Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Innovation is not a bolt-on solution

I had the opportunity to read and review Do You Matter by Brunner and Emery, a good book about the importance of design thinking and successful companies. In a nutshell, Brunner and Emery advocate for the importance of design thinking throughout the organization, top down, starting with incorporating design thinking in your strategic thinking and how your organization is structured, the products it creates and the services it offers. Only by permeating the culture and organization with design thinking will your team succeed, according to the book.

The authors use the example of Motorola to make this point. Motorola, they assert, has a powerful engineering culture that did create some interesting cell phone products, but was never really a design-centered firm. After success with the RAZR, the authors say "Motorola tried to apply the veneer of the product (RAZR) to other products" rather than approach each new product from a design perspective. I like the mention of veneer, which in the furniture industry is marketing speak for a thin slice of nice wood on top of some cheap hardwood or pressboard. Motorola could not succeed by applying a veneer of design, and ultimately design thinking can't be bolted on at the end of the product development cycle either.

Reading this, it struck me that the same things are true for innovation. A firm can't be consistently innovative by applying a thin veneer (a couple of brainstorming programs) on an existing product development process, or by bolting on an initiative or cross functional team to existing processes or capabilities. To innovate successfully, innovation needs to be part of the culture and the DNA of the organization, consistently deployed in the same manner, rewarded and measured, and considered a vital part of the strategy and outcomes of the firm. Otherwise, like design applied after the product is developed, all you are left with is lipstick on the pig.

In reality, we all know that bolt-on solutions or those attempted with a half-hearted approach will fail. Attempting to use these approaches with concepts like design and innovation will fail even more spectacularly since design and innovation are closely liked to culture and strategy. Without a strong, consistent commitment to these capabilities, design and innovation projects will fail to get traction and will never be taken seriously. Probably the worst thing that can happen to either of these concepts is to be labeled the "flavor of the month".
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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 1:55 PM

4 Comments:

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The best cellphones in planet are the Motorola because I have been using one since 2008, I think that if one mobile lasted me three years is why it is so good.

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