Friday, March 21, 2008

Innovation in the abstract

I've been pondering the imponderable - when is something so important that it can't be addressed? Sometimes I think many firms consider innovation to be almost mystical in nature, something that has to be fully considered to be approachable.

Here's a challenge for you. Find me a firm, any firm, that isn't telling it's people, it's customers and it's investors that innovation isn't important. Can you imagine that? Telling these constituents that innovation isn't important is like telling people that oxygen isn't important. So, let's take as a given that most firms advocate a bias toward innovation.

Then, carefully consider what most firms are actually DOING. In many firms, innovation is the big pink elephant in the room, something that everyone knows they should be doing, something that anyone could be doing, but no one is really responsible, and what's more, there are so many other pressing responsibilities - costs to cut, organizations to restructure, that it just never seems that innovation is urgent enough.

I like to say that most firms innovate based on two drivers - vision or fear. A few firms have very visionary leadership that drives innovation from the top down and makes it a corporate mantra. We all know who those firms are. Many other firms turn to innovation when it appears that all the other things that were so pressing - cutting costs, outsourcing, restructuring - turn out not to create interesting new products or services that drive revenue growth or market share. These firms turn to innovation as a last desperate resort. Even then, many of them are like the old Adam Ant song - "desperate, but not serious".

I think we've been asking the wrong question. Innovation is not urgent or important because it is simply too nebulous. I think the question should be - is organic revenue growth important? Is gaining market share important? Is taking market leadership through distinctive products and services important? If so, how important? Is it important enough to pull a few interested individuals away from the things they are doing that aren't contributing to a differentiated product or service?

There's two problems embedded here. Everyone realizes that innovation is important, but it is simply too abstract, so it's impossible to implement a program or scheme to generate it. If we can more adequately define and communicate the potential outcomes of a good innovation program, then we can probably get more buy in and commitment to those results and what it will take to obtain them. Then, innovation (or its outcomes) will become important, urgent and something firms do more than pay lip service to.
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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 5:44 AM 5 comments

Monday, March 17, 2008

Innovate by breaking something

One of my favorite movie lines comes from the movie Hope and Glory, a movie about the second world war and the blitz of England. In the movie, a bunch of young kids run around in bombed out buildings looking for souvenirs. When they induct a new kid into their group, they then proceed to break everything in the house that's left standing. Their motto is "let's smash things".

The juxtaposition is kids in bombed out houses who are destroying what's left of many people's belongings. But they don't know any better and really don't understand what's happening, they just explore the surroundings and break things with glee.

Wouldn't it be great from an innovation perspective if you had the permission to smash things in your organization? Often times we work so carefully not to disrupt the apple cart that any innovation we can create is so safely packaged that it can't hurt anything or bother anyone. Safety is often the arch nemesis of innovation. The more you try to shape, package and control it, the less innovation you'll get.

People understand this as well. When they are told to be more innovative, they first consider all the spoken and unspoken issues and challenges to innovation. "I can't do this because that would anger Mr. X in that team, and we've clearly been instructed to leave that product alone. We certainly don't want to disrupt our own products or markets, and entering new products seems too risky." This mindset leads you to a watered down product or service that everyone recognizes as immediately obvious, so what's so cool about innovation?

What if - those are clearly innovation words - what if we could smash anything and make it better or eliminate it all together? What if breaking things down and eliminating them, or working as if the innovation was more important than any existing expectation or investment? That would be innovative. Could you get your teams to think like that, rather than work with the blinders they often put on themselves?

Kids in a bombed out house have two choices. They can try to stack the bricks back they way they were and create order, or they can gleefully smash the rest. One approach has an expectation of care and order and control. The other is interested to see what might happen next. Both may lead to positive outcomes, but anything with the word gleeful attached to it has got to be more attractive and more interesting.

For you innovation leaders - when's the last time you asked someone to "smash things"?
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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 3:16 PM 2 comments

Friday, March 07, 2008

Make us more Innovative

I'm proud to announce that my new book Make us more Innovative is being launched today. Based on several years of innovation consulting, Make us more Innovative was written the the innovation manager or chief innovation officer in mind. Frequently this individual has been given the requirement to "make their firm more innovative" and they need a guidebook or roadmap to help accomplish that task.

Make us more Innovative is a practical, logical methodology to building a sustainable, repeatable innovation capability in any business. It includes:

  • A self-assessment to evaluate your firm and determine its readiness for innovation
  • A sequence of chapters to align the initiative or innovation program to strategic goals and obtain management buy-in
  • A rationale for a defined innovation process
  • Several chapters focused on roles, responsibilities that are tightly aligned to innovation, and a look at importance of a culture of innovation
  • A quick examination of innovation metrics
  • A review of the importance and timing of idea management systems
  • Chapters on open innovation and innovation portfolios to review once the innovation capability is mature
This book has relevance for a firm just starting a consistent innovation program or a firm that has enjoyed some success but wants to take its focus further.

I'm fortunate that a number of well-respected innovators, consultants and authors reviewed Make us more Innovative and provided their feedback. Here's what some of them had to say:
  • Roger von Oech :

    "Make Us More Innovative is a valuable tool for any business hoping to understand and create a culture of innovation. Phillips does a good job of laying out all the steps that will help you make your innovation initiative a reality."

  • Stan Gryskiewicz:

    Make us more innovative is a process road map for successful innovation. Each step offers the innovation traveler comfort along the way. Your Mission: Use It.

