Innovation to the core

By Rowan Gibson

Could you describe your company’s “corporate innovation system”? Ask this question inside most organizations and all you get is a blank stare. It’s obvious that, in the vast majority of firms, innovation is still more buzzword than core competence.

Yet a few leading-edge players – including GE, IBM, P&G, Whirlpool, Shell, Cemex, Best Buy, and W.L. Gore – are demonstrating that large industrial organizations really can tackle the challenge of innovation successfully in a broad-based and highly systemic way.

What these companies understand is that it’s entirely possible to make innovation an “all-the-time, everywhere” capability, something that becomes part of the organization’s bloodstream – just like quality, for example.

Instead of ascribing innovation to a mysterious mix of happenstance, individual brilliance and the occasional bolt of lightning, the first thing we need to do is demystify the innovation process. If you want to create a high-performance “innovation engine” inside your organization, you need to recognize and address three cultural preconditions for making breakthroughs happen: creating time and space in people’s lives for reflection, ideation and experimentation; maximizing the diversity of thinking that innovation requires; and fostering connection and conversation – the “combinational chemistry” that serves as a breeding ground for breakthrough ideas.

Next, you need a methodology for systematically generating novel strategic insights – these are the raw material for innovation breakthroughs. There are four specific kinds of insights that enable innovators to discover new and unexploited opportunities of real value. These are: company and industry orthodoxies that deserved to be challenged, trends and discontinuities that could potentially reshape the business landscape, competencies and assets that could be leveraged to create opportunities beyond the boundaries of the existing business, and emergent but as yet unaddressed customer needs.

Once your company has built a foundation of novel strategic insights using these four “lenses of innovation”, the next step is to “crash” various insights together to see if the collision opens up new opportunities for innovation. Radical business innovations are almost always the product of “creative collision” – i.e. they are based on a combination of insights, ideas and domains that don’t usually belong together. It is also imperative to examine each component of your company’s (or your industry’s) business model, using insights from the “four lenses” to uncover opportunities for industry reinvention.

This article continues on Blogging Innovation, edited by Braden Kelley.

Rowan Gibson is a global business strategist, a bestselling author and an expert on radical innovation. He is also one of the world’s most in-demand public speakers. Rowan’s books have been translated into over 20 languages. His latest book, Innovation to the Core, is published by Harvard Business School Press. Rowan is now partnering with Imaginatik to offer advanced “Innovation-as-a-Service” solutions to the world’s leading corporations. Meet both Rowan and Braden at the Innovation Leaders Forum Feb. 16 in New York City.

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