Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Innovation without strategy

Sometimes I moan on this blog about the general lack of innovation out there. However, I sometimes come across a company or market that seems to be displaying a lot of innovation, loads of individually good digital initiatives just being chucked out there. After a while my E-Business head kicks in and I ask - why do these innovations exist? What are they trying to achieve? What customer needs (implicit or explicit) are they trying to satisfy? What does this all add up to? etc. I almost never come up with what might be the strategy behind it all, and I'm guessing there usually isn't one. This sort of activity is not only damaging to those trying to get serious buy-in and commitment towards innovation but it is also a waste of time.

I agree with the general sentiment out there that the traditional strategic planning processes don't allow for, or include, the idea of establishing innovative strategic goals. One way to achieve this is to run a process for 'Innovation Strategy' alongside the strategic planning process and challenge where necessary the strategic direction and or goals by offering potentially better solutions. These processes need to be creative, market & customer centric and driven by the need to discover and learn more. Strategic goals can include a notion of differentiation but perhaps the planning required to achieve this needs to include time & budget for discovery exercises to take place. Taking this further isn't innovating to achieve your strategic goals 'the cost of doing business' and shouldn't we be allocating budget to support these activities like it’s an operational cost (something we have to do)?

I think one of the key ways you can drive innovation is to create more insight. If you know and understand your weaknesses and opportunities then innovating to resolve or exploit these will become an essential strategic goal by proxy, or it will at least make it far more easy to justify in the board room.

In addition to creating a greater focus on innovation strategy, insight can also help determine how your company should innovate and of course the relative priority or importance of different innovations.

Those responsible for innovation (in some way everyone should be) need to accept that some sort of economic value model will need to be established where investment is required. There is a growing number of larger companies which are happy to work to an incremental innovation strategy framework and as aspects of a new innovation become increasingly economically viable they are approved and delivered. The benefit of establishing the vision for a particular innovation is that the decisions on how best to deliver the solutions required in each stage become far more conducive to continuing to move forward i.e. we adopt the right technologies to support the whole process from the outset.

There are some people who would argue innovation in the digital age is just another word for strategy any way and we need to give it the same level of commitment accordingly.


  1. I agree that insight can help with innovation, but unless there is a dedicated team looking at using the data provided by said insight to provide innovation, wouldn't any findings be just as serendipitous as trusting your staff to come up with ideas?

    Innovation strategy needs to have dedicated resources (or at least dedicated time spent on) looking at insight data, market trends and 'looking forward'. If you don't have the dedication to these strategic aims, you could end up seeing less innovation as a whole with other resources being taken away for other natural ways where you might see innovation emerge.

    The danger in seeking the budgets for such strategic plans is that is always hard to quantify a ROI on innovation! With this in mind, I would always applaud an organisation that is willing to apply themselves to an aforementioned incremental innovation strategy framework.

    Exciting times!

  2. You are spot on re: resource.

    And you do need the investment and comittment in resource to achieve innovation.

    I've had a reasonable amount of success at establishing robust ROI on innovation. It isn't easy but it is possible.