Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Innovation - fast and slow

I wrote a blog post once about the "right time" to innovate.  Many executives want to innovate at just the right time, but the right time never seems to surface.  There's always a reason to avoid innovating right now, and certainly the time will be better suited for innovation shortly.  Last year would have been a great time to innovate, so we'd have new, interesting products and services to offer now.  Sometime in the future will be a good time to innovate, when we work through the existing challenges and problems.  Frankly, there is no "right time" to innovate, other than "all the time".

Similarly, I find it interesting that most innovation teams are frustrated with the speed of innovation.  In their organizations, innovation is either far too fast, or far too slow.  I was speaking with a firm that is considering our services.  Their innovation leader is a reasonable guy, well versed in the opportunities and challenges associated with innovation.  However, since the CEO has declared that innovation is a new priority, every team, every product group, every geography has latched on to innovation and is off and running.  Innovation is now like a brush fire that the innovation lead needs to corral, control and focus.  Right now, innovation activities are moving far faster than he is comfortable with, and his fear is that innovation activities move faster than the organization can control, leading inevitably to disappointment and anger at innovation concepts, rather than recognizing the organization simply wasn't prepared to move at that speed.

Conversely, many organizations are frustrated that their innovation activities move far too slowly.  In these cases there's usually less emphasis on innovation from the top, and corporate bureaucracy and inertia simply stymie innovation attempts.  Interesting to see that corporate inertia and resistance can quickly become a runaway train given the involvement and focus of a committed senior executive.  The issue or challenge in both cases is that passion or commitment - or the lack of it - is just one ingredient in doing innovation well.  Very passionate people with poor preparation and few agreed tools and methodologies will end as poorly as disinterested people with adequate tools and methods.

Why do teams run off half-cocked and get ahead of the innovation tools and techniques?  Because "waiting" for good practice and knowledge isn't appreciated by demanding executives who want results now.  But where else would a team launch into a new development without careful consideration of skills, knowledge and capabilities?  In what other business endeavor would we allow such unformed and unprepared activity to take place, creating a lot of heat but little light?

It's not passion or engagement, or tools and capabilities, that matter.  It's both.  Teams that have high innovation passion but lack preparation, skills and capabilities for innovation will simply arrive at the "trough of disillusionment" a lot faster than teams that face resistance.  Speed is an ingredient to good innovation, as is good preparation, the right tools and frameworks, and deep customer insights.

It's rare to find a firm that thinks innovation is moving at the right speed.  Far too often, it is moving too fast and is in fact out of control, heading for disaster, or moving far too slowly, condemning those firms to obsolescence.  The real trick is to find the right speed, based on the right passion and executive engagement, coupled with the right preparation and the right tools and frameworks.  Once that appropriate speed is obtained, the next goal is to maintain that speed, or even accelerate to a higher speed, based on market conditions, customer needs and competitive threats.
AddThis Social Bookmark Button
posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 8:47 AM


Post a Comment

<< Home