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


Blogger CHARLIE GARLAND said...

One of the main reasons why innovation has such challenges in taking hold in any organization -- or more importantly, in any individual -- is that the term is not clearly, consistently, and correctly DEFINED. Most individuals have a uniquely-framed perception of INNOVATION. If it hasn't been clearly and consistently (and correctly, within any given context) defined, then it has precious little chance of being VALUED, and even less of a chance being the point that individuals or groups are inspired to invest their time, energy, or money in prioritizing it. My belief is that innovation will NEVER be able to effectively and durably be managed across an organization unless and until this primary ROOT CAUSE of the problem that inhibits innovation's eliminated. I have taken steps toward alleviating this very issue within my book: I welcome additional comments & feedback!

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Anonymous buy homework said...

Innovations can't be abstract, it's one of the concretest thing. IMAO of course, but I disagree with author

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