Monday, January 12, 2009

Innovation isn't free

Lately I've had the chance to talk to a lot of prospective customers about their innovation needs. Many of them seem exceptionally interested in becoming more innovative, right up until they discover it might require an investment in time, resources and people to create a more innovative company. The last time I checked, anything that is valuable requires some investment.

Innovation requires investment to succeed. This should be a no-brainer, right? Many folks will argue that it does not require much investment to generate ideas, since many people within their organizations have lots of ideas. I'll concede that much is true, if you'll concede that someone will then have to make decisions about which ideas receive the investigation necessary to flesh them out to become new products and services. Recently Dell opened IdeaStorm, and received a tremendous number of ideas (over 9000 at my last check in with them). Now, the problem with 9000 ideas is not a lack of ideas, and Dell received all of these at basically no charge. No, the problem is that even if an evaluator could spend only 5 minutes per idea to determine whether or not to advance that idea to a further investigation, that's a 45,000 minute (one third of a man year) investment, and that investment does not include the research, additional investigation, discussion and team meetings necessary to convert the idea into a new product or service.

Let's also assert that your team doesn't have a good process for doing this kind of work now - that there are no processes, methods, databases or reward structures or compensation structures aligned to innovation. To successfully innovate, you'll need those things or your innovation program will falter. All of the things listed above require investment - in process definition, in training, in software and in time away from the "day job". You can either hire a couple more people to "do" innovation full time, or pull people away from their regular jobs on some part time basis, but the work has to get done and those resources have to come from somewhere.

Let's also consider for just a minute your inputs. What scanning, trend watching, market research and competitive analysis are you doing right now? If any, how would that information or insight inform your innovation process? Generally speaking, you need to have better insights and understanding of the coming trends to create new products and services. If you aren't actively gathering, analyzing and synthesizing that data, then you have another gap to fill that will require more resources.

Is this post meant to discourage you from building an innovation capability? On the contrary, it's meant to help you think about what investments are necessary to manage ideas from the first identification of a trend through the generation of ideas and onward to development of a new product or service. This work isn't always easy, and it certainly doesn't come without risks. Success in this work requires an investment in people, in process and in resources. If you are planning to try to innovate on the cheap, don't bother. Everyone understands the risks and the resources required, and you'll soon find that only the truly committed are even trying to innovate.

Innovation isn't free, in fact it isn't even cheap. But the rewards can be tremendous.
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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 5:14 AM

10 Comments:

Blogger Amiecn said...

I can see your point, especially coming from a service point of view. I read an interesting article this morning that might change your point of view. You can read it at: http://www.pheedo.com/click.phdo?i=8f40a62872d874a121446d390b7bf828

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Blogger ganapathy said...

Check my articles on this topic at http://msacademy.in/wordpress (Read in the order innovation is free - 1, 2, 3

Ganapathy

6:09 AM  
Blogger ganapathy said...

BTW I got your point and appreciate it. Thanks for sharing.

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