Six Levers for Solving the Corporate Innovation Problem™ – Part 2

by Rob Munro and Frank Mattes

Six Levers for Solving the Corporate Innovation Problem – Part 2 - Innovation ExcellenceThis is the second part of a three-part article series (Read Part 1 here.) In the first part, we illustrated that firms are investing heavily in the early phase of innovation.

In this second part we show that despite all of these investments, innovation results remain disappointing. We call this the corporate innovation problem™.

Note: For easier readability we will not repeat the TM every time. We provide some metrics and find that there are two root causes.

In the upcoming third part we will suggest that six levers can be used to address one of the root causes. We believe that moving these levers can provide a solution to the corporate innovation problem – and ultimately lead to increased innovation performance.

The corporate innovation problem: The figures

In the first part of this article we have outlined number of routes that companies take in order to achieve excellence in the early phase of innovation (“Fuzzy Front-End”, FFE). However, as a number of studies have found, there is a pressing problem on hand. We call it the “corporate innovation problem”. It manifests in three ways:

Firstly, despite of all of the investments into the FFE, the success rate of innovation is still low. From metastudies done on innovation in various industries and circumstances it can be concluded that only 10 to 20 percent of innovations are successful.

Secondly, improvements are moving rather slowly. According to Strategy&’s 2014 Global Innovation Study, only one third of CEOs see their companies to be “much better” in innovation than they were 10 years ago. A recent Accenture study explains why this is so: More companies have become more risk averse, are missing more opportunities and are failing to learn from mistakes than even only a few years ago.

And thirdly, the future outlook is not very positive. A senior Executive of a leading global bank we know estimates that 80 to 90 percent of innovation centers (see the first article in this series for more explanation) will fail and end up being a massive waste of resources.

The corporate innovation problem: What CEOs are saying

The corporate innovation problem is also seen by CEOs. From the CEO view, the key problem is not so much the number of innovative ideas but rather executing on the right ones which pull in the commercial potential contained. In other words, CEOs think that too many companies allow ideas that could drive them forward to fall by the wayside or to be bogged down in poorly-designed processes or risk-averse cultures.

The supporting data comes from Forbes and the Boston Consulting Group (BCG). A recent Forbes’ article cited a study on managerial aspects of innovation. More than 75% of US Top Managers say that new ideas are poorly reviewed and analyzed. 80% say their companies do not have the resources needed to fully pursue promising new ideas. And only 5% report that their staff feels highly motivated to innovate.

Diving into BCG’s Global Innovation studies 2014 and 2015 provides additional insight. Among other topics, Top Managers were asked where they see the biggest obstacles to “Return On Innovation”. Based on the BCG figures we see that the symptoms of the corporate innovation problem can be found in the FFE, in the interface between the FFE and the execution phase of innovation (“Efficient Back-End”, EBE) and in the EBE itself:

Two root causes cores of the corporate innovation problem

We do not think that the source of the corporate innovation problem is the individual innovator. Rather, we believe that the corporate innovation problem has two root causes:

  • The complexity problem. Today, companies are dispersed, geographically, by sector, by technology and culturally. R&D labs are positioned all over the globe and wheels are being reinvented over and over again
  • The systems problem. In most companies the complex fabric of leadership, KPIs, culture, innovation capabilities of staff, innovation routines and systems that support innovation work is not knitted in a way that it fosters innovation.

The impact of the complexity problem is enhanced by the fact that in most companies, the “incremental” and the “radical” FFEs are not properly integrated into one EBE. The point in this argument is not in separating FFEs for incremental and radical innovation – Many companies have done this.

The point is that somewhere in the innovation process the incremental and the radical FFE need to be integrated into one backend. This is because at the end of the day, the new product will be in one catalog alongside with all the existing ones, sold by one sales organization and serviced by one field maintenance unit. However, this integration is not done properly in many companies.

Our experience about the missing integration is supported by two interesting facts from the Accenture study mentioned in the first part of this article series:

  • Executives are aggressively demanding for radical innovations: Interest has nearly doubled since 2012, probably driven by the business communities’ belief that “disruption” is a necessary prerequisite for growth and profitability.
  • But 72 percent of the same Executive group state that radical innovation opportunities often languish because “they have no organizational home” in which to nurture them

Focus on the “system problem”

Certainly there would be value in exploring the complexity problem. But in order to keep this article series handy, we will focus on the “system problem”. We feel encouraged to focus our attention here since a famous quote from Dr. Edwards Deming, the father of modern Quality Management and a great Systems Thinker, reminds us that “94% of the problem is in the system, six percent in the individual person”.

In fact, from a system’s perspective, we see some parallels between innovation management on the one hand and quality management on the other. Both require definition of targets at some point (an innovation that addresses a valuable and unmet customer need respectively measurable quality criteria) and actually both management concepts share a number of touch points, e.g. when innovation features are identified and translated into quality criteria using the QFD methodology, for example.

The good thing about putting the “systems problem” in the focus is that we are able to come up with six actionable levers to improve the situation as we will show in the third part of this article series. Moving these levers will significantly contribute to solving one of the two main parts of the corporate innovation problem – and hence improve corporate innovation performance.
image credit: bigstockphoto.com


Follow @ixchat on twitter

Wait! Before you go…

Choose how you want the latest innovation content delivered to you:


Rob Munro runs innovation.support’s business in UK and Ireland, following 20 years in multinational chemical and material companies creating new technologies, building businesses and developing capability. He has held senior management positions from manufacturing to commercial and R&D, developing business and innovation strategies, improving business work processes and delivering complex high-value projects. Rob also founded The Growth Engine specializing in developing innovation strategy to build more robust, effective innovation systems.

Frank Mattes founded innovation.support and runs its business in the German-speaking countries. Frank Mattes has 15+ years of experience in managing innovation, change management and projects. He has worked for several specialized medium-sized consulting companies and for The Boston Consulting Group. Frank also founded and runs innovation-3 which focuses on integrating cutting-edge innovation approaches into existing innovation management systems. Frank is also the author of several books.

Leave a Reply