Innovation Perspectives – An Innovation Progression

by Mark Roser

This is the fifth of several ‘Innovation Perspectives‘ articles we will publish this week from multiple authors to get different perspectives on “Where should innovation reside?” Here is the next perspective in the series:

by Mark Roser

Looking for InnovationHaving consulted in the new product and innovation areas of major pharmaceutical companies and commercial transportation companies over the past 12 years, and in R&D for the 10 years prior, I have seen several variations of how innovation has been ‘owned’ within organizations.

The finding I would like to share is that the treatment of innovation by companies follows a progression, and as companies mature, their treatment of innovation also matures. ‘How’ an innovation group is owned appears to be much more important than ‘where’ it is owned.

For companies that consider themselves early in adopting an innovation discipline, the notion of innovation can be foreign. In order for the idea of innovation to be accepted within the organization, ownership is often centrally contained within a small group of enthusiastic souls who have stood out as having an interest in the topic; Whether they are in engineering, research, HR or an off-shoot of a quality initiative – the group tends to be isolated and on the political fringe of the organization. But, at least it is now inside the body of the organization. This is great news.

If the group remains active over the first couple of years, innovation language and approaches will spread across the organization. This diffusion of innovation language and stories within the company will be related to the number of activities that the innovation group can sponsor versus the size of the organization. For example: if the group can host a significant number of brainstorming events, idea challenges, innovation team building training, and empathic customer insight visits, then the stories from these events will spread. The larger the organization, the more active the group must be. Diffusion will also be related to the perceived success of these activities. Did an idea that was offered in a brainstorm ever survive? Did a response to an idea challenge get proper review, and did the reviewers acknowledge the submitter? Did senior leadership venture out to meet with patients or customers? The perceived success of the events will determine the tone of the conversations that result from the events.

Thus, the ownership of the innovation group is still within the small group, but the diffusion of knowledge and language of innovation has now started to foster a network of engaged colleagues. Stories get shared about innovation. The influence of the group blossoms. If the group survives, then the ownership of the activities of innovation starts to become decentralized.

Innovation Group GrowthAs the group matures further, the question of innovation ownership within the company becomes less associated with the group, and more associated with each individual within the organization. Just as quality must be everyone’s job, and just as everyone has a stake in the company’s profitability – mature companies have employees who recognize that growth is everyone’s role. They also realize that it is a no-no to interfere with teams that are trying to grow new products and markets.

Ownership of innovation may still be within the same hierarchical position, but now the group defines itself as a center of excellence that helps the organization to keep pushing its own limits, growing its innovation capabilities and exploring new territory.

In summary:

  • How innovation is owned is more important than where it is owned
  • The networks that the innovation group establishes are critical to its success and its early success is critical to establishing viable networks
  • Early in the game, innovation ownership is centered within the locus of the innovation group; in this phase, the innovation group is very active in hosting brainstorms, sponsoring research with patients and customers, developing metrics for portfolio spend on new products & new markets, developing an internal language of innovation, educating colleagues.
  • Successful innovation groups find internal clients and ramp up activity, which leads to organizational awareness of innovation, acceptance of the approach and the diffusion of internal innovation lingo and success stories
  • Many groups never get to a critical mass of activity to develop beyond their initial remit
  • For groups that do evolve, late in the game, the ownership of innovation activity becomes decentralized, and the innovation group defines itself as owning the center of excellence for innovation knowledge and development
  • With innovation being a hot topic these past few years, the role of the innovation group is to continually pilot new methods, grow its network of influence, learn from failure and support new thinking

You can check out all of the ‘Innovation Perspectives‘ articles from the different contributing authors on “Where should innovation reside?” by clicking the link in this sentence.

Mark RoserMark Roser has been working with companies internationally for over 12 years to identify new markets, clarify product & service growth opportunities and lead exploratory development programs. He can be reached at mark.roser*at*

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