Please, No Innovation
I was thinking about innovation over the weekend when I asked myself “what’s the one
thing that no senior executive
is likely to say about innovation?” Every executive is likely to
talk about innovation, to describe what his or her firm is doing. They are likely to talkabout plans for innovation, as clients demand new products and services.
What I don’t
think you are likely to hear is executives telling their employees not to innovate, orexecutives talking to the press or shareholders about a lack of innovation. Can you imagea CEO who came out and said to his team
“Please, no more innovation”?
Sometimes, to unders
tand what’s going on it takes an extreme or almost inverted
perspective to shine a light into the darkness. Certainly, few CEOs would last long if theydownplayed the importance of innovation.Innovation is seen as an important differentiator, and something every executive should support and embrace as a means to growth. Innovationis as American as apple pie and motherhood, and has become almost as overused and as saccharin.
So we aren’t likely to hear denunciations
of innovation, or executives verbally downplaying its importance. Innovation, or at least the appearance of innovation, is exceptionallyimportant.
But what we don’t often hear about is the actual work of innovation, the investments made, the people trained, the mistakes m
ade, thesuccesses that create new segments. Innovation, like dieting or getting into better physical shape, is something we all know we SHOULD do,but is also something that is easy to put off to another day.
If talking about physical fitness contributed to weight loss we’
d all be exceptionallythin. Unfortunately, staying in shape and physically fit requires more than talking
it requires a consistent commitment and focus on specificgoals. Likewise, innovation requires a constant commitment that is intended to deliver specific outcomes.
No one innovates for innovation’s
they innovate to create a new product or service, to create new revenues and profits, to differentiate from another competitor, to stakeout a completely different market sector. Since we know t
hat few if any CEOs will reject innovation, and innovation isn’t widespread and fully
competent in many organizations, what can we do to build and sustain innovation as a consistent competency?
Build a plan
Most innovation is undertaken as a reaction to some competitive threat or market shift. This means most innovation is REACTIONARY ratherthan the result of an intentional plan. When we react we tend to invest just enough to get a product just good enough to compete in themarket.
So many of our “innovations” are reactions to competitors with the goal of responding with a product that’s just good enough to
compete. Rather, we should plan for innovation proactively. This would force our internal teams to think about innovation more broadly,account for innovation in annual planning and most importantly funding exercises. Further, a plan demonstrates vision and strategy. One of