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What, Why, When, Where, and Who

Jac Spies
BMGI South Africa


The writer reflects on the five fundamental contextualising questions of what? why? when? where?, and who?
regarding the flavoured word “Innovation”; and also addresses typical milestones in “walking the walk” from the
desire to the delivery.



In solving a felony case the Investigator first need to be clear on the What, Where, and When before
seeking answers to the Why and Who, viz:

1. What is the incident to be investigated?

2. Where did the incident occur?
3. When did the incident occur?
4. Why did the incident occur? (The motive for the transgression?), and then
5. Who committed the transgression? (The solution)

Embarking on innovation initiatives the sequence need to change to first understanding the What and
Why, before embarking on the When, Where and Who, viz:
1. What does “Innovation” really mean?
2. Why is it necessary to embark on an innovation drive?
3. When is the right time to launch an innovation initiative?
4. Where does one start?
5. Who is to Champion the intervention?
These are thought provocative questions that may sound trivial at face value, but is complex to answer
in an entanglement of many internal and external forces that are impacting on each other as the
company or institution matures in its life cycle.
Diving into an appealing slipstream of well intended intention, many initiatives may drift into the
windless doldrums of no progress.
By understanding at least the five Ws as guiding questions a less risky launch and deployment strategy
can emerge.

1. What is Innovation?

The word Innovation is not blessed with a singular a priori definition.

The following few extracts from the 980 000 definitions on the Internet illustrates the point:

• Innovation is a change in the thought process for doing something [1]

• Innovation is new stuff that is made useful [1]
• Innovation is creativity with a job to do [2]
• Innovation is anything that provides a new perceived benefit to a customer or employee [3]
• Innovation is the conversion of knowledge and ideas into a benefit, which may be for
commercial use or for the public good; the benefit may be new or improved products,
processes or services [3]
• Innovation is the process that transforms ideas into commercial value [3]
• Innovation = Invention + Exploitation [3]
• Etc.

To enable a rational discourse on the remaining four Ws the following definition will be used as the
departure platform:

“Innovation is a structured process that finds and brings new ideas

to life that increases value to the customer and the provider”

See Figure 1 below for a pictorial presentation of this definition.

Figure 1

The viability of an innovation intervention will finally depend on the importance and
enchantment experiences and expectations of the customers.

2. Why Innovate?
 Wrong reasons for embarking on an Innovation initiative may be because:
• Everybody is doing it, so I better do it to …
• My Boss told me to be more innovate …
• Innovation is easy and we can make a fortune …
 Right reasons to embark on an Innovation initiative will be when the decision takers know
that all organizations are subject to life cycles as they grow from birth, through maturity, to
decline, or death if they do not rejuvenate, adapt, or transform in time; and seeing the need
• More significant organic growth;
• The need for a quantum strategic/ROI jump; and/or
• To survive the necessity to overcome a looming black elephant1

“Black Elephants” are big obvious threats that are sure to emerge.
3. When do we need to consider innovation initiatives?
The timing of a specific innovation strategy can only emerge after the organisation’s maturity levels
are assessed and aligned with what is viable and feasible. And only then such interventions can be
scheduled and committed to.
Innovation strategies can be from small incremental initiatives to radical interventions addressing
different innovation interventions in a staggered manner within different time lines.

4. Where do we start?
The outcome of the company’s maturity assessment aligned with its survival or growth needs
will be a good indicator on where to start with an innovation initiative, which could point to any
of the following levels:
• A strategic business repositioning and business remodelling for a radical shift;
• A technology trend and/or process intervention;
• A product redesign/replacement, and/or
• A significant or radical marketplace shift;
To avoid the classical approach of “It’s expected of us by our shareholders to…” will be heroic,
but very stupid. Handsome rewards can however be reaped when innovation initiatives are
clearly identified, evaluated, planned, resourced, and lead by a seasoned Innovation Practitioner
in a structured manner..

5. Who needs to be lead and drive such initiatives?

• Depending on the levels and interfaces of innovation interventions the highest accountable
internal official should be committed to champion the initiative.
• To avoid over-commitment of internal resources full time unbiased external Innovation
Practitioners could be contracted to drive the intervention under the leadership of the
internal Champion.

Having dealt with the 5 W questions one should now be empowered to take an informed decision on
the What, Why, When, Where, and who of a desired innovation intervention.

“Walking the Walk” has more to do with the “How” of innovation, i.e. highlighting some of the must
do’s, some of the “could do’s”, “should do’s”, and some of the “must not do’s”, should one desire a
viable and feasible innovation intervention. Although the following notes are in no manner
comprehensive they remain significant for any executive to take cognisance of.

1. Expressing the Desire to Innovate

“Dear members of the Board, it is my privilege to report that we have embarked on an
innovation initiative that will ensure ……..” instead of: “Dear members of the Board, due to
certain growth issues confronting us ……” may lead, after having done all the necessary
homework, to the next board meeting statement: “Dear members of the Board, may I request
your support and commitment for the tabled Innovation Proposal that will enable significant, if
not radical, new growth opportunities”
These scenarios may sound silly, but no innovation initiative of any significance can be
successful if the support of all stakeholders is not obtained up front, because any innovation of
importance impacts all facets of an organisation, and the leaders can not be side tracked.

2. Understanding the Bigger Picture in Context

The following understandings should, inter alia, be reflected in the tabled Innovation Proposal:
• An understand of the difference in riding the current preservation curve and jumping to
the next life cycle as depicted in Figure 2 below.

Figure 2
• Understanding the concept of an ambidextrous organization as depicted in Figure
Fi 3 below.

Figure 3

• Stating the levels of desired resolutions:

- Strategic/Corporate?
- Tactical/Functional
- Operational/Grass Roots
• Defining estimated on:
- Time limitation??
- Cost caps?
• Expressing risk tolerance levels
• Proposing capable and committed Champions within the organization
• Recommending collaboration with independent and objective experienced external
innovation practitioners.

3. Scoping the Playing field

• Define the expected outcomes
• Do a conceptual high level project breakdown
• Identify the impact at Systems-, Super-, and Sub-structure levels
• Separate functional jobs from iinnovation projects
- Define the incremental improvements and or adjustments to be addressed by
Functional Management
- Define the innovation
nnovation interventions as projects.
4. Managing the Deployment
Ensure that the organization Champion obtains the expert support of an Innovation House of
standing to assist in the navigation and deployment of the project to ensure a successful
innovation intervention.


In closing it may be fitting to worn against the misplaced memes2 (ideas, attitudes, and influence
bubbles) of insincerity or window dressing, because initiating a true blue innovation initiative
requires investment, involvement and commitment to ensure the handsome rewards.


1 McKeown, M. (2008). The Thruth About Innovation. London, UK: Prentice Hall.


3 Yuri Ijuri and Robert Lawrence Kuhn (1988). New Directions in Creative and Innovative Management:
Bridging Theory and Practice. Ballinger Publishing

Richard Brodie (2010). Virus of the Mind: The New Science of the Meme. Hay House, Inc.