Innovators share the lessons they’ve learned during 2009

In December 2009, I posed this question to InnovationTools readers: "What is the most important lesson you learned regarding innovation during 2009?" Here's what you had to say. One of the recurring themes is the idea that opportunities lurk in crisis. In other words, appears to be a good time to innovate.

In December 2009, I posed this question to InnovationTools readers:

“What is the most important lesson you learned regarding innovation during 2009?”

One of the recurring themes is the idea that opportunities lurk in crisis. In other words, it’s a good time to innovate.

Thank you for sharing your insights!

Get clear on your innovation strategy

1. Innovation strategy is more important today than it was three years ago; the recent recession has made it clear that business recovery and growth requires a clear articulation of answers to three questions.

  • Where do we focus our innovation efforts?
  • How much innovation do we need?
  • What types of innovation do we need?

2. Business model innovation (BMI)  complements product and service innovation; BMI improves the overall financial performance of the company (higher margins and growth due to stronger innovation ROI)

3. Execution today is tougher and is the major concern of CxOs; aligning the innovation strategy, operational model, and execution management is more difficult than in the past due to the current complexity of innovation and the high growth targets

– Robert Shelton, PRTM

Overcoming the conflict of innovation

Most organizations are very conflicted about establishing a “culture of innovation” (and much of it is subconscious and unspoken).  Their intentions are in the right place, but when it comes to actually executing on the efforts required to turn theory into practice, most senior leaders either head for the hills or delegate the effort to someone who is already overwhelmed and under-funded. The solution? Find truly dedicated sponsors.  Realize you’re in for the long haul. And demonstrate, in very practical ways, how the effort is going to make everyone’s life in the organization a more enjoyable and productive experience.

– Mitch Ditkoff, Idea Champions

2009: A year of major disruptions

2009 will be remembered for a lot of things, but to me it was a year for disruption of all kinds. One of the key changes this year was the extent to which cloud computing really took off, creating so many more opportunities for innovation. Innovation is really a killer app for cloud software.  As a business model and architecture, cloud computing does not just cause incremental changes but constitutes a disruptive phase shift and therefore creates a tremendous amount of business opportunity. At the same time, companies are forced to develop new innovations at an increasingly faster pace. I saw a lot of our clients focus this year on making innovation a managed process – from idea to launch – to embrace the new possibilities of the cloud. This is definitely a huge opportunity for our business, but also for the greater good, as companies learn how to engineer innovation into everything they do.

– Matt Greeley, Brightidea, Inc.

How do you let go of fear and innovate?

We are at the end of one of the hardest years most of us have ever lived through, and it comes at the close of one of the most difficult decades in U.S. history.  During these last ten years, our society has experienced the kind of profound and enduring upheaval that challenges long-standing assumptions and tried-and-true ways of doing business.  And yet most leaders and organizations are still operating on a belief system that values what they know more than what they don’t.

The lesson for leaders going forward is that the serious pursuit of innovation isn’t merely about nurturing creativity, evaluating risk and managing failure with the goal of creating new value. It is about overcoming individual and organizational fear of the unexpected and dangerous learning that forces us to question deeply and, ultimately, discard what we think we know about the new world that is still unfolding before our eyes.  As a leader, how will you let go of your fear and embrace the unfamiliar, the untested and the previously unimaginable?

– Jeff De Cagna, Principled Innovation LLC

Nothing happens until an idea gets implemented

Innovation is the implementation of something new. So there has to be action and implementation. Brainstorms, ideation, lateral thinking, evaluation, prototyping, gates and funnels are all necessary but ultimately they are of no value unless an idea is implemented. It is better to implement one moderately fresh idea than to conceive 100 brilliant concepts that stay on paper or wallow in databases. The firms that get out there and try something new are the ones that will learn quicker and survive longer.

