Twenty critical questions to be resolved for succeeding in innovation

Some time back I compiled a list of those critical areas that I felt need addressing for innovation to have a chance of success. Going through them again today and in light of different insights picked up on the way, I added more of a descriptor to each. I certainly think these reflect the struggles within innovation that need working upon constantly, so it has a better chance to succeed.

This revised thinking I feel has upgraded my own focal points as areas I will be exploring even further in my work in the period ahead.

What do you think? Do you think the list is missing something?

My upgraded thinking on the 20 top innovation aspects to master and resolve.

1. There seems so much ongoing difficulty to identify the real opportunities for innovation as there is often no structured approach to this, or even worse a poor recognition of any well formulated strategy, so allowing so many opportunities to fall through the gaps.

2.   Not generating and managing ideas that deliver real growth, mostly due to a lack of any effective decision-making process, organised governance and structure to manage this.

3.   A on-going failure in not effectively seeking out external insights in clear ways and lacking a capturing structure to achieve this, so simply restricting the real awareness of the external environment to the necessary person internally within the organization.

4.   The inability to draw down from a diverse set of networks, partners, systems and people and then connecting them in a ecosystem to acquire, transform or exploit this new knowledge for new innovation.

5.   Not setting the appropriate focus on innovation activities for value creation and making those critical points explicit enough within and across the organization, so leaving it too open to personal interpretation and fuzzyness, resulting in often disappointing end results.

6.   Not having a clear alignment to the Corporate Strategy for innovation, often missing the connections between formal and informal mechanisms needed for managing innovation.

7.   Having poor implementation that fails expectations as the ‘need’ of the end result was left far too vague or compromised somewhere between discovery and delivery.(see 5 also)

8.   Failing to recognize and build innovation capabilities across the organisation that deliver the appropriate mix of skills and experience by often not appreciating the significant differences between the types of innovation necessary and their unique characteristics to execute through these.

9.   Building the competencies to further strengthen change is based far to much on existing organizational cultures that focus on effectiveness and efficiency, failing to recognize this is often in conflict with innovation, that is requiring a far more open ended, adaptive approach.

10. Having different expectations and behaviours across the organisation, divergent opinions and significant disconnects of self-interest and petty politics that override innovation intent.

11. Continually having changing priorities and conflicting responsibilities by not successfully managing the conflict between short and long term needs that are required to be managed in a more structured, thoughtful way.

12. A lack of concerted effort to encourage collaboration across and outside the organization I would suggest is limiting organization design in flows and effectiveness for innovation success.

13. Diverse systems that restrict the flow of knowledge sharing and don’t capture and share those aspects that would, if overcome, would trigger fresh insight and growing awareness of valuable alternatives.

14. Inadequate understanding of consumer and customer needs as the front line engagement process is not alert enough or trained to discover these, or often don’t have a system in place to report these back in the knowledge and incentive that these are seen as important by the customer.

15. Localised innovation that does not engage the whole organisation and continues on a silo basis, pushed by local managers as their pet projects, starving more critical ones and not being well picked up due to a lack of a comprehensive innovation portfolio management system.

16. Largely being reactive to competition and not being proactive, due to this constant struggle to fully understand the external environment and failing to anticipate those future trends and where they fit in their implications for the organization and its innovation focus.

17. Lacking a leadership perspective of the “ideal” culture and climate to inspire innovation and really appreciating what real differences do motivate people at the different levels for them to participate and actively engage in innovation activity or simply not.

18. Not having enough time, resource and resolve to grow innovation activity, as innovation and its appropriate management has not been fully designated as a clear function, with designated accountability, well resourced and integrated within and across the organization.

19. Failure to exploit the know-how and IP within the organisation and explore its potential with partners, so its potential can be fully exploited and commercialised instead of often just left ‘gathering dust’ as simply a protected patent not being exploited.

20. No clear and distinct measures and metrics to drive the innovation process effectively across the organisation and for the individual to relate to, that aligns the efforts with promoting and exploiting innovation as part of everyone’s responsibility.

The implication of this list or even simply parts of it

The effective tasking of innovation activities today cannot be left to chance; it has to be designed into the organization from top to bottom. By not having designated people fully involved and accountable for innovation is likely to inhibit growth. Having a well designed innovation structure and governance is essential but still not well understood

Having an honest conversation at board level is a good starting point.

Reflecting on this twenty points alone and being open enough in addressing them can make a dramatic difference between success and ongoing disappointment. Leaders or those tasked with innovation need to have this honest conversation, if they come up short then they need to ‘reach out’ and seek fresh external advice on how to resolve these gaps so as they can quickly understand their gaps.

Gaining a deeper understanding does make a real difference

I would argue executives should not be afraid to ask. Having a deeper understanding can often come from a dedicated focus often not possible within the confines of one organization. The external advice offered can help move them towards a more successful innovation management structure to succeed in those innovation efforts and go closer to match their desires and growth goals from innovation. Sometimes it is well worth reaching out for fresh perspectives and even, a dose of reality.

