Doubling Innovation Success with White Space

Nielsen, Consumer Products, Apple, Google…

by Adam Hartung

Doubling Innovation Success with White SpaceBoost Innovation Without the Boss” according to an article by Paul Sloane. Citing data from The Nielsen Company’s study of 30 large consumer products companies showed that companies with White Space Teams (what they call Blue Sky) teams are far more successful at creating revenue generating innovation than companies trying to innovate through the traditional organization structure. And, as recommended in this blog, these teams are more than twice as effective when they are dedicated off-site teams! And, organizations with minimal senior executive involvement generate 80% more product revenue than those with heavy senior level participation.

Hierarchy is an innovation killer. The higher a manager goes, the more he feels compelled to “weed out” options. Unfortunately, most of this weeding is based upon Defending & Extending the existing Success Formula. Doing more of the same better, faster and cheaper dominates innovation thinking the higher the manager is placed! Rather than championing new innovations that could take the business into new markets with new products, senior people will apply the 20 Innovation Killers from Kamal Hassan! They will say the idea doesn’t fit, for a variety of reasons, and feel justified they’ve added their managerial “value.”

Mitch Ditkoff amplifies this in “The Accidental Breakthrough.” The author describes how many innovations are the result of ongoing experimentation. Trying new combinations. Learning, and trying again. Managers too often want the innovation to be fully developed “in the lab.” They are unwilling to set up teams that are given the permission, and resources, to try, get market feedback, and keep trying. To learn how to compete in order to eventually win!

All companies want to grow. All claim to want innovation. But too often, the senior people just want small improvements that don’t affect any Lock-ins. They hope for spectacular results from minimal input. Contrarily, the organization itself frequently contains a large number of people who have great insights for things that could work – if given the opportunity to be applied, tested, reworked and made to fit emerging needs. We need are more managers willing to set up White Space teams and let them do their job – while holding the teams accountable for results! Like the leadership at Apple and Google, let people work and learn, and evaluate them on the outcomes – rather than trying to tell them what they need to do, how they need to do it, and setting up boundaries to keep innovation within the Locked-in Success Formula!

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Adam HartungAdam Hartung, author of “Create Marketplace Disruption“, is a Faculty and Board member of the Lake Forest Graduate School of Management, Managing Partner of Spark Partners, and writes for “Forbes” and the “Journal for Innovation Science.”

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Adam Hartung




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