Innovation in the abstract
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.