Almost every innovation manager can recount stories of great ideas, concepts and products that people love and yet they’re never implemented. The business case stacks up and is technically feasible, but finding sponsorship and a budget seems to be impossible. As innovators, we’re often subject to ongoing commercial restrictions. The fastest way to get ideas off the ground is to ensure they’re aligned to the C-Suite agenda in both the short and longer term.
Lack of alignment means great ideas fall on deaf ears or they’re put on the bottom of the ‘to-do’ list without ever being implemented. There are a range of techniques innovators put in place to resolve this challenge, but those that are most successful ensure they innovate in-line with the commercial objectives from day one.
Areas of Strategic Innovation
A key challenge for all innovators is ‘where to innovate?’
For companies offering top-level support to their enterprise innovation programs, the starting point in answering this question will be the C-level of the company. As innovators, we need to understand the overall direction and ambition of those that run the companies within which we work. This allows us to offer a direction for innovation efforts to the rest of the company, ensuring that the ideas we develop have a home, and more importantly hold the attention of those with budget. Each point of focus becomes an area of Strategic Innovation.
Four key reasons for focusing the enterprise on a set of Strategic Innovation Areas:
- Diversity of opinion – We understand that different perspectives help ensure better and more rounded business concepts are created. However, inviting diverse opinions means including those beyond the normal core expert teams. By grouping our innovation activities, we can explain the overall context within which we’re working, educating non-experts so that they can better apply their core competencies to opportunity.
- Gaining support – Adoption rates of ideas generated from open suggestion schemes vary dramatically from those generated through directed innovation efforts. KLM quoted at ‘Front-End of Innovation Conference 2013’ a 10 X improvement in idea adoption by establishing idea campaigns. Generating ideas that are never adopted may be a futile exercise as finding support is demonstrably challenging for most organizations.
- Protection of your innovation initiative – Innovating in a vacuum runs the risk of cuts in funding and changes to the innovation approach unless we can show how the concepts we’re developing will help meet the needs of the company.
- Budget & Resources – The fastest way to have an idea funded is to ensure that it’s possible to achieve with current budgets and available resources. We may have a breakthrough innovation that will help us grow 100% next year, but if we can’t afford to fund it, or make resources available, there’ll be challenges in getting it adopted at the rate we’d hope.
The arguments made above may make sense as to why we should establish a set of Strategic Innovation Areas and align all of our efforts accordingly, however there are some challenges to consider.
We’ll need a portfolio of options so that when changes in our market or company occur we already have ideas upon which to call.
Some enterprise innovation programs take time to develop, they don’t necessarily start at the C-level and therefore it may be more difficult to ensure we align. However, we should still look to establish areas of strategic innovation in time. First aligning with the needs of tactical sponsors and then developing that alignment to a set of common groupings for innovation efforts as more and more tactical sponsors come on-board.
Some of these issues and suggestions as to how they may be overcome are listed below:
- What about the outlier? If we only look for ideas in places where we know we have challenges or opportunities, how can we find concepts that are more radical and may offer more substantial growth opportunities? Consider a ‘balanced portfolio’ of activities. Define the list of areas for strategic innovation, then allow a portion of that space for more radical activities. However, ensure you have an effective process to manage what you receive and be prepared to dismiss a large amount of submitted content.
- How can conservative companies see the alternative paths unless we offer something genuinely new? Often the issue in adoption of something new is that it requires us to stop doing something else. In conservative enterprises, this is likely to cause consternation and discomfort as we step away from perceived options that are safer in nature. Consider the current market portfolio in terms of growth potential, cost, risk and market attractiveness as you would with any new activity. This will help compare the new and old and help decision making on what to stop easier to justify, accept there is risk with all choices including making no change.
- What about ideas we’ll need in the future? Enlightened CEO’s will understand that we need to innovate across a range of time-horizons. Looking after today is always crucial, but we also need to innovate for the future needs. We’ll need a portfolio of options so that when changes in our market or company occur we already have ideas upon which to call. Save all ideas and concepts, you never know when they may become attractive.
Innovating without alignment to those with budgets and resources is likely to slow adoption of new ideas and limit their impact. The preferred approach being adopted by a number of corporations is to agree on a set of Strategic Innovation Areas with the C-Suite. These are used to educate non-experts on the core needs and objectives and focus the attention of the enterprise on those matters that will most readily gain support. This has the added benefit of increasing participation in enterprise innovation as employees have greater confidence that ideas and concepts will be effectively assessed and the best content adopted.
By Colin Nelson
About the Author
Colin Nelson is Director of Strategic Consulting at HYPE Innovation. Colin is a subject matter expert and thought leader, helping clients engage their enterprise to support existing or newly established programs on Innovation, Cost Reduction and Business Transformation. Recent clients include Abbot Labs, BASF, General Mills, Metso & Swisslog.
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