Axes of Innovation
Think of innovation as bounded by two axes - one axis being the amount of freedom we allow people to have when they generate ideas, and the other being the amount of freedom we provide when considering, managing and commercializing ideas. Although I'll be happy to argue that this is actually a multi-dimensional problem, we'll use this simple x-y thinking for now to illustrate a problem with innovation.
In most firms, there is an unspoken barrier to the kinds and types of ideas that people can generate. Most ideas that are generated are very safe, incremental ideas that don't threaten the status quo, don't disrupt and don't risk very much. Whether this is an imposed barrier or a perceived barrier remains to be seen. So, on the "Y" axis in most firms today there is relatively little freedom for exploration. On the "X" access - how we manage, evaluate and commercialize ideas, there is a great degree of freedom, since few firms have a defined process for innovation and moving ideas into a new product or service development stream. This may seem appropriate, but is in fact a difficulty since every idea and its consideration becomes one of a kind.
In a perfect world, these axes would be bounded very differently. For example, in a very innovative company, the "Y" axis would be unbound. Create any idea of any type that you care to. We, in fact, demand your best, your most disruptive ideas. Anyone generating "safe" incremental ideas will be barely accepted. On the other hand, the "X" axis, which represents how ideas are evaluated and commercialized, would be bound. There would be a defined process for capturing, managing and evaluating ideas, rather than an undefined mess or a free-for-all.
So, in the vast majority of firms, we have exactly the worst configuration of these two axes - bounded ideation and unbounded (really undefined) processes. What would it take to shift to an unbounded ideation and a bounded (defined) process? Investment in the process, consistency and commitment to follow the process and a dramatic reduction in perceived risk of generating disruptive ideas.