– Paul Sloane, Destination Innovation

The global recession: A great opportunity to move bravely ahead

Businesses seem to have divided into 2 distinct types – those which have completely brought the shutters down and have become more conservative as a result of the economic slowdown. No training, no innovation, just cut costs wherever possible AND those companies who have seen the recession as a great opportunity! The latter have used the tools and techniques of innovation to gain competitive advantage over their competitors and have scanned the market place for new opportunities – some not within their core markets at all. Innovation thrives on chaos and if history has told us anything then when countries are in a time of stress (usually in wartime) then companies and businesses become more inventive. Unfortunate to say, but war often stimulates invention and innovation and if one takes a similar view of the recession then an economic conflict should stimulate people to make the most of the opportunities that arise.
 
So what makes the difference? Why do some businesses seek the shelter of their ‘bunker’ whilst some keep their eyes open, heads up and look around the economic battlefield for opportunities? Personally, we at Project Leaders International think it comes down to leadership, and we mean leadership not management. There are a few good leaders who have taken the opportunity to calm the nerves of their staff, allay their fears and inspire them to be innovative and make the most of what the new landscape looks like. The coming quarters will tell who are the true innovation ieaders and how they progress. What is clear over here is that very few Public Sector organizations have that ‘Innovation Leadership’. Budgets will be tight and the pressure will be on to reduce services, but I have heard very, very little on how public services will innovate to survive. Nothing new in healthcare, council services and local and general government here. Will they survive? Of course they will – thanks to your tax dollars and my tax pounds – but what a missed opportunity.

– Simon Derry, Project Leaders International

A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for growth

My lesson learned for 2009 was that, despite all of the doom and gloom surrounding the global economy, there are many organizations who not only recognized, but seized, the economic recession as a potential once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for growth, leap-frogging their competition, reaching new customers and setting the agenda for their industry into the near future.  I also think that 2009 resulted in an increased awareness and focus on innovation management as a true business discipline, rather than a one-time event, within many organizations.  Finally, I believe that both the quality and quantity of thoughtful study and knowledge sharing among the best minds in creative problem solving, innovation/idea management and customer experience and design reached new heights in 2009.  We have momentum as we enter 2010.  The question is: can we keep it?

– Paul R. Williams, Think For A Change, LLC

Innovation and crisis

2009 has been the very best of years for innovation. Why?

Innovation thrives more in times of crisis and we have witnessed this all personally in the past twelve months. All around you can see and sense a more intensified set of innovation activities. This is going on daily- questioning the business models that are in place, the products and the features to adapt those to rapid changing demand, more focused services to attract the reluctant spender, to enhance the offering, to give greater value and the major shift of the spread of collaboration through open innovation, networks and social tools.

From the top of organizations down to the very ground floor, people have been challenged to alter their ways, to adapt to a different set of realities and solve challenges that have been confronting them. Institutions we thought previously were rock solid have been forced to change their shape, their size and their attitudes to survive. We see a greater involvement and engagement by the public sector in solving many potentially crushing social problems that require imaginative innovative solutions. We are all caught up in evaluating, assessing and progressing different things. We are all exploring new things or doing things in new ways by drawing on our combined knowledge and creativity to change the value in products, services and processes to accommodate the new situation we found ourselves facing in 2009 that needs to change going forward.

We have used 2009 to investigate, to crystallize and reflect. Emerging from this in 2010 will see some ‘sharp differences’ for the ones who managed this period well, and a few others will be well exposed that did not invest in this time for innovation thinking, experimenting, piloting and prototyping concepts and are left with very limited time still to catch up.

The more worrying trend for the consulting industry in which I am part of, is much of this has been internally resourced by the client- by forced circumstance and growing confidence. Is this because the clients are smarter than consultants at understanding the holistic nature of innovation or just ahead of the present learning curve? Is the internal innovation knowledge domain enough? What ever it has changed the client/consultant relationship and I think potentially for the better.

So the consultant has needed to learn from this year of sea-change. Hopefully they have been doing all of the above- making significant change to how they offer innovation going forward- as innovation is not a ‘black box’ and providing all those many fragmented mixed messages on innovation or just providing restricted innovation service offerings don’t seem to help deal with innovation as well as the client wants or wanted. Building towards a more holistic innovation solution might have been a worthwhile investment in 2009 so as consultants come back into the equation in the time, cost, commitment and return that makes clients want to return to use external providers and that they can see the difference and the greater value of these changes. So far I sense many of the consulting firms have stayed ‘stuck’ in their ways but it is not to late to respond. I’ve been spending a significant part of 2009 doing just that so I can be part of a very different innovation wave of activity emerging in 2010.

