not be repeated, whereas a capability or program is meant to be a continuous process. What makes the difference between a project and a capability or program is what we call "innovation infrastructure" - changes to the culture, the compensation, the rewards and recognition, how people are evaluated and the communication necessary to ensure everyone is on board and understands the priorities. Anyone, anywhere can run an innovation project without changing the culture or how people are evaluated. All I have to do is generate some ideas and evaluate them using some criteria and hopefully implement one. But that doesn't mean I can do it again successfully, or that anyone else in the firm can leverage what I've done.

Another indication of the difference between a project and a capability is whether or not you can eliminate a major champion of innovation and have the process continue. So, if the innovation sponsor or leader in your business gets hit by a bus or decides to leave and take a new job, will the innovation program continue or come crashing to a halt? If the innovation focus is systemic, you may suffer a hiccup or two and carry on. If the innovation initiative lacks corporate buy-in and roots, then perhaps your innovation program does have two legs and just walked out the door.
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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 1:51 PM


Anonymous Anthony Kuhn said...


I used to work in the US Air Force, and one of my prime favorite duties was to write up procedures for my job so that in case I was unable to perform them in times of combat, anyone who could read would be able to pick up most of the work through my detailed instructions. Sounds a little like what you mention with regards to institutional innovation. No man is an island, nor should they be! I linked to your post in my blog at the Innovators-Network so other could visit your blog and read the entire piece for the themselves. Have a good weekend and I look forward to more of your thoughtful posts.

Anthony Kuhn

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