The seperation effect required for innovation

I have recently been in some different discussions about the merits and balances required to manage incremental and radical innovation. Partly this is in preparation for a workshop later this month but partly from a conversation I am having with a sizable, well respected organization, with its head office based here in Europe.

In the conversation within the organization we were discussing the breakdown in their treatment of incremental and radical and they suggested this was being managed within an “ambidextrous structure” yet I was not convinced. I have to point out this was only a part of a broader story on the difficulties of managing conflicting innovation demands that they were having. One key constraint in their thinking I feel was not having distinct units as they were trying to manage incremental and radical through the same process and that, for me, is a basic mistake.

I feel to truly claim an ambidextrous organization you have to be working towards the conceptual model offered by Reilly and Tushman on the “Ambidextrous Organization”

Reilly and Tushman’s argument was to truly flourish, not only do you need to maintain a variety of innovation efforts but  it does need more of a recognition of the full organization to manage these differently, not in isolation or selected parts of your organization. You need to consciously address the differences and build those into the twin process of managing incremental and radical. Let me offer my take on this.

Simultaneous the need is to manage the differences in Exploration & Exploitation.

I love how two words have such potential in their meaning and approach. It is the same as ‘divergence or convergence’. They clarify distinct differences, you don’t merge them, and you treat them as one leading into the other (divergence into convergence) or running in parallel (exploration & exploitation) for good reason.

The exploring and exploiting does needs separation. In organizations that practice ambidextrous design they separate the new, exploratory units from their more traditional, exploitative ones, allowing for different processes, structures, and cultures to emerge but it is at the senior management level they maintain tight links. This way you can pioneer more breakthrough or even disruptive innovation while allowing the incremental gains to be focused, and optimized without this consistent set of  distractions of trying to balance the two within the same resource pool or trying to squeeze it through the same assessment and time line process.

It is very different when you have to go on exploratory expeditions which are harder to determine and the last thing is having the constant pressure of balancing for time and between types of innovation. Exploration & Exploitation approaches need really different measuring metrics also.

It is at the senior leadership level any conflicts are managed not within the unit or organization department or even by a head of the unit if the organization does not manage in this ‘ambidextrous’ way. If you attempt to manage these together I think you don’t extract the full benefits you can gain from a more dedicated focuses working on distinctly different innovation needs.

What does radical mean to you?

The other issue I have is the use of ‘radical’ within the discussion. This can create such different meaning for each of us and can certainly be preconceived, so it already becomes hard to let go or change. Also ‘radical’ is often felt in larger organizations as something that simply does not fit as they are not a radical organization but a careful, often too cautious one. So ‘breakthrough’ seems to be a more natural fit and sits opposite of ‘incremental’ far more in my mind and it seems most others, worried over the ‘radical’ label. For incremental you exploit  through upgrading, adding more choice or building on what you presently offer, whereas you explore far more for breakthrough projects.

You can rightly point out there are numerous different type approaches and I recently wrote on what is the appropriate design within our organization ( ) using radical I know. Your type is partly determined by your structure and its degree of optimization of its potential flexibility and what you need to achieve.

So what are differences to be recognized for Exploring and Exploiting?

The understanding has to come back to alignment, the alignment to strategic intent (of the innovation need) and the recognition of distinct differences in critical tasks. It is defining the differences is the role of the leader, who is either managing incremental or breakthrough innovation,as they should focus on different competences, controls, rewards and the environment you are expected to work within, to deliver these as effectively as possible. It is difficult to ‘flip’ between the two as they call for distinct mindsets.

Again it is the power of the difference in thinking about these. Using the comparison of exploitative versus exploratory in this two word comparison that I love, does give you the real differences in the focus that needs to be recognized and undertaken.

Exploitative focus Exploratory focus
Incremental Breakthrough
Cost Growth
Operational Entrepreneurial
Formal Fluid
Rigid Adaptive
Linear Self-organizing
Attainment Grasp
Efficiency Experimenting
Development Research
Continuous Discontinuous
Inside-the-box Outside-the-box
Analytical Investigative
Examine Explore
Verify Detect
Extract Probe
Protect Challenge
Productive Milestones
Lower-risk Risk-taking
Directive, top-down Visionary, involved

I’m sure you can extend this list even more but the point is that the difference in mindset is significantly opposite. Can you apply these within the same business group or unit? I seriously doubt it.

Eating from the same innovation stew pot everyday might not be the best solution.

As we think of innovation we have to be careful not to limit ourselves, not just in approach or types but in the way we set about and manage this. Trying to bring all aspects of innovation activity into one ‘pot’ means you end up with a often underwhelming stew. It simply fails to really deliver, as you failed to do the necessary separating and distinctive preparations that all the parts needed to be achieved as your end result, to meet the different market needs that are around.

