Tuesday, August 6, 2013

The Ins and Outs of Innovation

With BEI Back End of Innovation 2013 quickly approaching, we wanted to get an expert’s point of view on innovation strategy in today’s increasingly complex and competitive business landscape. We were in luck. Maria B. Thompson, Director of Innovation Strategy, Intellectual Asset Management, Office of the CTO at Motorola Solutions, recently sat down with us to discuss innovation strategy, execution, and culture.  Here is what she had to say:

IIR: What is a fundamental characteristic or skill to lead innovation?

Thompson: Abstract and analogous thinking skills are paramount to leading innovation. In order to coach and mentor others to unleash their collective creativity, one must be able to reframe problems and solutions in generic ways, so diverse-thinking non subject matter experts in the domain of the problem can engage, and bring their creative and novel perspectives to bear on a broader solution space.

“We cannot solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them.” Albert Einstein

IIR: What best practices support successful innovation execution? What typically stands in its way?

Thompson: The key aspect for successful execution on innovation is dedicated time and resources for conversion of the original idea to a commercial high-business-value product or service. In our experience, conversion must be treated as a first-class program deliverable, with time allocated in Program Plans and Performance Management evaluation systems. Our global Innovation Champions all have a Performance Management goal to spend 20 percent of their time on Innovation, which includes acting as evangelists for the best ideas and concepts that should be resourced and moved onto our product roadmaps.



IIR: What is the key to building an internal innovation culture?

Thompson: It takes a village. In other words, you need to have a “social” network of change catalysts committed to the innovation cause. We call these catalysts “Innovation Champions” and “Inventor Mentors.” These change catalysts are role models for innovation and inventing and co-resident at all global sites. They are selected for their past contributions to innovative products, features and services, and have performance goals they are measured on with regard to their efforts to support an innovation culture and to increase innovation yield within and across businesses.

IIR: What is the biggest obstacle you faced in your innovation strategy? How did you overcome it?

Thompson: Time and resource allocation. PDW, Performance Management… but mostly executive sponsorship. Without senior leadership supporting and visibly recognizing and rewarding employees for their efforts in prioritizing forward-looking work, people will prioritize “business-as-usual.”

IIR: What is a piece of advice you would give companies who are creating a corporate innovation strategy?

Thompson: Start by building on innovative work people are already doing. Prioritize the most important and strategic areas and communicate, communicate, communicate. Recognize ongoing efforts aligned with these priorities, support them, and reward them. Help everyone - across all functions- understand how they can contribute to the innovation pipeline – it is not only the engineering or research role to be innovative!

Thompson will be speaking at the upcoming BEI 2013 conference November 13-15 in Santa Clara, CA.


Amanda Ciccatelli, Social Media Strategist at IIR USA, has a background in digital and print journalism, covering a variety of topics in business strategy, marketing, and technology. She previously worked at Technology Marketing Corporation as a Web Editor where she covered breaking news and feature stories in the tech industry.  She can be reached at aciccatelli@iirusa.com. Follow her at @AmanadCicc. 


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