Out of crisis comes opportunity.

– Paul Hobcraft, Agility Innovation Specialists

Innovation now confuses people

Unfortunately during 2009, innovation became an overused buzzword. Innovation is now used so often that people don’t know what it means anymore. People associate the term with invention and sometimes get a confused look when innovation is mentioned. True innovation capabilities don’t exist in most organizations and this makes it difficult for people to understand what it is. So what does that mean for 2010?

It means that in 2010 we will have to work that much harder to draw distinctions between:

  1. Invention and innovation
  2. Ideas and insights
  3. Innovation capabilities and product improvements

In 2009 it also became clear that many organizations focus too much on coming up with a great idea. Too few focus on the organizational changes necessary to foster ideas (or inventions) being transformed on a regular basis into innovations in the marketplace. The lack of innovation capabilities in organizations allows ideas to be killed internally before they become innovations. Without proper innovation vision, strategy, leadership, and the rest of the innovation capabilities, an organization has no hope of creating continuous innovation in their organization. Sustainable competitive advantage ultimately comes from the quality of your insights and execution, built on top of a foundation of organization capabilities that support continuous innovation. If you want to be successful in 2010, focus on building these capabilities into your organizational DNA.

– Braden Kelley, Business Strategy Innovation

Diversity and execution are two keys to innovation success

Diversity of thinking and the backgrounds of people engaged in an exercise to find new ideas for products, services or markets is essential. Diversity breaks groups out of “group think” and gets the juices flowing for creativity and ideation exercises. Diverse groups generate more and better ideas and stimulate everyone’s thinking. The challenge is how to continue to leverage diverse backgrounds, ages, viewpoints, etc. as ideas move into the evaluation and action stages of bringing ideas to market.

Execution is the mantra to move ideas down the pipeline to generate revenue. My experience this year underscores this fact with companies of all sizes. Having a clear understanding of “Process” is critical for successful execution efforts as well. There are many ways to apply process management tools to innovation efforts without dampening creativity as well. However, at some point companies have to pick the ideas they plan to move forward with through whatever process they employ to commercialize or sell them. At that point, I’ve found it critical that a product/idea manager is appointed and a small team is formed to drive the idea forward. If this doesn’t occur in too many cases new products or services die on the vine because no one is the product and process owner and there’s simply no time for the new project. Finding the right person for this job is the biggest step companies can take to drive their innovations out of the lab or skunk works and into the light of day.

– Charlie Alter, Bentbrook Advisors LLC

Innovation suffered in 2009 as companies retrenched

Looking back on the comments at this time last year, I am struck by how naive we all seemed. The most common idea was that business leaders simply had to “get” innovation.

This year, that “not getting” it became a wholesale flight from the concept of innovation. Under financial stress, and annoyed by the constant and clichéd use of the word, many organizations retreated to old tactics dictated by financial officers – cut anything that wasn’t contributing directly to the bottom line. Once again, it became a war between hard-headed momentary reality and “nice to have” visions of the future. This is likely to continue for some time, because that’s where traditionally trained executives are most comfortable.

I believe this is partially an issue of semantics. I often replace “innovation,” which appears to many execs as a vague concept touted by too many experts with their heads in the clouds, with the term “reinvention”, which appears like a much more practical subset of innovation. And, no, GM’s trials didn’t have anything to do with it.  

– Tony Wanless, Knowpreneur

Fighting the corporate culture antibodies

In 2009, the biggest lesson I learned evolved from a statement one of my professors in graduate school said once. His point was that, “culture eats strategy for lunch.”

This could not be more true when it comes to creating new things to take to market. In combination with some of the points Roger Martin made in his book regarding design thinking, existing organizations develop an internal culture to protect itself and to maximize the investments it has already made in existing products or services.

Most people in organizations are hired to maximize value from prior investments. This causes barriers to be erected that stifle the creation of new things because it inserts uncertainty in front of people who have been hired to minimize uncertainty. Without the CEO personally trying to foster a culture that balances exploitation of existing against the exploration of possibilities, a company’s culture will kill the invading organism of knowledge discovery.

