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Innovation: How Disciplined Is Your Company?

Posted By David Brousell, April 15, 2014 at 4:53 PM, in Category: The Innovation Enterprise

Most manufacturers would tell you that innovation is one of their most important activities. Without innovation, growth is stymied, the future becomes uncertain. Yet, according to a new Manufacturing Leadership Council poll on innovation-- primarily focused on small and medium-size companies--most manufacturers approach innovation less than rigorously and sometimes with a surprising informality.

Moreover, while many manufacturers consider innovation to be an important activity, the value placed on it is no more or less than that placed on other key pursuits such as operational efficiency or lean manufacturing. The problem becomes one of balance: only 15% of survey respondents say their companies are doing a very good job of balancing innovation with these other, equally important activities.

The big issue with innovation boils down to the management of the process itself. The survey reveals a host of interesting contradictions between manufacturers’ perceptions of their innovation prowess and their ability to execute on innovative ideas.

Only 28% of survey respondents, for example, rate their companies’ ability to convert a new idea to a product or service highly. At the same time, nearly half of survey takers hold the perception that their companies focus their time, money, and people on the ideas that will best move their businesses forward. But the rub is that only 23% say their companies have a systematic method or pipeline to centrally store and keep track of innovative ideas. And that’s the same low percentage who say they have an objective evaluation system to kill bad ideas and projects.

Perhaps most tellingly, only 17% say that their companies have an innovation process in place with clearly defined roles, responsibilities, and deliverables for stakeholders.

The same sort of contradictory scenario played out when survey respondents were asked about how their companies generate ideas. A majority said that customer insights and unmet needs drive their innovation efforts, but only 13% use market research to identify and validate those needs. Even fewer, 10%, use any kind of anthropological, ethnographic, social media, or customer research to discover those requirements.

Would greater discipline in the management of the innovation process help companies innovate better and faster? Frankly, there is no guarantee that even superb management of the process would produce an iPad-like breakthrough for your company. There is indeed an essential part of innovation that comes from the individual and cannot be programmed.

But a process that is better balanced in relation to other important activities, with fewer contradictions, and with less tension between aspiration and execution could only serve to help you execute even on ideas that can drive your business forward incrementally.

A full report on the survey’s results will be published in the June issue of the Manufacturing Leadership Journal.

Written by David Brousell

Global Vice President, General Manager and Editorial Director of the Manufacturing Leadership Council

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Posted on
David, I appreciate your pointing out the value of looking at innovation in a disciplined, systematic way. My engineering background tends to lean in that direction. In my work with various companies, I see two things that tend to enhance the level of employee innovation. Those are:
1) Systematically capturing and sharing what customers value in the current products, and what further needs they have
2) Clarity and transparency about the economics of the business, so employees can see how they can contribute to winning

These two provide a very fertile environment for innovation. I have been using a customer interview script with many of my coaching customers, which provides the basis for the first point. If you or any of your readers would like a copy, just send a request to me at bill.fotsch@openbookcoaching.com. On the second point, these two articles provide a good foundation: http://www.gilcommunity.com/blog/want-engaged-employees-try-opening-books/ and http://blogs.hbr.org/2013/12/a-winning-culture-keeps-score/
Posted on
Thanks for the input, Bill
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