You need to seperate. Innovation that sets about protecting the core, building and strengthening it and that that pushes and extends the business beyond this really do need really different mindsets in approaching and managing across the organization.  Not just in  isolated pockets struggling to balance the different demands being placed on them.

Within these ‘collective’ silo’s they can’t differentiate distinctly enough and until this is fully understood it constrains and adds unnecessary pressures. Unless you address this  it is never fully appreciated across the organization on what is needed to be going on and how you should support and measure it’s results. Bundled up it all becomes a compromise.

There needs to be this realization that incremental and breakthrough are so different in activities, processes, structure, cultures and metrics to achieve the optimized effect. Having a clear seperation in managing incremental and breakthrough innovations is more effective and efficient but please don’t tip them in in the same pot, but distinct and seperate innovation ‘cooking’ mediums, to achieve a more outstanding and differentiated set of results where compromise was not down to being mixed into the same general approach.

My arguments for a common framework needed for innovation management

Following the release on Monday, April 25, where we published a Collaborative Innovation Reference Model by Jeffrey Phillips of OVO Innovation and myself, Paul Hobcraft of Agility Innovation, I would like to put forward some further opening arguments for proposing the broad adoption of a common framework for the innovation management process.

You can read more about its background here and you are welcome to participate.

Why innovation does needs a common reference point?

When you don’t have a common approach to something, in this case the management of innovation, you can have considerable pockets of inefficiency and a high level of ineffectiveness to deal with.

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Questions raised on a collaborative innovation framework

Yesterday, 5th May, there was an interesting exchange on #innochat relating to collaborating frameworks for innovation. We have a wiki on this if you care to take a look so you get the context and the suggested framework we are proposing.

#Innochat is a lively, informative and inspiring one-hour(ish) discussion on Thursdays at noon (Eastern US time). Usually the best way to follow along is to head over to TweetChat – sign in with your Twitter credentials and follow along and participate. Take a look at and join in.

Jeffrey Philips @ovoinnovation and myself @paul4innovating have been suggesting that we need to organize more around a common approach to innovation and having recently published this we decided to put this forward within this discussion hour to learn more from many established innovation thinkers. The fact that twitter decided to go ‘whaling’, stalling and generally misbehaving to create some bottleneck in exchanges, it did seem to generate a lot of ‘chat’ and a great diversity of opinion.

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The shaping of innovation- future directions

Rethinking innovation after a week where I have argued for a more common approach to innovation (see some of my recent posts )- as one that can be well structured and managed – I feel needs to be discussed next. I do fear if we don’t radically rethink innovation we are in danger of missing out on much that is coming towards us.

If we do not adopt and gain a clear understanding of (basic) innovation, its structure, process and differences in approaches we need, we will certainly struggle to move beyond the basics to the ‘promise’ of advancement that innovation should be offering.

I would like to offer some of the factors that I feel will be shaping innovation’s future; many are presently taking place but in pockets of expertise and experimentation, that we have to investigate more to understand the implications further.

What is holding innovation back?

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Critical aspects of the Collaborative Innovation Framework

This week a collaborative innovation framework venture has been launched by Jeffrey Phillips at and myself, Paul Hobcraft at

They have opened up a wiki for anyone to join with the intention of building on these frameworks. This is at

This effort is seeking contributions, we want your engagement. It is deliberately open to be used, to be improved upon and to form a platform for a standard thinking through for innovation providing it works under the creative commons license it has.

For far too long innovation has been left to chance. We are interested in explaining the many facets that make up a successful innovation endeavor but it can be extremely tough to capture and explain the complexity of innovation. Innovation is dynamic and throwing open this set of models allows for it to be constantly improved for all to benefit.

Four Critical Slides

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The thinking behind creating an open collaborative innovation framework

I often get very frustrated at the huge loss of energy by many organizations on piecing together a more robust innovation structure.Somehow they lose it. They forget to think it fully through, rush to build some of the component parts and then spend a lot of their time, back filling or bridging the gaps they created in the first place.

I really would like to reduce this diffusion of spent energies, so these efforts are directed at the critical points of understanding within the innovation process, to drive through new initiatives in a sustaining way. If we can gain this depth of understanding by all, then there is this greater identification to the whole. Also we gain a better appreciate of the parts we are playing within the system to make a more positive contribution to growing your innovation activities in a clearer environment. It would improve innovation identification and outcome results.

So with this thinking behind us, Jeffrey Phillips at and my organization through, we began to talk through and exchange ideas and concepts for building a collaborative innovation framework. We wanted any end result to be open and freely shared with anyone. We wanted others to build on these early attempts to move, if we can, to a better standard. We recognized whatever we produced needed adapting to meet different circumstances but was generic enough to be recognized.

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