Innovation management is a repeatable business process that starts with identifying opportunities in the future using scenario planning and continues through to new product, service or business model commercialization. I frequently use an analogy to procurement when talking about innovation. In any organization, if you want to purchase a product or service from a vendor, there are people who specialize in purchasing who have a defined process, deep experience in purchasing and systems that support them. In other words, most firms have a significant investment in people, processes and systems for procurement. If we invest that much to acquire goods and services effectively, why wouldn’t we expect the same level of investment and consistency when we try to create new products and services? Eventually, I think innovation management will have to be as embedded in the organizational structure as procurement in order to compete.
I think the most enjoyable part of the work we do is when a client demonstrates they can conduct regular innovation initiatives that produce interesting new products and services using the methods we introduce but without our assistance. It’s great to see the capabilities deployed and the teams exercise their new knowledge and processes. We strive to create innovation capabilities that are repeatable long after we have done our work. We’re only truly successful when the client innovates with us, and then can do so without us.
There are too many unrealistic expectations about innovation. Every firm wants to be innovative, yet few are willing to invest what’s necessary to become innovative. Executives ask for innovation but don’t fund it appropriately. Innovation drives new revenue, yet people are constantly pulled away from innovation projects to return to their “day jobs”.
Our “next” challenge is the same challenge we’ve been working on all along. We believe innovation should be a consistent part of the strategy and operations of every business, as central to the workings of a business as procurement or financial management. No business would operate without a financial officer managing cash flow, income statements and balance sheets. Think of innovation in that light – idea generation analogous to cash flow and idea portfolios and new products and services as balance sheets. Innovation is THE competitive advantage, and to grasp that advantage firms need a consistent innovation capability.