Too often, the whole concept of innovation, and I mean, real, true innovation, is kind of a foreign thing to many companies. They treat their whole innovation function as simply a marketing play, not even an R&D play. They spend a ton of money, time and resources to develop cool new things, only to kill them before they can get into the development pipeline.
The reasons for this are numerous:
- The established order within the company sees innovation as a fun toy to be played with, but not a serious business
- The established order is aware that the innovation is the next true path of the company, but is afraid to admit it (hubris)
- The established order is unaware that the innovation that they are building internally will eventually replace their business
- The established order figures that business is doing fine, and any innovation from outside is not a real serious threat
- The established order thinks that innovation efforts establish the companies “coolness” but little else
- All of, or a combination of, the above.
I’ve run innovation programs at some pretty big firms and I can tell you that the surest way to kill innovation is to have a program which extracts it, then does nothing with it. Your innovators may release one or two ideas to you, but if those don’t go anywhere, then they usually keep the rest to themselves, maybe to start their own startup with that idea. That kind of stuff is rampant here in the Bay Area.
Innovation is not marketing. Innovation can be fun, but it is serious. Innovation is the future of your business. It is corporate strategy. Interesting how calling something “corporate strategy” makes it sounds essential, and something that is core to your business and must never, ever be cut due to lack of funding, and innovation, which some like, oh, some fun things that we do on the side which we can easily do without when the times are tight.
That is the exact opposite of what should be happening. Your innovation groups ARE (or should be, if they aren’t) your corporate strategy. Its where you are going as a company. Or at least it should be.
So I say unto you – examine the innovation function within your organization, then go big or go home. Is innovation simply a marketing play, or is it producing serious, badass thought leadership which is steering your company?
How can you tell? Simple. Look at your innovation program, not by number of ideas generated, or number of prototypes built, or even numbers of white papers or blog posts written. Look at it from a single data point “How many of these ideas are in use by our customers, internal or external, today?”
If you have generated 2000 ideas, and built 100 prototypes and not a single idea has found its way into production, your innovation program is marketing.
If that’s the case, I’d say, shut down your program and give the money to marketing instead. Or pad your compensation programs because your company will not be around for much longer, and you may as well have a decent exit strategy.
Your innovation program is your child. It is your future. It is the future of your company. If it isn’t, then your company has no future.