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Sound Guidance From Four Top Practitioners

| On 03, Mar 2008

James Todhunter

It is always interesting to hear the insights of leading innovation practitioners.  The article, “Instituting Innovation: Tell-all advice from 4 leading practitioners”, posted on Core77 doesn’t disappoint in this regard.  Here Arkadi Kuhlmann, CEO of ING Direct Bank; Ken Koziol, Corporate Senior Vice President for the Restaurant Solutions Group at McDonalds Corporation; Matt Mayfield, Senior Director for Mobile Devices of Motorola; and David Lawrence, Senior Manager of the Bicycle Product Development and Marketing division of Shimano, contribute their thoughts on how to build an innovation program.


[IMG title=”Four Companies” style=”FLOAT: right; MARGIN: 0px 0px 5px 5px” alt=”Four Companies” src=”http://www.innovatingtowin.com/innovating_to_win/images/CompanyMontage.JPG” border=0]


In each case, an approach to innovation has been taken that is aligned with the general character of the company.  Factors such as culture, innovation readiness, and industry rate of change influenced the decisions of which direction to take.  And while the four companies demonstrate examples of the incubator, diffused participation, and tactical project driven approaches, there are common threads that run though all of the examples.


There is recognition that innovation is a process, not an event.  In this process, there are many different actors which contribute different skill sets along the way.  When building your innovation process, it is important to think about the different stages of innovation as a product moves through early stage ideation, conceptual materialization, validation and delivery, and the various skills that you need to have represented in the innovation team to be successful.


All four of the practitioners agree that innovation needs to speak to the customer to deliver value and hence success.  Listening to your clients and understanding what they are trying to tell you are critical elements in any successful innovation practice.  Oddly, the author of the article, Brianna Sylver, distinguishes this from seeking innovation through technology advances.  However, the two approaches need not be at odds, they can be very synergistic.  High value technology innovation is always driven by a need.  Understanding the repeating patterns of technology innovation can be of tremendous value in finding the market winning approach to answering a customer need.


Once an interesting concept is identified, working with the organizations culture is key to achieving productive support.  Contrary to the just do it approach which is often advocated, these executives advise to not emulate Sisyphus with futile efforts working against the corporate terrain.  Instead, learn how the change mechanisms in your organization are structured and which methods will engender the best response.


The topic of measuring innovation success is also discussed.  However, proceed with caution when considering the comments here.  The discourse highlights an example from Shimano of a new coasting bike that has not met financial expectation.  This is used to bolster the argument that short term profit should not be the only metric of success.  In general, this is a valid point.  Success metrics should be well balanced and capture the whole view of the innovation program goals.  However, we should fall into the trap of trying to redefine success in order to salvage a poor result.  In is import to be coldly objective in evaluating outcomes.  The criteria of success should be defined from the start, and in so doing we should heed Clayton Christiansen’s advice to be patient on revenue, but impatient on profit.


Related to defining good success metrics is the notion that your innovation program should always be aligned with the company’s business objectives.  It should go without saying, yet this is where many organizations go astray.  As they strive to think out of the box, they begin to think themselves out of business.  Koziol says it very well, “You need to always be in sync with the company’s strategic vision.  You just can’t afford to be off strategy.”


All in all, this is some great advice from four practitioners who are accountable for innovation in their companies.  While each has created a program to fit their environment, there are common lessons for us all.  As you think about these lessons may mean to your own innovation program, keep in mind that while each of these companies has elected to focus on one model of innovation, many companies achieve great success with hybrid models that blend the best aspects of all three of the approaches represented by this group.


[Crossposted from www.InnovatingToWin.com]