Breakthrough Innovation

February 5, 2009

Theory vs Reality in Innovation

Filed under: Observations,Strategy — mosesma @ 8:13 pm

growing-old-postersThere’s the theory of innovation, the art of innovation… and the reality of innovation. And the truth is that innovation is very hard to achieve and maintain, as companies mature and processes become ritualized. Innovativeness and agility for companies is like being athletic and fit for people – that’s a goal everyone shares, but it’s the rare guy who is as fit in his 50s as he was in his 20s. Similarly for companies, growing older is not for sissies.

The most deeply innovative company I’ve worked with was Nokia. This is because the company HAD to be innovative to survive, like an elk in the icy winter or a Finnish resistance fighter. The company has reinvented itself four times, first as a manufacturer of boots, then televisions, then computers, and finally mobile phones. As a result of this, the company is very serious about innovation, simply because they realize that their survival depends upon that fifth killer product line. As a result of this, innovativeness has been written into the DNA of the organization.

So the most important question to ask is… how innovative does the organization really and truly want to be? Does the organization have “the fat gene” or does it have the willpower and stamina to stay lean and mean into maturity?

An incubator is like a speedboat, that serves the battleship. If that battleship doesn’t have what it takes to transform itself and go faster, all the incubator can do is get used to the idea of coming up with great products and sacrificing them on the altar of corporate mis-management. However, if the “mother ship” does truly desire to become more innovative, the key requirement is to get serious about innovation and start taking what might seem like drastic measures.

For a 50 year old man, getting serious about your health happens when the doctor says, “you need to work out more and lose weight, or you’re going to die of a heart attack.” For a corporation, it’s when a younger and more agile company starts to eat their lunch, or the economy turns on a dime, and they start raking in billion dollar losses and shrinking market share because they’re too fat, too slow and too greedy to survive.

ringing_phoneIf the CEO and Board have both received the wake-up call and there is a sense of urgency, then there is a honest chance that the organization can achieve true change and rewrite its fundamental DNA to become more innovative.

But if that wake-up call hasn’t come in yet, all you can expect is a lot of lip service about innovation, but no real change. Evolution only happens nature is cruel. Revolution only happens when drastic measures are needed. Layoffs are like liposuction – they do not enable lasting transformation or fitness.

This is the reality of innovation.

So what does it mean for a company to get serious? It means that the company, from top to bottom, is ready willing and funded to achieve comprehensive change that impacts every part of the company. I came up with this memory device, which I call the 8 C’s of change, that lists the individual shifts that need to happen. Just throwing some innovation management tool at the troops isn’t enough. For a company to truly change…

  • Constructive leadership that spreads the wake-up call
  • Evocative executive Communications that express true vision and leadership… and hammer home the message that change is coming
  • Most importantly, it needs to change how it Compensates business creativity
  • The company needs to learn how to deepen its Customer insight in order to find unarticulated needs
  • To learn how to truly Collaborate
  • To train Creativity throughout the organization via Continuous learning programs
  • and finally, it needs some Cool tools for innovation. Like the stuff we sell.

In other words, becoming truly innovative requires that the organization get serious about innovation – just like an out of shape and overweight 50 year old guy has to start working out seriously to change his body and state of fitness. Is your company ready to get serious? If it is, it’s time to start working out again and retraining your corporate body to be lean, mean and agile again.

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1 Comment »

  1. Nokia is a brilliant innovator – one smart enough to do open innovation effectively working with outside partners and universities (esp. private universities in the US where endless IP wrangling is needed, using the Bayh-Dole Act as an excuse). It’s always tough work, but watching the principles Nokia has applied can teach us much. Thanks!

    Comment by Jeff Lindsay — April 3, 2010 @ 7:40 pm | Reply


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