The ten commandments of germinating innovation


Increasing innovation is now the mantra of many executives as they seek to address key developments like sustainability and regulatory change or boost performance in areas like cost reduction or service levels. Considerable attention and resources is now being paid to identifying and implementing organizational strategies that cultivate product, operations and workflow innovation.  

My experience over the past 20 years – which is now buttressed by ample scholarship – is that it is easy to make innovation a corporate priority but it’s a lot harder to germinate it within the organization.  Typical barriers include an inhospitable culture, lack of leadership and sub-optimal management practices. 

Fortunately there are now best practices to fostering innovation in organizations regardless of industry.  Some of these include:

1.         Enable the employee

Innovative enterprises like 3M and Google require employees to spend a specific amount of time on “creative” projects even at the expense of their daily responsibilities.  These firms also design performance measurement and reward systems that reinforce innovation goals. 

2.         Break down organizational silos

Innovation flourishes when there is a rich exchange of data, learnings and technologies between business units, people and functions.  A variety of approaches including knowledge management tools and departmental transfers can help facilitate this cross-pollination.   

3.         Encourage diversity

To avoid groupthink and shared bias, innovative firms focus on hiring and cultivating diversity within their staff, project and management groups.  Diversity, in terms of intellectual approach, is also encouraged in critical areas like analytics and problem solving.  

5.         Create shared values

To take root within a company, innovation must become embedded within the cultural norms and practices.  This requires strong and consistent, top-down executive support as well as a solid business case and company-wide alignment.   

6.         Use stretch goals

Management can trigger innovation by setting aggressive stretch goals around revenue and profit.  When properly used, stretch goals harness a team or individual’s stress and anxiety to look beyond existing strategies towards breakthrough thinking.

6.         Evaluate realistically

Not surprisingly, typical short-term financial measures like payback and ROI are not suitable to evaluate unique innovations, particularly when key information like market size is unavailable.  At an early stage in the innovation project, other metrics like consumer appeal should carry more weight.  To avoid expensive failures, companies also need a gating process that quickly kills off poor innovations. 

7.         Aim for home runs but welcome the small wins

Home run innovation like Apple’s iPad can deliver major rewards but so can a number of smaller improvements, which together, can increase product value, streamline operations or reduce delivered cost.  Small wins also have the benefit of building internal momentum and nurturing organizational learning.  

8.         Engage outsiders

Given the speed of technological change and globalization, virtually no company can innovate by themselves anymore.  Savvy innovators like P&G engage academics, suppliers and customers around the world for good ideas.   As well, emerging open innovation models like crowdsourcing are bringing the ideas and thinking of the masses into the firm.  

9.         Focus on Commercialization

For many firms, innovation is only about R&D.  Insufficient attention is paid to getting the innovation to market in a timely, effective and cost-efficient manner. Truly successful innovators like Apple and GE fully leverage their ideas by being expert at commercialization including marketing, sales and product management.  

10.       Be patient

Innovation usually does not happen overnight.  The innovation process is often unpredictable and false starts are inevitable.   Furthermore, it often takes a long time to refine the idea and commercialize the innovation.    

Getting these elements right will create the right conditions for innovation to flourish.  However, some firms could still under-perform because of a variety of institutional biases and strategic misconceptions.  These will be discussed in an article next week.

For more information on our services and work, please visit the Quanta Consulting Inc. web site.

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2 comments so far

  1. […] In our experience helping firm’s germinate innovation, strategizing on OI is a lot easier than making it work.  The following are some of our best practices: […]

  2. […] In our experience helping firm’s germinate innovation, strategizing on OI is a lot easier than making it work.  The following are some of our best practices: […]


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