Archive for October, 2014

Musings: Timeless Mechanisms to Foster Innovation
October 9, 2014

“Innovation” is back in corporate America! It’s pervading the news, the literature and increasingly requested by my clients. It seems to me that the basic principles that fostered innovation 30 years ago are pretty similar today (though the digital mechanisms for employing them may be different).

In 1990 my then colleagues and I partnered with the Babson College Center for Entrepreneurial Studies to investigate existing practices of innovation in major US corporations. We reviewed the literature, conducted a survey and interviews with marketing and technological leaders from the Fortune 500 and engaged in a lively exchange at an Innovation Summit that we hosted in Cambridge, MA.

I’ll highlight our findings here…

We found four critical mechanisms necessary to foster innovation: (1) Strategic Commitment (vision & mission); (2) Resources (appropriate time, money and people resources); (3) supportive Structure & Systems and (4) Climate (e.g. environment, values, and corporate culture.)

Like parts of an ecosystem these components are interactive, integrated and iterative. Ideally all four are in place to be successful.

Strategic Commitment, often stemming from corporate vision, fuels the innovation process. It indicates the acceptance that things need to change, is articulated from the top and circulates through the organization. Strategic Commitment needs to be nourished at all levels through ongoing communications.

Our second factor has to do with Resources. Companies must set aside real resources (focused brainpower, time and money). The people side of the equation is fascinating. In my work today I still see how the combination of depth of expertise rubbing up against “naivety” is combustible (in a good way) and often produces the most novel and feasible ideas and solutions.

Our third mechanism is Structure and Systems, which involves such matters as whether innovation will be decentralized in a Venture group or “skunkworks” or more integrated into the central business. There are advantages and disadvantages to each approach. This includes Planning, Communications and Measurement and Evaluation systems, all of which are too complex to go into here.

Our fourth critical mechanism is creating a Climate or environment in which people will be able to innovate. On a micro-level I see how important this is in setting up a physical meeting space for conducting brainstorming. But it’s more than bringing in color and comfy chairs in terms of  a climate for innovation. Creating a corporate climate that will tolerate, even encourage risk taking is essential and hard for many business leaders to accept. “Fail early, fail fast, LEARN FROM IT and move on!” is the motto of the companies most successful at innovation. Visible support from leadership, even when failure occurs, sends a powerful message that the company is serious about their innovation mandate.

Want to know more? Send me a note.

Warm regards,

Laurie Tema-Lyn

laurie@practical-imagination.com

 

 

 

 

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