Whether creating growth strategies, developing new products and services, or designing new business processes, our approach rests upon eight innovation principles that are woven into every client engagement. These principles are:
- Challenge Business Boundaries
- Garner Support From Above And Within
- Develop Industry Foresight
- Engage Consumers and Customers
- Leverage Core Competencies and Technologies
- Understand Organizational Readiness
- Take A Disciplined Approach to Implementation
- Build An Organizational Capacity For Sustainable Innovation
1. Challenge Business Boundaries
Our mental models and orthodoxies shape the way we act and the results we ultimately achieve. For many companies, realizing new growth opportunities is limited by thinking that’s constrained by existing assumptions. Assumptions about consumers, customers, business models, the competition, “the way we do things here”, and about what the future may hold – these all represent business boundaries that restrict our ability to envision and pursue potential opportunities.
Market leadership is not created through timid, mundane, incremental thinking – myopic, inwardly-focused, home-grown business strategies, uninspired product extensions or packaging tweaks. Truly breakthrough innovation revolutionizes and reshapes an industry, causes markets to be disrupted and gives birth to whole new industries, business models and product categories. We are what we think – the opportunity, then, is to rethink our basic operating assumptions.
Breaking down business boundaries calls for expansive vision, courageous decision-making and committed follow-through, which often fly in the face of the status quo. Not every company is up for the challenge – which makes the rewards all the more attractive for those that are.
2. Garner Support From Above And Within
Change efforts often fail because the outcomes are “Not Invented Here” – silver bullet solutions imposed by senior management, or developed outside the organization in some sort of consultant think tank – and handed down for implementation after a final presentation.
Our experience shows that active participation in the innovation process builds “Strategic Alignment” among key stakeholders at many levels within your company. Only by creating inspired and passionate enthusiasm for the outcomes can there be any chance of successful implementation.
3. Develop Industry Foresight
Many companies have surprisingly little notion of where their industry is heading, rarely looking beyond their own boundaries, too busy fighting today’s fires to take the time to truly understand what is driving their operating environment and how it may evolve. It is rather like sitting in a small sailboat not knowing the weather conditions that lie ahead – completely out of control, entirely at the whim of the fates.
Only by developing “Industry Foresight” – a deep understanding of the drivers, trends, dislocations, opportunities and enablers of an industry – can an organization hope to establish a participation strategy that creates a leadership position in the marketplace.
4. Engage Consumers and Customers
Most companies would claim to be consumer/customer-driven, but are often just paying lip service to the notion – many have very little insight into the behaviors, perceptions and needs of their consumers. While large sums are often spent on consumer research, this typically produces historically – focused data that does not provide insights sufficient to drive the development of breakthrough products, services and new categories. Consumer/customer involvement in product development often consists of traditional focus groups, which usually seek response to internally – generated product concepts – rather than generating new concepts.
This is a missed opportunity, and does little to surface unarticulated needs. While ethnographic approaches are gaining ground in some sectors, working with consumers at the “fuzzy front end” is very new. Consumer/customer participation in corporate strategy development is practically unheard of. There is a tremendous opportunity in involving consumers/customers (and suppliers and other external stakeholders, etc.) as true partners in the innovation process by experimenting with non-traditional Consumer/Customer Insight approaches. Since few companies are currently exploring these types of novel methods, this approach can lead to significant competitive advantage.
5. Leverage Core Competencies and Technologies
A solid understanding of a company’s “core competencies” provides a pragmatic backdrop against which ideas can be assessed and shaped into practical investment-worthy opportunities. Even when an organization possesses deep insight into consumer/customer needs and future trends, transforming ideas into action is an uphill battle unless you have a keen sense of your inherent strengths and ability to leverage and build upon your core technologies.
To truly leverage core competencies for Strategic Innovation, consideration of both technical and operating capabilities is essential – capabilities that are integral to an organization’s success, that yield significant customer benefits, and that provide competitive differentiation. Such competencies may include unique relationships with suppliers and partners, brand equity, organizational speed and agility, innovative business practices and proprietary technology.
That said, it is critical for an organization to be “opportunity-driven”, not “competency-limited”. In other words, if an organization currently lacks the competencies to pursue an opportunity, it must remain open to moving beyond “go-it-alone” thinking and to extending its current capabilities through partnerships.
6. Understand Organizational Readiness
There are times for dreaming and visioning, and then there are times for down-to-earth pragmatism. We refer to these as “Divergent” and Convergent” modes of thinking. During the innovation process it is critical to embrace each mode at the appropriate time.
In order to deliver tangible business value, it is essential to have a clear understanding of a company’s “Organizational Readiness” – its ability to act upon and implement innovative ideas and strategies, and to effectively deal with the operational, political, cultural and financial demands that will follow. Using a variety of tools we assess your organization’s capacity for innovation, identify specific issues, and create an approach for overcoming organizational barriers.
7. Take A Disciplined Approach to Implementation
While it is not easy to produce creative, visionary strategic thinking, perhaps the greater challenge lies in successfully implementing that thinking in a way that delivers meaningful business impact. For example, generating new product ideas is not necessarily that hard. It is in the act of execution – where the rubber meets the road – that innovation efforts most frequently slip off the rails. It is here that an organization must demonstrate its ability to translate a Power Point presentation full of good ideas to the bottom line, by tenaciously negotiating the obstacle-ridden path to business results.
In the context of Strategic Innovation, the term “implementation” may include a broad set of activities that call for support and involvement in different parts of the organization – the transition from the “fuzzy front end” to specific projects; technical product development, design and prototyping; product concept refinement, including qualitative and quantitative testing; developing new business practices or creating new organizational structures to support the new opportunity; hiring and training; brand development; creating collateral materials; gaining broader organizational buy-in; establishing consumer/customer feedback loops for continuous improvement. The work of Strategic Innovation often has profound implications in terms of operational, structural and business process change. In some cases the effort calls for building a new “business-within-a-business” – clearly a demanding and complex undertaking.
When an organization has put the finishing touches to its roster of innovative ideas – for potential new products, growth strategies, new White Space opportunities to pursue, new markets to enter, or new business processes – it finds itself now at the critical transition point from right-brained “Idea Generation” or “Strategy Development” to left-brained “Project Management”. This is where the innovation process transitions from ambiguous and exploratory to concrete and operational.
8. Build An Organizational Capacity For Sustainable Innovation
No company can count on building a secure future by relying on “innovation by accident or good fortune”. Equally it makes no sense to simply “call in the consultants” once a year, or for a fire drill when someone feels the need for “another round of innovation”. These approaches are neither pragmatic nor sustainable.
To succeed in the long term, an organization must create a capability for ongoing, sustainable innovation. It will need to intentionally build an innovation-focused culture and develop innovation practices, processes and methodologies that are appropriate for the organization. This takes time, requires impassioned internal champions, and must be supported at the top and throughout the organization, both in words and in day-to-day practice. The organization will need to continuously improve and evangelize these efforts, and to regularly communicate the labors, the failures and the fruits. Though it may seem a daunting task the rewards of sustainable innovation are great.
We believe that the future belongs to organizations that passionately embrace an innovation mindset – a mindset that is deeply felt in the hearts and minds of the culture at large, and demonstrated daily in the actions of its change agents and future leaders.