i-blurb #2 – You Can "Cowboy" Innovation

by Moises Norena

i-blurb #2 - You Can Cowboy InnovationBut Only a Few Bullets Fit a Revolver’s Cylinder

I came up with this metaphor when I was working for the Process Driven Innovation Forum in 2010. I think it works to highlight the importance of embedding a common innovation process in organizations.

We know that innovation requires push, drive and desire to succeed, all essential ingredients for innovators. Some even consider essential to have a set of people that behave as “mavericks” with informal practices and relationships to drive innovation. I don’t fully disagree with them, but that would not drive a sustainable capability in a large organization unless there is an overarching transformation strategy with explicit initiatives and that is backed up at the highest levels. Our group tends to say (paraphrasing our Six Sigma colleagues): “our job is to move innovation from being special cause to common cause”, the way the organization behaves without even thinking about it. This cannot be achieved with a “cowboy” approach. The result of an common and embedded process is a steady stream of innovations in the market with a consistent strategic intent, not a one-time “shot”. You may argue that to drive breakthroughs you need a different approach, I believe so, but that is also strategically planned at a portfolio level.

Whirlpool real-life example

There are many teams at Whirlpool that have behaved as cowboys, and they’ve helped push the envelope in innovation. One good example is the team that launched the “Central Park” refrigerator in 2007. Without their maverick behavior, we would have not introduced it in the marketplace, putting Whirlpool in the leading edge of consumer-relevant technology in appliances at the time. Lots of learning from this introduction. This example if further described in Nancy Tennant’s book “Unleashing Innovation”. But Whirlpool would not be where it is today if innovation wasn’t an explicit strategy at the highest level of the organization supported and driven by our C.E.O. If it wasn’t because innovation considered an organizational competency (that includes a common process), a part of the enterprise agenda and of the strategic planning process, our pipeline would not be where it is. This is what has made innovation sustainable at Whirlpool Corporation.

About i-blurbs

As a champion of innovation at Whirlpool I’ve had the opportunity to learn from the best. To reflect, on a daily, almost hourly basis about what works, what doesn’t, what ticks, what excites, even what “sucks” in innovation, in a company that has made it its modus operandi. During this time I’ve been capturing my thoughts in short, suggestive, fun and sometimes provocative sentences I put on twitter @moisesnorena. In these blog entries I intend to expand on what’s behind each i-blurp, hoping to enlighten, even if a little bit, those that are in the continuous search of making innovation work.

Image Credit: Tack and Saddle Tips


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Moises NorenaMoises Norena is Global Director of Innovation at Whirlpool, where he leads a team that works on the infrastructure that enables innovation.  Whirlpool is a company recognized for its commitment to making innovation an enterprise capability by engaging employees in the discipline.

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