You Need An Innovation Strategy

Despite enormous investments in handling time and money, innovation remains a frustrating pursuit in several businesses. Innovation initiatives often neglect, and effective innovators have difficulty sustaining their functionality as Polaroid, Nokia, Sun Microsystems, Yahoo, Hewlett-Packard, and many others have discovered. Why can it be so tough to construct and take care of the capability to innovate? The reasons go far deeper than the mentioned cause: a failure to do. The issue with innovation advancement attempts is rooted in the absence of an innovative approach.

A plan is just a dedication to some coherent, mutually reinforcing policies or behaviors targeted at achieving a particular aggressive objective. Superior strategies encourage alignment among varied groups within a business, describe priorities and objectives, and help focus efforts. Businesses regularly define their entire business plan (their extent and placement ) and define exactly how various functions–like marketing, operations, finance, and R&D–will encourage it. But during my over two years analyzing and consulting for businesses in a wide assortment of businesses, I have discovered that companies rarely articulate approaches to align their creative efforts with their business plans.

With no innovation strategy, innovation advancement efforts can quickly grow to be a grab bag of much-touted best practices: dividing R&D into decentralized autonomous groups, spawning internal entrepreneurial ventures, establishing corporate venture-capital arms, pursuing outside alliances, adopting open invention and crowdsourcing, cooperating with clients, and implementing rapid prototyping, to mention only a couple. There’s not anything wrong with some of these practices. The dilemma is that a company’s capacity for invention stems from an innovation system: a coherent set of interdependent structures and processes which dictates the way the business searches for novel issues and alternatives, synthesizes ideas into a business concept and product designs, and also selects that which projects get funded. Individual best practices demand trade-offs. And adopting a particular practice normally needs a plethora of complimentary adjustments to the remainder of the business’s innovation system. A business with no innovation strategy will not have the ability to earn trade-off decisions and select all of the components of the innovation system.

Aping somebody else’s system isn’t the solution. There’s nobody system that matches all businesses equally well or functions under all conditions. There’s not anything wrong, of course, with learning from other people, but it’s a mistake to feel that what works for, say, Apple (now’s treasured innovator) will work for your company. An explicit invention strategy makes it possible to design a system to meet your specific competitive demands.

Revenue agents hear daily about the pressing demands of their largest clients. Business unit heads are concentrated on their target markets and their distinct P&L pressures. R&D scientists and engineers often find opportunities in new technology. Diverse viewpoints are crucial to a successful invention. But with no strategy to incorporate and align those viewpoints around shared priorities, the power of diversity is blunted or, even worse, becomes excruciating.

A fantastic illustration of the way in which a tight link between business strategy and innovation could induce long-term innovation direction is located in Corning, a major producer of specialty components used in digital displays, telecommunications systems, environmental goods, and life sciences tools. (Disclosure: I’ve consulted for Corning, but the information in this report comes from the 2008 HBS case study”Corning: 156 decades of Innovation.

When judged against present best practices, Corning’s strategy seems out of date. The business is among the couple using a centralized R&D lab (Sullivan Park, in rural upstate New York). It invests a good deal in fundamental research, a practice that lots of businesses gave up long ago. Plus it invests greatly in manufacturing technology and plants and continues to keep a substantial production footprint in the USA, bucking the trend of wholesale outsourcing and offshoring of manufacturing.
Nevertheless, when seen through a lens that is tactical, Corning’s strategy for the invention makes great sense. The organization’s business strategy focuses on promoting”keystone parts” that greatly enhance the operation of clients’ complex system solutions. Implementing this technique necessitates Corning to be on the top edge of materials and glass science so that it may solve tremendously challenging problems for clients and find new applications for its technology. That requires significant investments in long-term search. By centralizing R&D, Corning guarantees that researchers in the varied disciplinary backgrounds inherent in its core technologies may collaborate. Sullivan Park is now a repository of accumulated experience in the use of materials science in industrial issues. Because publication materials frequently need complementary procedure inventions, heavy investments in production and technology are essential. And by maintaining a national production footprint, the provider can smooth the transfer of new technology out of R&D to fabricating and scale production.

Corning’s plan isn’t right for everybody. Long-term investments in research are insecure: The telecommunications burst in the late 1990s devastated Corning’s optical fiber business. However, Corning reveals the significance of a clearly articulated innovation plan –one that is closely connected to an organization’s business plan and core value proposition. With this strategy, many initiatives aimed at fostering a company’s ability to innovate will be doomed to fail.