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Why Innovation Is Messy

Posted by Susan on 3:38 PM Sunday May 22, 2011 under

Big thanks to client Todd who turned me on a to a great article on innovation.

The article does a wonderful job illustrating that no one owns innovation - it's a horizontal, not a vertical process. One where innovations must travel across organizational boundaries to find purpose and become reality.

There are three major players in the innovation process:  those involved in an open-ended search for knowledge (e.g., found in universities and some great R&D labs), those facing needs and serious constraints (e.g., start ups, front line knowledge workers), and those with the discipline and resources to define and scale products that have broad-based appeal (e.g., vendors and IT organizations.)

Innovation is a messy little soup where the magic happens as the different players interact.  There is no simple recipe, but key ingredients include employees who understand the needs of marketplace, are exposed to the outside world, and work within a culture that nurtures creativity within a disciplined process of iteration, prototyping, and pruning.

The fact that no one owns innovation means that everyone should. This presents an enormous challenge for companies with bloated project agendas, over-burdened employees, and overzealous bosses.  Google's "20% time" is a boundary rule targeted at keeping these toxic ingredients at bay.

What is your company doing to foster innovation?

 

 

 

5 Comments

  1. With the recent economic cycle, it seems that the emphasis on employee innovation has been focused on increased efficiency for performance in role as it relates to cost reduction, cost avoidance, or increased span of control due to reduction in force.

    Casual conversations with my peers in financial services industry, consulting services, and manufacturing were consistent in this area - there was no grace to spend 10, 15 or 20% of internal time focused on open ended (unsupervised) innovation, but there was an emphasis based on focused (supervised) innovation in terms of efficacy and efficiency to deal with the business drivers of cost and RIF.

    I think businesses that are using supervised innovation are missing the potential opportunities for new marketspaces and services.

  2. Sigh ... innovation is not a process. An innovation is the product.

    Managers who fail to understand this fail to produce innovations. Repeatedly.

  3. @Bill Barr: Great point. Thanks for the clarification!

  4. Innovation is a state of mind more tied to company culture than economic cycles or realities. Not every innovation costs money but it might require a change in business process or standard decision cycles. I have always said that great ideas get funded. The problem with some business cultures is that those ideas might never see the light of day because of how things have been done in that past. Allowing a skunk works culture will draw innovative people together like moths to a flame. Having alternative paths to get those ideas in front of the CEO or CIO who then could fund additional work is necessary. Creative, intelligent people who have a strong dose of common sense and believe their work will make a difference, can make amazing things happen with very little funding. This activity can be killed by the enforcement of standard business rules in order to maintain the status quo. If one is willing to embrace conflict, kill bad or mismanaged projects and activities, accept no excuses from VP or leaders who fail, endorse exceptional ideas, then there is a good chance the culture will adapt and be open to this kind of activity. Failure at the prototyping stage that exist in lower level assessment is accepted but once it becomes a major project with VP or CIO support there is only one option. Succeed or leave. Not having a culture of innovation and change is a failure of leadership not of staffing or funding.

  5. @Mitch Davis: Very well said, Mitch - thanks!

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