Monday, June 25, 2007

Achieve Breakthrough Innovations

If you'll look down, on the lower right margin of my blog (for those of you who read the blog as a webpage) you'll see Google Ads. Since my blog is about "innovation", most of these ads are for companies that offer products and services related to innovation. Biting the hand that feeds me (not so much really) today, I want to talk about the shameless marketing pitches that you'll see here and other places on the web, and the unrealistic expectations they establish.

"Achieve Breakthough Innovation" is just one of several ad headlines. Surely, it must be simple to achieve "Breakthrough" innovation on a regular basis. We probably just need to follow an easy 12 step formula to become a world leader in innovation in our industry. At least, that's what the ads would like for you to believe. Starting an innovation initiative is relatively easy - becoming consistently proficient at innovation over the long term is possible but requires a lot of dedication. Becoming a "master" at breakthrough innovation - constantly disrupting the market with brand new products and services or business models - is unrealistic and sets up too many firms for failure.

Why promise the moon at the start of a relationship or project? Creating and maintaining a culture that supports and enables innovation takes time - most firms that have been working at this for any length of time at all will tell you it will take one to two years to fully engage the company in an innovation process. And that's just to get the incremental ideas flowing. Given the fact that the "breakthrough" ideas are much more difficult to create and implement, it's a virtual certainty that most firms will not have many "breakthrough" innovations in a period of even five years. So, why all the hyped advertising and outrageous promises? Why not set some realistic expectations about the work involved to become more effective at innovation, then mature the process and the firm through the stages to get to the breakthroughs?

Innovation, like any business process change, is not quick and is not simple, but it can have dramatic results. Implementing a more effective innovation culture and process means changing the way people think, work, and are compensated, to generate ideas and implement those ideas as new products and services. Hopefully, some of those ideas will be breakthroughs. But setting the bar so high, so early will most likely lead to disappointment and failure.
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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 5:06 AM


Anonymous Anonymous said...


Thanks for bringing this back to ground level. Innovation doesn't have to be smoke and mirrors. With the right tools and techniques any company can go through a process of innovating. The question people need to answer correctly at the start is what constitutes a success? If the answer is the next ipod... well guess what... the ipod exists. The answer to that question needs thought and should be as unique as the company that asks it.


Corey Julihn

7:50 PM  
Blogger Michael Kaufman said...

One of the advertisements you refer to about breakthrough innovation is ours (InnovationLabs LLC - I appreciate your point of view and your thoughtfulness. You make some very good points about making promises that are unrealistic or downright misleading.

The kind of breakthroughs we actually achieve, week in and week out, may not fit into the categories you are referring to so in that sense I would say our headline is misleading.

What we experience with our clients are breakthroughs in getting people to work together in ways they haven't before and to come up with insights and solutions they either couldn't have come up with in another way or would have taken a long(er) time to achieve. The solutions are breakthroughs for that specific group - and we have never had a group fail in the more than 20 years we've been in practice.

But these are interventions - one off experiences most of the time. Each group we work with knows ahead of time what is a reasonable goal to achieve in the time they have allotted.

To your point, creating a culture of innovation, changing the way people think, the way they are organized, and get work done, is a much larger breakthough that takes a whole lot more time, resources and commitment than most businesses we've worked with are willing to invest.

4:57 PM  
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