Monday, October 27, 2014

The Innovation Clock

If you are a sports fan, you'll recognize that many, if not most, team sports are time-driven.  Football (American and otherwise), basketball, hockey and others all have a definitive, set time for the match.  Baseball is probably one of the few sports that doesn't have a set timeframe, just a set number of chances for each team to have an "at bat".  In most games, time isn't a factor until the end of either half, and suddenly it becomes precious. That's why in American Football and in basketball "timeouts" are hoarded and used strategically, to manage the clock, to plan the final plays.  Time is of the essence, and using the precious time effectively matters to coaches.

But the vast majority of us live on corporate time, not sports time.  We don't compete in televised events on the weekends, but instead compete every day, every minute to drive more revenue and more profit for our employers.  Time is just as precious in this setting as it is in the sports world, and how we use the time allotted to us each day matters.  More important, I think, is how we decide to divide the time we have, and how we strategically determine what to do with those allotments.  For many firms, the division of time comes down to two critical segments, first, driving short-term revenue and profits, and second, generating ideas to drive future competitive advantage and profits.  If our "game" is divided into two halves or segments, one based on efficiency and short term profitability and the second on innovation, how are we determining the time investment?

In football, basketball and baseball each team gets an equal opportunity.  Once one team has had the ball and made its plays, the opposite team gets to attempt its strategy.  Equal number of opportunities does not mean equal time or equal outcomes.  A poor football team may conduct three plays and then punt the ball back to their opponent, who may methodically take the ball down the field and score. But even in games where the teams are significantly mismatched, the weaker team gets to possess the ball every other time.  In the business world the division of labor is even more pronounced.  In many organizations it can be difficult to find anyone who has a full time "innovation" role.  Just about everyone is focused on efficiency, effectiveness and short term profits.  When innovation is attempted, we draft some of the people who already have a full time commitment and ask them to conduct an innovation exercise.  These folks often don't receive the training they need, and have divided loyalties between their everyday job and their innovation tasks.

The question becomes:  how do we plan and allocate resources for two very important tasks:  keeping the efficient operations churning to generate short term profit, and developing new ideas to fuel future earnings and growth.  Both have to occur - it's exceptionally difficult for a business to ignore developing new skills or new products for future earnings.  Yet there are few rules of thumb or methods for an executive team to capably divide the two important deliverables, and its innovation that suffers.  And when innovation is neglected, it's often the case that we see executives forced to call a "timeout", when their products are disrupted by a new entrant.  At that point the executives will place people on a very urgent, short term activity to fix the fact that innovation was ignored. But as must of us sports fans know, trying to dig out from a deep hole late in the game is very difficult.

What's your innovation clock?  Are you adequately dividing your time between the efficient operating processes in place today and the innovative insights and skills needed to develop new products for tomorrow?  How do you decide how much time and resource commitment is necessary to spend in each area?  How do you signal to your teams that time must be spent on innovation activities on a regular basis, rather than signalling time out late in the game, faced with an insurmountable lead?
AddThis Social Bookmark Button
posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 6:23 AM


Post a Comment

<< Home