Three Wishes for the Innovation Practitioner for 2015

2014 leaves us with a number of mega-innovations that feel tantalizingly close to becoming part of—and improving—our daily lives. The driverless car. Commercial applications of graphene. Reliable, accessible renewable energy. Personalized medicine based on our genome. The reinvention of commercial air travel as a relaxing, invigorating experience. Okay—that last one may be a bit of a stretch. Perhaps the best expressions of innovation, as with charity, begin at home. With that thought, I leave you, the innovation practitioner, with a couple wishes for the new year.

The Wish of Bolstered Organizational Confidence

2014 was the year for share buybacks and dividends. An article from Bloomberg reports that companies in the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index are “poised to spend $914 billion on share buybacks and dividends this year, or about 95 percent of earnings.”

95% of earnings? Wow.

Every organization that enjoys free cash flow makes a decision on where to allocate that resource. If the opportunity available to the organization meets or exceeds the hurdle rate—the desired, expected rate of return—then, in theory, they invest in that opportunity. If not, then no: the organization returns the cash to the investors.

Of course, earnings come after investments the organization makes in innovation—research & development expenses, for example. Many do invest a lot in R&D.

And yet… and yet…

At the macro level, the rate of return back to the shareholders seems remarkably high. Bloomberg reports that the rate is historically high. The implicit message from the firm to the investment community: “we do not have a better use for this cash (i.e., the ideas we might pursue do not seem as promising and as compelling as we would like).”

My practitioner’s wish for you for 2015? You find ways to convince your leadership team that you, through your practice of collaborative innovation, can help the organization identify and pursue ideas that are compelling enough to support. Ideas that move the needle.

We know that we cannot cut, or cost save, our way to growth. By extension, we know that we cannot grow a business for the long term by returning all profits to the investors. Doing so suggests a lack of vision—a lack of acuity into what the customer wants and what the market demands.

The Wish of Practice Knowledge

People who contribute compelling ideas on how they might improve the current state of affairs do not always—do not often—have the skill set and, at times, the connections to advance their idea.

This reality holds doubly and triply true when the idea is systemic in nature: the idea makes sense—and needs to be executed within the context of a larger system (e.g., improving the CRM system as a means of innovating on the customer experience). The innovator must be shown the ropes to navigate the larger system and its attendant roadmaps.

My practitioner’s wish for you for 2015? You find ways to coach and support your innovators in the ways they need to gain mastery over their ideas, in whatever way that support makes sense.

Some practitioners will lend support on the very front end of innovation through techniques such as SmartStorming. Others will introduce rigor in helping their innovators more fully understand what the customer wants through approaches such as the jobs to be done methodology. Still others will embrace perfecting business model innovation: How might we get a new venture off the ground?

The savvy practitioner takes a step back, looks at a “day in the life of an idea” in their organization, and, with that perspective, makes the case to plug the gaps—the places where people and the ideas they entertain get stuck because they have not mastered, or have access to, the tools of the trade.

The Wish of Centrality

Anyone who leads an initiative: lean, new product development, strategic planning, etcetera, battles at times with the question of centrality. At some point, someone asks whether the effort the organization is devoting to the initiative is worth it. Is the initiative central to and supportive of the organization’s charter?

At times, the question is rhetorical, voiced in a moment of exasperation. At times, the question is serious.

The innovation practitioner is not above the question of centrality: How might the practice of collaborative innovation help the organization move from point A to point B as a realization of its charter?

My practitioner’s wish for you for 2015? You find the way—the courage and the leadership—to position your practice as central to the organization by going after the critical questions—the challenges and opportunities—facing it and by helping people bring their thoughts and ideas to meaningful resolution.

An effective practice has a strong element of business consultancy to it.
It’s never a good time to be playing on the margins. 2015 will prove to be no different in this respect. We never have us much time as we think we have.

By : Doug Collins

About the author

Doug Collins serves as an innovation architect. He helps organizations such as The Estee Lauder Companies, Jarden Corporation, Johnson & Johnson, The Procter & Gamble Company, and Ryder System navigate the fuzzy front end of innovation. Doug develops approaches, creates forums, and structures engagements whereby people can convene to explore the critical questions facing the enterprise. He helps people assign economic value to the ideas and to the collaboration that result.

As an author, Doug explores ways in which people can apply the practice of collaborative innovation in his series Innovation Architecture: A New Blueprint for Engaging People through Collaborative Innovation. His bi-weekly column appears in the publication Innovation Management. Doug serves on the board of advisors for Frost & Sullivan’s Global community of Growth, Innovation and Leadership (GIL). Today, Doug works as senior practice leader at social innovation company Mindjet, where he consults with a range of clients. He focuses on helping them realize their potential for leadership by applying the practice of collaborative innovation.

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