– Roy Luebke

Change is no longer a fringe activity, but the most important activity

The seismic shift in the business landscape has helped the thrust of innovation: Change is not a thing we will get around to doing after I have done this important stuff in my in tray, change is the important item in the in-box. Also, innovation is as much about cost reduction as in opening up new territories/ways of doing, and that less can truly be more.

–  Andy Green, Flexible Thinking Forum

There is no such thing as a quick win in innovation

My biggest learning is that there is no quick win in innovation. In a project with a customer we developed a frame for engaging their customers pro-actively into their innovation process. The goal was that the own sales force should play a key role in that customer engagement process. We developed an engagement tool box and we also had a clear commitment from the executive team. The implementation was done on a worldwide base. Although most of the people have been motivated (the initiative was supported by the appropriate goal setting, incentives, and metrics), the gravitation of doing business as usual was quite big. After initial success the majority of the organizationfall back in old behavior. My learning is that you have to think twice, if the approach, the planned effort, and the stamina of the organization is comprehensive enough. You need a very deep breath to change the attitude of an organization.

– Peter Sicher, Innovate+Grow Group

What the humor profession can teach us about innovation

Although innovation is serious business and should not be treated as a joke, it turns out that the humor profession has some fundamental lessons to teach us about innovation.
 
As every humorist knows, there actually exist only a limited number of “humor principles,” and these have been around for ages. Every joke is based on one or more of these principles, and the skill of the comedian lies in creating a joke from these building blocks which is suited to his audience, and giving it a contemporary twist.
 
Another basic principle of the profession is that one can stay in the comedy business indefinitely using the same stockpile of jokes. As long as one keeps finding new audiences who have never heard them before, it doesn’t matter that the same old material is being recycled.

The same principles apply to ideas. There are certain fundamental ideas which can be applied again and again. Adapting them to various situations will yield “new” ideas, and “novel” solutions to various problems.

Again, if we have an idea that was successfully implemented in one area, we can often find a different audience who “never heard that one before,” and could also benefit from this idea. Thus, in effect, we have a new idea. 

– Sigmund Halpert, NYC HRA

2009 revealed a new innovation fad

In 2009 I realized the extent to which innovation is dependent on cycles and fashion.

Cycles: For most of the year, while the financial crisis was on everyone’s minds, innovation activity dropped dramatically and then suddenly in the fourth quarter, when companies started to believe that the crisis was essentially over, activity exploded. It seems that innovation is still widely perceived as a luxury, rather than a necessary and continuous investment.

Fashion: Both the innovation market (clients and consultants) and the media (journalists and bloggers) are slaves to fashion. An innovation fashion is something that (a) has actually been around for a long time, (b) is widely misunderstood, (c) is marketed as a silver bullet by media and consultants alike. In 2009, the reigning fashion was disruptive innovation, and the new challenger was open innovation.

Outside the world of fashion, my key learning experience in 2009 has been that many companies have a pressing need to dramatically extend and improve their service offers. This is what I call “radical service innovation”. This type of innovation was virtually invisible in the media in 2009.

– Graham Horton, Zephram

Adopt a more entrepreneurial mindset

I have been teaching entrepreneurship for the past 5 years and this year, it just hit me. The process – and even just the way entrepreneurs think – is not just something that benefits those starting a business. The value of the entrepreneurial process and way of thinking extends to anyone, anywhere that innovation and creativity can be helpful. And from what I’ve seen, that is everywhere.

 A successful entrepreneur is so passionate about achieving a goal or a mission that he or she doesn’t get bogged down by obstacles (perceived or real), rather, focuses on the goal. After all, try driving down the road and focusing on an object on the side of the road. You start to steer into it! When you acknowledge the obstacle but refuse to fixate on it, you find ways around, over, under or through it. Who can’t benefit from that capability?

The entrepreneur most often also has limited resources and so has to be creative in achieving more with less.  Many of us have experienced that “less” feeling this year so it is time to get creative!

