Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Committed to Innovation

If you think about any of the individuals or firms that seem really successful at innovation, one thing should shine through clearly. They are all fully committed to innovation. Edison is famous for saying that genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration. He knew over 1000 ways not to make a lightbulb, because he kept trying. All of the firms we hold up as innovative are the same way - they commit to innovation and expect everyone to be innovative.

Since I'm writing at the time of the Olympics, let's use an athletic analogy. Do you suppose that Michael Phelps is "somewhat" committed to swimming, or "dabbles" or experiments with swimming? I think the evidence suggests that he is fully committed. On the flip side, we also know that you can't be a little bit pregnant or slightly dishonest. You either are pregnant or dishonest, or you aren't.

So, what's all that got to do with innovation? Basically, everything.

Most firms we work with are interested in starting very small, containing the risk and the cost. They want to experiment to demonstrate some results before committing to innovation. On the surface, that sounds about right. No one should plunge in, sight unseen, to a new strategy. However, given the magnitude of the change necessary to become more innovative, and the pressures just to get the regular day jobs done, what can happen is that a few people dabble in innovation, they experiment with innovation but aren't really committed to innovation. This usually then results in the examination of safe ideas and concepts that don't really require a lot of work or confronting existing norms and expectations. So, the ideas are incremental at best and don't really stretch the organization, and the results are ho-hum. Then everyone scratches their heads and wonders why innovation doesn't seem to create dramatic change.

Few people who have been assigned part-time and temporarily to an innovation program that the firm has yet to show any long term commitment to are going to stick their necks out and risk much. If you want those ideas and that commitment from them, then you'll need to demonstrate your commitment and ask for those ideas, demonstrate your firm is working for innovation in the long run and change they way those folks are compensated and evaluated.

Frankly, most good innovators aren't just committed, they probably should be committed. After all, who knowingly, constantly questions the status quo and creates products and services that create risk and can't be quickly and adequately costed? Who'd come up with products and services that cannibalize existing offerings? Who'd suggest disrupting another significant market?
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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 1:36 PM


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