  • Keith Sawyer:

    Jeffrey Phillips is right on the mark when he advises that companies must weave innovation throughout their organization, and innovation must be an integral part of day to day operations. This is a practical book for working managers, with twelve concrete steps that managers can take to transform their organizations into innovative firms.

  • Jeneanne Rae:

    For those seriously interested in building a systemic innovation capability, Jeffrey Phillips takes the reader on a realistic tour of what is required for success. ‘Make Us More Innovative’ provides a detailed blueprint to guide development of critical pieces in the puzzle.”

If you are interested in purchasing Make us more Innovative, you can find it at Amazon, Barnes&Noble and iUniverse online.

If you are interested in learning more about Make us more Innovative, see the book website at
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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 10:14 AM 2 comments

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Incremental and Disruptive Innovation

We often throw these words around quite frequently, assuming that other people know what we mean when we say "incremental" or "disruptive" innovation. What do we mean when we say these things, and where do these ideas come from?

If you were to think of innovation as a spectrum, on the most conservative end of the spectrum is incremental innovation. Really, on the MOST conservative end of that spectrum are concepts like product roadmaps and next product releases. Incremental innovation is simply the next version of a product or service - the most likely next release or product. As you proceed along the spectrum you'll come to concepts like breakthroughs - these can represent a distinct change in a technology or service or business model from the existing solution. Finally, as you edge ever closer to the most radical end of the spectrum, you'll come to the disruptive ideas - ideas that significantly change an industry or a marketplace, and force competitors to adjust their view of the world.

Incremental ideas are fairly easy to acquire. Folks in your business are walking around with them right now, all the time. They are natural extensions of existing products and services. Breakthroughs are the ideas that Michael Keaton made famous in the movie Nightshift. Do you remember his tape recorder where he would record great ideas like "feed the tuna fish mayonnaise"? Breakthroughs often combine two concepts that were not thought of as practical or relevant to combine. You hear these ideas every day as well, and quickly reject them because they often don't appear realistic on the surface.

Disruptive ideas are those that would cannabalize your existing products or markets, or radically change your market or industry. These are the ideas that people in your teams toss out ocassionally and everyone chuckles nervously, because anyone within the industry would be crazy to do them, due to the destruction of the infrastructure or investment. However, anyone outside the industry would be very likely to do them to enter and disrupt the market and force the existing providers to adjust. This is also why truly disruptive ideas almost always come from outside an industry. It's simply too hard to disrupt your own industry, due to the investments and existing product portfolio. But, with the right combination of products and services and business models, you might disrupt another market or industry.

Use the automobile industry as an example. No matter how innovative the market gets around transportation, the industry is going to provide a solution that has an engine and four wheels. They can't think any other way. So an idea like a more efficient gas engine or hybrid is a natural for these guys, and a big stretch is to a fuel cell engine. Someone like Dean Kamen, or a light airplane designer or some other team outside of the automotive industry, will be the ones who ultimately disrupt this market.
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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 8:55 AM 8 comments

Monday, March 03, 2008

Innovating in the news

While you might think this post is going to be a recap of some of the news about innovation, it isn't. This post is about innovation in the way news is captured and reported. What seemed like a slow moving old model industry is demonstrating that it still has some innovation life.

CNN is demonstrating a beta of something they call "I Report". Using this capability, all of us become stringers for CNN, local reporters creating content and news that CNN can decide to use, or can at least publish on the iReport site. What CNN has done is combine the power of blogs with the power of the individual and marry that to the content management of YouTube to create a framework for any of us to identify, capture and report news. Now, what seems like news to you may not seem like news to me, so CNN will eventually filter out what's "news" from what's not. But what they've done is to some extent extraordinary.

CNN is recognizing that news happens everywhere and that they can't possibly report all of the interesting news. Indeed, what happens on a regular basis is that much news of interest to many people is never reported - either CNN or other networks had no one there to cover the news, or it was spiked somewhere in the editing process. What we see on CNN's website or on the nightly news represents a tiny fraction of what happens that might be interesting on any one day. Now CNN is providing other outlets for that news. You, me, any of us can be reporters and capture the news and report it to iReport. The folks at CNN may then determine to use that report as the basis for a story - or they may not, but your news will still be posted and available for others to see and read.

Hmm. This sounds suspiciously like the innovation approach P&G used when it determined that its scientists couldn't possibly think up all of the best new products. Remember that P&G turned to an open innovation model, so many more individuals, companies and researchers could submit ideas to P&G. I guess what CNN is recognizing is that there's no special competitive advantage for capturing the news, other than being in the right place at the right time. Would any of us know Dan Rather if it hadn't been for the hurricane that brought him to prominence? Maybe. But CNN and P&G are demonstrating that they believe there is some value in the process - analyzing and determining which stories (in the CNN case) or which ideas and products (in the P&G case) to commercialize.

What's nice about the CNN site is that even if your story isn't "picked up" it is still visible and becomes part of the "news" on iReport. With enough interest, time and tools, this could become a site with as large a following as Youtube. I also notice that CNN is building in links to social networking sites, and has some functionalities that would enable iReport to build social networks as well. Somebody at CNN has been paying attention and is at a minimum copying innovative ideas from P&G and Facebook. While that may not seem like a big innovation generally, this is a huge innovation in the media and news world.
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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 1:47 PM 6 comments