Strategy is defined as “an adaptation or complex of adaptations that serves or appears to serve an important function in achieving evolutionary success.” So, it is obvious why innovation needs strategy in order to reach the successful outcome it wants. Strategy and innovation can, and should, work together in a virtuous cycle strategic direction guides the search for ideas, and the patterns in our ideas inform and shape the evolution of strategic direction.
An innovation strategy should be about creating constant differentiation in order to maintain distance from the nearest competitor. But, next generation competitive advantage will be delivered not necessarily by ‘what’ an organization does but more likely by ‘how’ it does it and that means capitalizing on innovation in order to define new areas of opportunity instead of competing to be ‘better’ in existing ones.
I recently sat down with Don Creswell, cofounder and principal consultant at SmartOrg, to discuss the role of innovation strategy these days and just how critical it has become for businesses to grow. SmartOrg is a provider of software and services to help companies evaluate their opportunities and make the best decisions to invest.
The company was founded in 2000 based on a simple idea: give customers what they needed to improve their capability around strategic decision-making. Since then, SmartOrg has combined decades of experience with rigorous decision analysis and psychology into set of approaches and enabling software that helps organizations build better decision processes.
When it comes to successful innovation execution, companies face some big hurtles, according to Creswell, Specifically, there tends to be a lack of consistent process or a too rigid a process; along with the inability to tolerate failure.
“Innovation is a learning process as the idea moves beyond ideation and into development and most innovation, particularly new products, has a very high failure rate,” he explained. “Betting on one horse as opposed to managing an innovation portfolio to balance risk vs. reward, acknowledging that innovation is a risky business and you need to play the odds.”
Another inhibitor, he said, is trying to place financial measures on an innovation too early in the process. When developing a strategy, you need to be flexible, develop a set of “proof points” along the development path and be willing to change direction early on.
Creswell suggests providing an atmosphere that encourages creative thinking in order to foster a healthy internal innovation culture. “Reward both success and failure. Do not saddle new ideas with all the burdens of corporate overhead. Treat innovative products as you would a new venture. Seek innovators with a passion and give them room to move forward,” he added.
It is no surprise that SmartOrg is an expert in the innovation strategy space as companies like HP and Dow Agroscience use its services to take early stage ideas and develop them into winning businesses. But, even with SmartOrg’s great success strategizing for others, it has overcame big obstacles in its own innovation strategy.
“Trying to institutionalize innovation and make it subject to a rigid process. People are innovators, not corporations,” Creswell said.
Leadership is also a key aspect of developing a corporate innovation strategy. Creswell advises not to hire a VP of Innovation and expect fast results; encourage everyone to put forth ideas for improvement; provide those with implementable ideas (not just creative thoughts); and use agile development methodologies to monitor success.
He added, “Give me one committed innovator rather than 1,000 ideas.”
Meet Creswell and the SmartOrg team in just a couple of weeks at BEI Back End of Innovation in Santa Clara, California November 18-20th. Learn more about BEI 2013 here: http://bit.ly/1b7s5I5
About the Author: Amanda Ciccatelli, Social Media Strategist of the Marketing Division at IIR USA, has a background in digital and print journalism, covering a variety of topics in business strategy, marketing, and technology. Amanda is the Editor at Large for several of IIR’s blogs including Next Big Design, Customers 1st, and ProjectWorld and World Congress for Business Analysts, and a regular contributor to Front End of Innovation and The Market Research Event,. She previously worked at Technology Marketing Corporation as a Web Editor where she covered breaking news and feature stories in the technology industry. She can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her at @AmandaCicc.