Innovation Perspectives – Yes, No, and Everything In Between

This is the third of several ‘Innovation Perspectives‘ articles we will publish this week from multiple authors to get different perspectives on The Importance of Innovation Strategy. Here is the next perspective in the series:

by Mike Brown

Does an organization need an innovation strategy? Let me say, unequivocally, “It depends.”

Depending on its business situation, there are multiple strategic innovation approaches. Here are three different business situations and a potential innovation path for each:

Situation 1 – It’s All About Innovation

If innovation is fundamental to an organization’s success and competitiveness, then innovation “matters” for that business. And when innovation passes the “does it matter” test, beyond an innovation strategy, it becomes more important that innovation be woven into overall business strategy.

Situation 2 – Innovation Is Appreciated

For many (most?) companies, innovation is viewed as beneficial, but it doesn’t matter in the same strategic sense as in the first group. If that’s the case, having visible top-level support for innovation can take the place of an explicit innovation strategy.

Beyond that, it’s vital to manage the environment’s receptivity to innovation. This starts with assessing the degree to which critical success factors (CSFs) for innovation exist. If CSFs are largely in place, the primary task becomes integrating innovation into the company’s strategic direction. If some or all aren’t present, step one is making moves to put them in place to create a higher probability of innovation success. Among innovation CSFs are:

  • Having an innovation-friendly environment – Even absent an innovation strategy, are processes in place that are conducive to exploration and development of new ideas? Organizational forces should motive and support work across disciplines and recognize individual and group contributions to innovation.
  • A longer term sensibility – Some innovation starts yielding near-term returns. Often, it takes longer. There has to be some rope to play with (both in terms of time and resource investment) for a sustained innovation effort.
  • Fact-based strategic perspectives are encouraged – Is innovative, strategic thinking considered to be the purview of senior leadership or is it cultivated broadly? Multiple, perspectives are vital to triggering, thoroughly vetting, and successfully implementing new ideas. The closer to customers those strategic perspectives originate, the better, and that’s usually not exclusively from senior managers.
  • A basic comfort level with disturbing the status quo – Moving into new areas is usually messy organizationally and in the marketplace. These disruptions need to be understood as innovation precursors. Is your organization ready to fail fast & learn quickly if it’s a step to successful innovation?
  • A willingness to bring diverse parties into innovation – There’s now more recognition and acceptance of the incredible potential in ideas coming from outside an organization. Does yours have an externally-oriented view that introduces broad inputs into innovation?
  • Metrics are used to motivate and refine innovation, not quash it – Innovation has to produce value for customers and the business to be worthwhile. Monitoring value requires solid metrics. Are they (or can they be put) in place to help steer innovation efforts and monitor their impacts without being used to prematurely shut-down exploration?

Situation 3 – Innovation Gets in the Way

When an organization’s sentiment runs counter to innovation, underground innovation is an alternative. This implies working around the system to create and implement innovation efforts beneficial for the business. Going low-key can provide several advantages:

  • It potentially lowers expectations and increases maneuverability. With few resources, there’s potentially less scrutiny, leading to some freedom to experiment, make mistakes, learn, and still drive results.
  • Parties who participate are likely to be more committed. With a certain amount of risk in joining forces with an underground effort, people won’t typically get in half-way.
  • It forces more ingenuity. Cut-off from some fundamental resources, you have to understand limitations upfront, spell out a plan for what you won’t have, and innovate in areas you wouldn’t have considered previously.
  • You can focus on creating deliverables instead of justifying each innovation step. With a near-term results oriented management team, being able to introduce them to an innovation that’s nearer completion can be beneficial.
  • You can get an advantage relative to competitors. They may be taking a more traditional route to innovation or completely eliminating innovation programs while you’re still trying to move ahead.

What Do You Do?

You know your business situation. Consider the range of possibilities and select the level of strategic innovation focus that makes sense for your business and the desired results.

You can check out all of the ‘Innovation Perspectives‘ articles from the different contributing authors on The Importance of Innovation Strategy by clicking the link in this sentence.

Mike Brown is an award-winning marketer and strategist with extensive experience in research, strategy, branding, and sponsorship marketing. He’s a frequent keynote presenter on innovation and authors Brainzooming!

Mike Brown




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