Innovate and They Will Come

Innovate and They Will ComeI know I’m late responding to this ad by Accenture, but I saw it today in the airport and it made me smile. Why? Because it is so “Field of Dreams”. There are so many assertions that are wrong with the statement that one hardly knows where to begin.

First, innovation should be pursued in context of user needs. Inside-out innovation driven by products or technologies is rarely successful. Any one of us can point at many products that were built with the hopes that they met customer needs, and market plans that projected hockey stick adoption curves. But innovation doesn’t happen well in a vacuum.

Second, who is this “they” the article asserts will come? The market at large? Your existing customers? New prospects? People you didn’t want as customers? Innovation should solve specific problems felt by people or prospects that are important to your firm. Innovating for “everyone” is rarely successful. Identify some market or segment needs, validate them with real customers from those segments, and you may have a winner.

Third, the idea that innovation is simple or easy. Beyond asserting that you’ll innovate for unknown customers is the fact that it is exceptionally difficult in most firms to merely get approval to innovate. Where’s the discourse on the work involved before one gets to innovate? Innovation is exciting work but threatens the status quo in a business, and pulls funds and resources from existing products and services. You don’t get to innovate until you’ve proven a market need exists, and even then there are many hurdles.

This kind of advertising leads many to accuse the innovation community (and sometimes rightly so) of being less than honest about the work involved and what’s required to innovate successfully. The Field of Dreams approach may work for Hollywood movies, but will never work in the real world. We need to return to the notion that innovation is real work, with real value, not a Hollywood movie set that produces miracles with very little work.


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Jeffrey PhillipsJeffrey Phillips is a senior leader at OVO Innovation. OVO works with large distributed organizations to build innovation teams, processes and capabilities. Jeffrey is the author of “Make us more Innovative”, and innovateonpurpose.blogspot.com.

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