Finally, true entrepreneurial thinking involves noticing opportunities to do something differently or better and then accepting that you can, personally, make it happen. It is taking ownership for needed change and innovation. Even if things don’t work out right the first time, entrepreneurial thinkers don’t worry about failure and when things don’t work out, they adjust and move on. Companies benefit from employees who think this way. Individuals benefit from thinking this way.

Over the past year, I’ve come to see that the economy and the world needs us all to think more entrepreneurial. Find the opportunities, focus on the goal, get creative, and then make it happen, even if it takes a couple of tries to get it right. Vision, persistence, passion, and action pay off!

– Julie Lenzer Kirk, Path Forward International, LLC

Robust idea generation is critical to innovation processes

More and more companies realize that the first phase of the innovation process, idea generation, poses a significant lever for the following steps in the innovation process. It makes a difference whether several, unconnected brainstorming sessions are held or deep-dive and structured observation and questioning techniques are applied.

– Thomas Fundneider, LEAP innovation consulting

Adopt a solutions focus

My learning regarding innovation was to shift from a problem focus to a solutions focus. When innovating or being creative, my mind goes to the problem at hand. I have found that when I think about the conditions and then solutions (using a brainstorming approach), I generate significantly more possible solutions that are more possible than I can generate by focusing on the problem to be solved.

– Don Ledbetter, University of the Incarnate Word

Try out new tools and techniques for ideation

During 2009  we use some tools for divergent thinking the most successful were “Reversal, SCAMPER and Wishing Techniques”, we able to overcome the blockage and foster ideation. Most importantly we developed website to help to share best ideas and encourage innovation in all department using Spigit innovation software. Connecting employees’ ideas with colleagues, and with management’s objectives, is both a revolutionary opportunity and a significant challenge for organizations. Every single day, employees generate ideas for new businesses, products and process improvements. Enabling others to collaborate on these ideas, and surfacing those with the most merit, is a powerful new approach to accelerating internal innovation. I am sure we can do this by Spigit innovation software. Developing clear innovation process remain a great challenge.

– Khaled Hegazy, Pfizer Pharmaceutical

What’s around the bend?

My key learning for 2009 is you never know what’s around the bend. Let me explain.

I have a student with severe stutter coupled with short memory retention. He is a foreign student where English is a second language in my College English course. He can barely communicate verbally without having borderline seizures.

Here’s the bend: he was the last student to present a set of lyrics he’d written incorporating certain grammar etc. I was dreading this – for his sake as well as the class’. He stood up. Held out a sheet of paper and proceeded to sing in perfect clarity a song he’d written! I was shocked.

He could have been standing on stage at the Albert Hall to a full house – he was that good.

After class I asked him how he was able to do this in spite of his severe disabilities. It turned out that his mother always sang to him to communicate with him. As a result, he was able to sing professionally and speak barely.

Hence, my learning for 2009 – you never know what’s around the bend. Thanks for a great year, Chuck.

– Michael Garrett, School of Design at George Brown College

Become an daily innovation practitioner

The most important innovation lesson of 2009 is “innovate to adapt to change.” In transition economies, changes come fast. Everything is changing around us. In order to adapt, you have to innovate every day, learning from the present and the past, and preparing for the future. Even, “envisioning and learning from the future”.  You have to become an everyday innovation practitioner, both in the personal arena and in business.

– Jesús Sánchez Martorelli, La Oficina de Hoy C.A.

Your self image controls your level of personal innovation

Your ability to innovate rests largely on who you think you are. You are as innovative as your narrative allows you to be.

– Steve Banhegy, Steve Banhegyi & Associates

Organizations don’t have a deep understanding of innovation

Our most important lesson concerning innovation management this year was that enterprises often do not understand well what it means to innovate. The success of innovation often is measured with the same performance indicators as the core business, which results in small product changes being called innovation. However, innovation is hard work. It involves stepping back when necessary, rethinking a project or even cancelling it. The light bulb was not invented in one day. I hope that we see more willingness to take calculated risks next year.

– Jürgen H. Stäudtner, Cridon

Web 2.0 tools can accelerate innovation

I learned that Twitter, blogs, as well as other collaborative, web 2.0 and social media are useful tools to speed up innovation.

