Top Innovators Manage Innovation as a Discipline
After three years of extensive research and interviews on innovation success factors, we have found that one of the key contributors to innovation performance is that top innovators manage innovation as a discipline, just like sales or operations. They expect consistent performance and they achieve consistently higher performance than their not so disciplined peers, by some accounts 12 times higher performance.
Relatively speaking and contrary to popular belief, brainstorming ideas is a weak contributor to overall innovation success. On the other hand, innovative strategy development is critical. An analysis of over 100 presentations from leading innovation executives, and a review of the state of innovation research from academia and experts, reveal that managing innovation as a discipline trumps many entrepreneurial fads being purported as the next great innovation thing. Innovation success is more aligned with the 20-mile mule march story portrayed in Jim Collins’ Great by Choice.
At one innovation conference where executives presented their approaches towards and struggles with their innovation endeavors, one presenter from 3M stood out from the rest. During her presentation, she focused more on innovation results than on challenges. During the Q&A section, she was matter of fact on how innovation was part of everyday life at 3M. I needed to do my own research to find out why she was surprised that innovation was so challenging for some of the other presenting Fortune 500 innovation executives.
As our research converged, we discovered that innovation can actually be easily managed as a discipline for accelerated performance. It requires a company to rethink how they develop strategy. They must integrate innovation in their planning and then execute to the new innovative strategy. The act of innovating or execution is also different because highly innovative companies are replacing outdated stage-gate and project approaches with Agile workflow models. This trend follows in the footsteps of manufacturers adopting Lean and software companies adopting Agile to remain competitive when their worlds became more complex and time demands for results collapsed.
One of 3M’s advantages is that innovation is managed as a mature discipline. It is standardized and ingrained in the business. This is important to know because it removes the mystical lure from certain current academic promotions to be more entrepreneurial. Innovation is just another function like sales or operations and comes with its own set of processes. Designing these processes enables companies to shed the project management shackles inhibiting innovation performance.
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