Innovation Perspectives – A Rhetorical Question

by Kevin McFarthing

This is the lost fifth ‘Innovation Perspective‘ article that we were supposed to publish last month as part of a series from multiple authors to get different perspectives on ‘Should companies treat innovation management as a core competence? And if so, how?’. Here is the missing perspective in the series:

by Kevin McFarthing

Innovation Perspectives - A Rhetorical QuestionIt’s really a rhetorical question – should innovation management be a core competence? Well, of course it should, if you are serious about growing your business. Growth = survival more so now than ever before. If you’re lucky enough to be in an industry or company that can rely purely on market expansion for short-term growth, you’re unusual, and your position will be temporary.

Imagine the CFO walking into the CEO’s office one Monday morning to declare that all financial records will in future be kept on Post-It notes. Or the Head of Regulatory Affairs in a Pharmaceutical company sending an email to the FDA, declaring that clinical trials and regulatory approval are no longer necessary for their company.

Of course situations like this are crazy., but if we accept that growth is essential, that innovation is a core component of growth, then why should companies treat innovation management differently to Finance or Regulatory Affairs? That’s why this month’s Blogging Innovation question is such a good one, because too many companies look at innovation management as something that just seems to happen, rather than core. The efficiency of delivering innovation is too often ignored, responsibility isn’t always clear, delivery doesn’t always happen.

The next question is – how?

Although much of this is industry dependent, I think there are some key principles that should be followed in any system of innovation management.

  1. Leadership and responsibility should be clear. Everybody involved should know who is leading which project, who is on the team and why.
  2. Most innovation involves projects. There should be an efficient project management system, not bureaucratic and not overstaffed.
  3. There should be a simple stage-gate system. I hate the 5 gate/6 stage model – it doesn’t need to be that complicated.
  4. The appropriate resources should be in place – but teams should continually be challenged on their efficiency.
  5. The right metrics should be in place to measure both the effectiveness and efficiency of innovation.
  6. Innovation management should cover strategy through idea generation right to launch – take a look at the Innovation Fixer Wheel which forms the basis of looking at innovation management.
  7. You should constantly look outside your own corporate boundaries using a seamless, integrated Open Innovation strategy, and manage these activities as competently as your totally internal projects.
  8. Last, but definitely not least, it should matter to the CEO, and he/she should challenge, ask, inquire, demand, hassle and praise the innovation managers as appropriate at every opportunity.

It’s no surprise that companies who are successful at innovation are also very good at managing it, because they value it just as highly as the business functions more traditionally seen as core.

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You can check out all of the ‘Innovation Perspectives‘ articles from the different contributing authors on ‘Should companies treat innovation management as a core competence? And if so, how?’ by clicking the link in this sentence.


Kevin McFarthingKevin McFarthing runs the Innovation Fixer consultancy, helping companies to improve the output and efficiency of their innovation, and to implement Open Innovation. He
spent 17 years with Reckitt Benckiser in innovation leadership positions, and also has experience in life sciences.

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  1. Insightful post Kevin. Glad to see someone giving innovation management its due recognition alongside other core components of business. I believe that the relationship between growth and innovation is symbiotic. In order for a company to experience growth (and survival), innovation needs to occur. The eight key principles that you provide above echo the fundamental best practices that Spigit (http://www.spigit.com) preaches to our own customers. Yes, Executive sponsorship, set resources and necessary metrics/measurement should all be present to create a sustainable innovation management process, but a mechanism for uncovering and collecting new ideas is essential as well. Applying behavioral science methodology along with gaming theory and intelligent algorithms and analytics to an innovation community allows companies to pinpoint and extract pertinent, game-changing information. Incorporating the right tool to effectively mine the collective intelligence of the user community is extremely helpful and many companies are beginning to invest in such a tool. It has been very exciting to see a large majority of F500 companies, local, state and federal levels of government and others taking the control of their own futures and embracing open innovation.

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