– Frank Calberg, Frank Calberg Services

Don’t let your knowledge limit your creativity

What you know may well prevent you from what you need to know. What do you know that just ain’t so?

– P. Garinger, Johnsonville Sausage

Firm-level innovation in developing economies is difficult but possible

In the last one year, I have been involved in additional studies on firm-level innovation in developing economies. My cases have been selected in Nigeria and one major stylised fact has become more obvious to me: contrary to what is generally assumed in the conventional literature, developing country firms also innovate, though their efforts are largely hindered by several factors. For instance, in one of the most recent studies that we carried out, we found no difference in the focus of SMEs on either of product or process innovations, but there was much evidence in support of the fact that should they decide to innovate, SMEs would focus more on incremental product and process innovations. Incremental innovation was established as very important for SMEs in developing economies and as a significant predictor of product quality but not of revenue.

We concluded on that basis that a focus on the firm’s existing core market through a deep understanding of the needs of customers and the ability to continuously improve products/processes to meet those needs is very important. Besides other benefits, this helps the firm to contribute more towards the development of the local economy. We challenge the call for extensive new product development and the desire to enter new markets, especially through exports. Given the nascent needs of developing countries, should their firms which are not adequately serving the needs of the local economy still produce for export? That, perhaps, is a question that would generate a lot of arguments. Nonetheless, it is useful for developing nations to continually look inwards and redirect their energies towards the areas where they may have comparative advantage which could be deployed for building competitive advantage in the nearest future.

– Abiodun A. Egbetokun, National Centre for Technology Management, Nigeria

Have fun: be creative

During 2009 we have learned that the fun-factor is extremely important to find the pattern breaking ideas. We launched the Idea Game, a board game with built in tools and methods.

Using drivers like fun, competition, gaming and an hour glass to keep momentum is a winning concept, even in a multicultural group.

 We used the game in a workshop at the climate conference in Copenhagen with participants from the Nordics, Columbia, USA, Italy, Portugal and Africa with great success.

– Thomas Hagbard, Realize AB

Ask the right questions

Again and again I have learned the importance of asking the “right” questions. They can open or destroy a (brainstorming) session.

– Henrik Lau, Flensby & Partners A/S

Open innovation is on the rise

My biggest lesson learned for 2009 was that creative new ideas and innovation wait for no one. No matter how creative or innovative you are as a team or individual  if you do not have the innovation components like proper funds, institutional priority, resources to make innovation happen in the right time at the right place your innovation may not even see the light of day. I think the year 2010 will be the year of open innovations where we will see more organizations and institutions focusing on open innovations where bright minds, corporate and educational institutions will come together and will work in collaboration to innovate and sustain it rather than working in isolation.

– Dr. Jyotsna Dikshit, Indira Gandhi National Open University

Don’t let innovation get bullied in your company

My son’s elementary school launched an impactful program this year that I have leveraged called The Power of One: “I will not bully others. I will not stand by when others are bullied. I will report bullying whenever I see it. I have the Power of One.”

My adaptation of this in practice at Motorola this year: I will not let innovation languish or die. I will not stand by when others attempt to thwart innovation. I will actively intervene and provide support to risk-takers. I have the Power of One.”

– Maria B. Thompson, Motorola

Seek ideas from your employees

The world is still trembling with recession waves. A big question, how to beat up and reduce costs?  Companies should think of approaching employees to share their creative and innovative thoughts. Of course, creativity and innovation is a dose for our all tribulations.  Nowadays, companies are facing transitory challenges that demands for innovation. But a popular perception is that innovation is risky and expensive. Definitely, an innovation would be more reliably churns out new growth business and profits.  Companies can craft an innovation strategy, implement an innovation process, create innovation structures, and invest in innovation systems can dramatically increase the returns on their innovation efforts.

– Mirza Kazimulla Baig, Almajdouie Group

The Innovation Age is upon us

Innovation can no longer be a side show for any company.  Every organization, of every size, in every industry must innovate or ultimately fail.  Innovation has rapidly become, and will continue to be, a way of business life.

