‘Innovation’ overused but critical

Is ‘Innovation’ simply an overused, catchall buzzword that suppliers have latched onto to effectively position themselves with prospective clients? Perhaps there is some truth here, but isn’t innovation essential for survival?

Therefore an innovation strategy would seem fundamental for ongoing success, yet there aren’t a lot of signs that they exist? There are those who say companies have two choices: innovate or stagnate? But if this was the case wouldn’t more organizations prioritize the innovation function? How are organizations tapping into the creativity and potential of their workforce and customer base?

It’s my view, one of the primary roles of the modern leader is to explicitly provide support for the innovation process. I know it’s not an easy process, particularly within a context of limited resources and a reactive mentality to the demands for operational efficiency.

McKinsey research reveals a wide gap between the aspirations of executives to innovate and their ability to execute. Maybe the easiest place to start is by engaging employees and customers by asking insightful questions and then executing on simple changes.

Management guru Peter Drucker provided a prominent CEO a piece of advice that would transform the company: ‘Ask every employee to come to his or her weekly departmental meeting with an idea to improve the company or his or her work.’ The guidance was followed and was the catalyst to establishing ‘idea generation’ as a key element of the organizational culture.

“Idea-driven organizations are relatively rare today, but we believe that twenty years from now they will be commonplace. All over the world, fundamental macroeconomic forces – such as globalization, rapid economic growth in developing nations, and the rise of the Internet – are forcing organization of all kinds to do much more with less, and to dramatically increase the rate at which they innovate and improve.” The idea-driven organization: Unlocking the power in bottom-up Ideas.

An effective innovation process supports Albert Einstein’s truism that asking the right question trumps knowing the right answer. Once we create the right question and elicit feedback, we begin to discover views that were previously unimaginable.

In The Innovator’s Solution: Creating and Sustaining Successful Growth, Clayton D. Christensen, and Michael E. Raynor frame the right question in terms of what the product or service is hired to do by the customer.

No doubt organizational livelihood benefits from innovation, but how does the leader manage innovation? The answer begins with recognizing a chronic challenge. Christensen points out in Dilemma that innovation is limited by resources, processes, and values.

So when is the right time to alter the organizational structure so that innovation is embedded in the culture? Lafley and Charan argue in Game-Changer that enabling organizational architecture and its supporting systems are two primary framework elements for customer-focused innovation.

It’s my view (full disclosure – I have built an idea generation platform, Hunchbuzz.com) that perhaps the easiest place to start is by creating a simple and effective system to capture and execute on ideas (innovation) from within the work environment.

I don’t believe today’s organizations can wait 20 years for idea-driven platforms to be commonplace.

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