Optimizing Innovation – Panel Discussion

by Braden Kelley

Innovation Conference AudienceWe are happy to bring you some of the key points and insights from a panel discussion at the Optimizing Innovation Conference, which was held October 21-22, 2009 in New York City.

The panel topic was “Successfully Innovating in the Current Economy”. The panelists were Robert Repetto (Wyeth Biotech), Halina Karachuck (AXA Equitable), Randy Calson (Diageo), and Karen Morris (Chartis Insurance). I will bring you key responses from the panelists by question:

Question 1 – “What challenges are you facing in the current environment?”

“We innovate around whatever the world throws at us, so events won’t change our approach and how we build our model/systems/tools/etc., but what we focus on and the money we have available might change.” – Robert Repetto (Wyeth Biotech)

“We are seeing resources being cut for innovation and growing risk aversion despite people “wanting” innovation.” – Halina Karachuck (AXA Equitable)

“These are the best of times and the worst of times for innovation. The political and personal risk for stepping outside the status quo is now higher and people don’t want to step out of their box. And at the same time, senior management time and leadership time is distracted by the economic times.” – Karen Morris (Chartis Insurance)

“We have a portfolio that helps us adapt very quickly and the company was aligned to making change from ultra premium innovation focus to mainline focus. We look at an 18-24 month future, and have the benefit of a chairman that has stood up and said that innovation is a key focus – ‘We will do new things to win'” – Randy Carlson (Diageo)

Question 2 – “What does innovation mean? Do employees know what it means? How is it actionable?”

“Often times the definition isn’t clear. Innovation is different than having an idea. An idea is a wonderful thing and something to be proud of, but it may never come to fruition or make you any money. Innovation is taking an idea and making it real. Do we recognize the individual for the idea or the whole team that makes it happen?” – Robert Repetto (Wyeth Biotech)

“That word innovation can work against us. Everyone has a different idea of what means – from silly/fluffy brainstorming to ‘oh my god are we going to have to create the next iPod? I can’t do that.’ – I would like to get rid of the word.” – Halina Karachuck (AXA Equitable)

“One of the first things our group did was to define it – ‘Innovation is the creation of new value sustainably for us and our value chain and our customers’ – In retrospect ‘innovation’ is a burdensome definition – Instead we should focus on ‘What can we do to build better relationships?’ – Focusing on this will help to create value and innovation – especially in our product centric business” – Karen Morris (Chartis Insurance)

“Innovation is a separate business unit and success is measured over three years – ‘A new liquid or a new package or a new combination of the two things’ – a new product or new technology for existing product. One unusual example of innovation came with our failing french vodka (about to be killed) where someone suggested adding Sean Combs as a profit-sharing spokesperson and it turned around” – Randy Carlson (Diageo)

A couple of random comments:

“Much more difficult to create disruptive innovation, as it requires a whole set of different processes and systems than the incremental innovations.” – Karen Morris (Chartis Insurance)

“Some people in our org think that innovation skills can be learned, while others think it is not a discipline and a waste of time.” – Halina Karachuck (AXA Equitable)

Question 3 – “What about quick wins?”

“We’ve done ammendments to make products a little more attractive than they are currently (removing restrictions). It is currently harder to bring new market product innovations to bear, so we have started rapid prototyping and sometimes even creating hypothetical press releases for the business unit leaders with our name or the competitors name on it to spark conversations – ‘Wait. We haven’t got this.’ – ‘No, but we could.'” – Karen Morris (Chartis Insurance)

“We switched from bringing a pipeline of ideas to market to trying to focus on the culture and getting people to think more creatively, looking at our product design process. We got the green light to bring in IDEO to help us with our product design process because of the crisis. We are also looking at how we are training middle managers to feel comfortable and confident that they can be innovators even if they are only frontline-informed incremental innovations (people applied for this systematic innovation course)” – Halina Karachuck (AXA Equitable)

“We have had more success putting 3D bottles in front of executives to get them to buy-in, than presenting the fully-developed ideas in presentation form. That’s not saying that we won’t do all of the other justifications for the stage gate process – but just to give you an idea.” – Randy Carlson (Diageo)

Question 4 – “Failure is not an option for me in the banking industry. If current business is a castle (nice, safe place), then why don’t we don’t innovate outside the castle?”

“Our castle is under siege. I would love to innovate outside the castle, and maybe we have one idea that might be allowed to do so in a more entrepreneurial way because it might go faster, and fast matters.” – Halina Karachuck (AXA Equitable)

“There is always the challenge re-integration later, and sometimes they drown in the moat. High potential leaders may not want to participate because it removes them from visibility for a time. Insights are increasingly being described as the only source of competitive advantage.” – Karen Morris (Chartis Insurance)

“Fail fast, fail small, learn, and adapt. There will be a chance of failure – limit the size of the exposure.” – Randy Carlson (Diageo)

Optimizing Innovation Conference

Braden KelleyBraden Kelley is the editor of Blogging Innovation and founder of Business Strategy Innovation, a consultancy focusing on innovation and marketing strategy. Braden is also @innovate on Twitter.

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