I've seen innovation successes and failures in all five of Bob Rosenfeld's innovation system categories. With only a cursory understanding of these, I tried to think through examples of each from my personal experience, keeping a mental talley of successes vs. failures. The results were surprising - first here's my quick scorecard...
1. Originator-assisted - a process that helps employees transform their own ideas into business opportunities (usually driven bottom-up). It's hard to remember how many ideas I've had myself that I immediately dismissed as too hard to implement in the given organizational culture. I can't even begin to imagine what the numbers would be like across an entire organization. I've had the most successes when my area of expertise was unique within an organization, allowing me to present ideas that others couldn't second guess, and that didn't threaten their areas of expertise. Wins: a handful; Losses: a universe full.
2. Targeted innovation - a process for developing solutions to meet a specific need (usually driven top-down). I've personally seen this fail once, and never seen it succeed. The effort, which was scoped as a turn-around project, was a noble attempt. It pulled in management-identified thought leaders from across the organization with heavily promoted customer input. It was well funded, with an executive champion that was well respected guiding the project. So what happened? A number of new processes were suggested to elicite creativity which ended up having an opposite affect. The thought leaders involved became so focused on doing the thing right, that they forgot to do the right thing. Since the project had a limited time span, it ended without producing the desired turn-around results, and the organization returned to business as usual. What might have happened if that funding had been invested into creating and seeding a permanent innovation processes, rather than as a short-term effort? And what if we simply picked the wrong people to participate? Wins: 0; Losses: 1.
3. Internal venturing - a launching process for new businesses that do not fit the company's current lines of business. Years ago I worked for a consulting services company which was a wholy-owned subsidiary of a major software vendor. More than likely, this was an acquisition, and given the huge differences in overhead structures it made sense to keep the businesses separate. ,More recently I worked for a non-profit with a membership of companies. Over the years they spun off two other non-profits, one with a membership consisting of US States, and another that served the public interest (no members). None of these organizations would have been viable as extentions of "parent" organization's lines of business. They all exist today so I will list them all as wins. Wins: 3; Losses: 0.
4. Continuous improvement - a process for incremental improvements that, in their aggregate, lead to cost savings or increased quality. This one is tough because the results of incremental improvements can be hard to notice. In government contracting, the client's requirements are what pushes innovation. It's less common to see these companies turn their attention internally, but I've seen efforts at . At the non-profits, on the other hand, change is slow. I'll rank an organization where I saw efforts resulting in any kind of positive outcome as a win. Where I saw no effort applied at all, I'll rank count it as a loss. But if I saw effort applied, and no positive change at all, I'll be generous and rank it a tie. Wins: 2 (both unremarkable); Losses: 3; Ties: 2.
5. Strategic transfer - a process of transferring technology or knowledge from one point to another for the purpose of leveraging capabilities. This type of innovation is pretty common in my experience, but like the previous category, tends to go unnoticed - it's just an expected part of the business. I racked my memory for some remarkable examples, but none come to mind.. Wins: numerous (yet unremarkable); Losses: a handful.
Based on this rough analysis, we should focus on increasing the success rate in the first category, which is the goal of most ideation-based innovation processes. Secondly, we need to increase attempts in the third category, internal venturing. One aspect of this is to increase our awareness of alternative businesses models. Perhaps it's time to buy that book on my Amazon wish list?
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