08 May A missing link in innovation
Business leaders see constant innovation as the only way to prevail against increasing global competition. Innovation has become one of the most popular business buzzwords. Books on innovation frequently become best sellers. Magazine editors like to create lists and give awards to the most innovative products and companies. Trend spotters say that “Innovation Coach” is one the latest emerging job titles.
So what is the missing link? How do you foster innovation? Why do some innovation and technology efforts succeed and why do some fail?
Apple Computer was not the first company to sell a digital music player, or music online, but the iPod is considered one of the most innovative and best selling products in the market today.
At the 2006 World Economic Forum “Innovation” replaced “Outsourcing” as the hot topic of discussion, with 22 sessions falling under the heading “Innovation, Creativity and Design Strategy.”
Helen Johnson-Leipold, chairman and CEO of Johnson Outdoor and Johnson Financial Group speaking at a recent conference on innovation said, “The economy can not be an excuse for why business is bad and why it is good. We need to keep growing and innovation is how we grow.”
Despite all the attention, 96% of innovation initiatives fail. Even a small increase in success rate can be a major advantage for a business.
S.C. Johnson and their family of companies have embraced and fostered a culture of innovation since the depression, when Sam Johnson introduced “Glow Coat.” In spite of the economic downturn, consumers bought the product, and the company flourished and did not lay-off any employees during this tumultuous period for American businesses.
“Innovation and people are core family values to Johnson family,” said Johnson-Leipold. “It is all about people, they are our greatest asset and greatest source of innovation. We launch products that are better than what is out there. All four Johnson groups embrace that philosophy.”
Life science and information technology companies are producing some breakthrough ideas. Yet, some companies are more successful than others at commercializing their products and raising capital. Why is this occurring?
Confusing invention versus innovation
One of the pitfalls that many people fall into is to confuse invention and innovation. They are different. Innovation is process and not a product. Some managers think that innovation means a clever, novel form of invention. They will stress skills like problem solving, out of the box thinking, and conceptual blockbusting. All of these skills can produce ideas. But ideas are not enough, as adoption is the real test of innovation.
What is missing? According to Peter Denning, Director of the Cebrowski Institute for information innovation and superiority at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California, it is the individual’s skill at innovating.
Speaking to delegates at the World Technology Network Summit in November 2005, he said, “Most of the attention has been on business policies and processes that encourage innovation. That’s only half of the picture. The other half is the people of the organization, the human capital. If they don’t have the right skill set, organization policies will have marginal effect.” To make serious progress, Denning says, we have to understand what those skills are and cultivate them in our people.
This paradox between invention and innovation causes a great deal of frustration and often involves a great deal of time and expense.
Researchers often turn out many new ideas only to find out that that they are not commercially viable or accepted. “Good ideas don’t automatically win. Someone has to help them win,” says Denning.
How do you foster innovation?
Anyone can learn to be an innovator – “If they ask the right questions and learn the right practices,” added Denning. He has identified a seven-part framework called the “Personal Foundational Practices,” which can be taught to individuals and endorsed by organizations wishing to stimulate a culture of innovation.
Denning says that the seven foundation practices can be seen in the actions of all successful innovators, regardless of their personality, style, humor, charisma, extroversion, introversion, optimism and pessimism.
The first two practices are “sensing possibilities” and “envisioning new realities.” These are the essence of invention. Someone sees a new possibility to take care of concerns and tells a compelling, vivid story about how the world would work if the possibility were made real.
The third practice, “Offering,” is the flex point between invention and innovation. It is where the innovator offers to a community the possibility and a way to achieve it, and establishes his or her own credibility as a leader.
The majority of the work is in the next three practices, “executing,” “adopting,” and “sustaining.” The innovator establishes plans, builds teams, and delivers products. The innovator works with the community on adoption of the new way of doing things, and creates infrastructure to sustain the new way after adoption.
Leadership is the seventh practice. Leaders proactively make the other steps work. In fact, leaders are measured by their ability to produce innovations.
These conversations are not necessarily sequential, and often move forward and backward as learning and adoption take place. Innovators learn from mistakes and adapting to feedback from their communities. Denning, who has taught these principles for over fifteen years, suggests your organization can significantly improve its chances of success by having these conversations that facilitate group interaction and adoption of new ideas.
The Johnson family of companies provides a good model for companies seeking to launch innovative products. According to Johnson-Leipold, “Our Company has a commitment that starts at the top. Every top manager is responsible for driving innovation. It is a core of every meeting, business plan and operation strategy. Innovation is a part of every managers incentive program.”