In our new Innovation Age, successful companies will be those that fully integrate innovation in every facet of their organization including their people, processes and technology.  All innovations must be pursued from the shockingly simple improvements to the amazingly new or complex ideas.  In the Innovation Age, the recognition, development and implementation of ideas are essential components of all successful businesses.  The Innovation Age is upon us…

– Mick Simonelli, USAA Innovation

Adapt and leverage the ideas of others

The most important lesson I learned is do not start from scratch to come up with an innovative idea or product.  Look to what others have done, thought of, or produced and start from there.

– A. Alammar, JOSLOC

Innovation needs top-level executive support

The primary lesson I’ve learned this year is that innovation is extremely difficult if not impossible to implement if there is no buy-in by upper management.

– Kevin Crary, Northern Engraving Corporation

Web 2.0 tools can help to drive innovation

I spent 2009 talking to clients about the use of Web 2.0 tools to foster innovation. Why don’t we use Facebook to create innovator communities inside companies? Or use Slideshare to build a ad-hoc knowledge management system for a company? Or start using YouTube channels to promote our product instead of (very expensive) open TV ads? Or implement open innovation schemes using the WebStorm product from Bright Idea (which I tried in two or three clients)?

An informal poll among my clients revealed that over 90% of them have all these sites blocked to users for corporate “security reasons.” Executives argued that people would avoid work and spend too much time doodling on Facebook and such! I said “the problem is not technology, if people want to play on working hours they will use anything available. But I did not get much further.

In one case, we were sitting with the complete management team of a utility company and (without knowing what would happen) I tried to go to the YouTube page… it was blocked. So I connected my Blackberry and logged in anyway. Then I typed the name of the company into the search bar and bingo! First video on the list was a 3-minute, very aggressive, even violent video of an angry customer of this company walking around the customer service modules – all of which were empty at normal working hours, because of lunch and talking about their disastrous service, poor product, bad attitude. The management team was shocked. Of course they should be. Most of them had never even used YouTube… and they had blocked access to everybody. No wonder. Lesson: Innovation 2.0 still seems to be lot of good wishes from consultants, but the corporate world is still far from using or even accepting these new tools as part of everyday work.

– Guillermo Beuchat, TRANSFORME Consultores

Know your organization’s gatekeepers

Understand your organization’s gate keepers! In many organizations I have worked with, there are the VP’s who control the purse strings and can authorize operational changes. At the other end of the food chain, are the workers who make things run. Between the two are an assorted number of managers who tend to control different silos based on business operations or functionality. For an innovation to become reality it generally requires resources and ability to change the way things are currently being done.

In many organizations, an idea has to move up to the VP level then move back down to the silos that will be impacted. As it moves up the food chain it has to pass each gate keeper. Key gate keepers can help or kill the innovation. Once it makes it up to the VP level it generally has to find an executive sponsor to champion it. Managers of areas being impacted can still undermine the innovation. However, strong executive sponsorship can overcome resistance up to a point. Innovations seen as challenging the corporate culture are more likely to be resisted by silo managers.

So if you want innovation to work, you have to understand the organizations gate keepers. Through this understanding you will learn what innovations have a chance of being adopted. More importantly you will understand the politics within the organization that has to be overcome for an innovation to be adopted. As a side note, you will also likely find that only the innovations embraced by key gate keepers will ever be adopted by the organization.

In organizations with a sound business strategy you will likely also find that adopted innovations embraced tend to reinforce and enhance key parts of the organization’s business strategy. So take a look at innovations that have succeeded and failed within your organization and map out your gate keepers. Then put together a profile of what characteristics are required of a innovation for it to be adopted by these key gate keepers. It may seem to restrict innovation however, these limitations exist recognizing these limitations will allow you to focus your energies on innovations that have a chance of overcoming the gate keepers.

– Alexander J. Keenan, Kroger Company

Companies are focused on implementation, not just ideas

The recurring lesson we saw this past year was a greater customer insistence on implementation as part of the proposal process (with sporadic push back on change management), less attraction for general creativity, and more emphasis on examples of successful innovation.

– Jim Burke, TASC Advisory Service

P.S. Participation in this annual article series has been steadily declining during the last few years. Has this idea outlived its usefulness, or do you still find value in it? Please share your thoughts in the comments area below. Thank you!

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