The Innovation 'Function'

“Innovation” is often discussed in terms of the “idea” as the product and the formation of that idea as somehow unique and ineffable …
Light bulb / Eureka! / “I was in the shower when…”
There is a perception of serendipitous, Zen enlightenment related to ideation that is often accompanied by a thorough dismissal of “process,” as if they are mutually exclusive.

In that vision of the “innovation funnel” the idea is at the end… the goal. Attempts to harness or direct that creative energy are not only futile, but actually impede the process. At Imaginatik, we call this the “fluff and magic” vision of innovation where value can only be created by anointed innovation/design Shamans toiling in exposed brick and beam lab/temples.

True innovation practitioners are focused not only on the idea, but also on the “value(s)” of the innovation function that can be realized by the organization:

  • revenue,
  • stakeholder engagement,
  • personnel insight,
  • etc.

Neither process, nor technology alone holds the key to sustainable innovation success. It is the establishment of a scalable innovation “function” that provides sustainable value.

Back to the Shamans… building innovation capacity requires executive commitment, organizational and program design, stakeholder participation, a proven framework and powerful tools. Critically, it requires internal talent to nurture new capabilities and external partners to provide technology and experience. Illustrating that innovation “ecosystem” is really the first step towards developing a mature innovation function.

An innovation culture matures when all stakeholders take an active and ongoing role in developing positive change. Creatives and designers are part of that ecosystem, as are engineers and marketing execs… but innovation is not the exclusive domain of anyone.

Any organization can be innovative.
Breakthrough ideas can and do come from anyone.

The key is to establish an efficient conduit for information and ideas to flow.

Subject matter experts often have a hard time “thinking out of the box” because they’ve spent so much time… in the box! Crowdsourcing ideas from people who haven’t been told, “you can’t do that!” or “we’ve always done it this way” generates a much wider range of possibilities than you’re likely to get from the Shamans. It’s just one tactic in an organization’s innovation program, but it’s a good one!

For the innovation function to be effective, it needs to address the requirements of a broad group of innovation stakeholders whose interests overlap, but also diverge. The Chief Sustainability Officer appreciates the launch of a new revenue-producing product, but the goals he has set are more likely pertaining to carbon footprint and energy use. The HR Head values retention and employee satisfaction. The COO is focused on supply chain, etc. At Imaginatik, we refer to these different values as “currencies” when we are modeling the “value” of a project or a portfolio of innovation projects. Creating meaningful insight into currencies related to project evaluation is essential to prioritization and resource allocation. Too often, projects live and die based on internal competition or a managers’ charisma, title or other less relevant criteria. Decision makers need a way to objectively allocate resources over time.

The time aspect is key because the rates of change within an organization’s ecosystem are not constant. Things happen. When looking at emerging technologies, legislative and regulatory change, macroeconomics, competitor movement, evolving consumer behaviors, etc., events impact the context for innovation and the decision-making criteria related to the portfolio. A clear understanding of the dependencies and potentialities within the portfolio allows for rational assessments of risk and opportunity.

For deeper insight, Imaginatik is exploring the use of simulations to assess a project’s probability of success or failure within specific scenarios. It’s complicated and imperfect. Causal relationships are not always clear. We will never be able to see the future… but we can figure the odds! Some outcomes are more probable than others. The potential impact on enterprise resource allocation is great… if an organization has the innovation function maturity to be able to take advantage of it.

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