Don’t over-think your innovation strategy

Hello innovation party people…

I’ve been a little busy lately, as we all are these days, innovating.  Wait, what did you ask?

“What does innovating mean to you Ernie?”



Wow, it’s like you read my mind – that’s the perfect introductory question for the post I’m writing right now!  OK seriously, innovation is like stress – everyone has a different definition of what it is, everyone engages in both innovation and stress differently and above all, everyone thinks they have the secret to innovation (and not to stress management).

Like most folks, I’ve written on the topic of innovation more than once.  One of my favorites “Time for Some Innovation” explored my views on what it takes to have an innovative team.  And then there was the popular “Homicidal Innovation” which dealt with the incessant need we have in Corporate America to keep every project and initiative ever launched alive until the end of time.

In this edition I’d like to build on both those works and talk about the rhetoric that we are fed by the industry at large about innovation.

Much of the Product Management and New Product Development conversation is dominated by discussions on how to be innovative.  In fact, this article was just posted on theonion.com:

Word ‘Innovate’ Said 650,000 Times At SXSW So Far


Perhaps a bit of an exaggeration but as with so many things, its funny because its probably not far from the truth. So why is everyone talking about innovation but not innovating?

I would like to posit that being innovative is one of those intrinsic attributes of an individual or a group – in other words, you are or you aren’t.

We see things like the plot below all the time about where to go to get innovative talent and far too often these reports are based on objective measures that go beyond the classical definition; are you perceived as innovative.

Companies like Apple are perceived to be innovative (whether they are or not is up for debate) but the net result is that they have grown (and continue to grow) well, even in a down economy.  

Innovation is not formulaic.  You can’t prescribe innovation.  

So what do you do to join the innovation band-wagon?

Here are my top five suggestions to building an innovation function in your company.

1) Hire an innovator.  Creativity is in limited supply so if you happen to find one true innovator you’re very lucky – hire them.  How do you know they’re an innovator?  Stay tuned for my thoughts on evaluating the IQ (Innovation Quotient) in candidates.

2) Allow that person to build their own team, even if it means they don’t bring anyone you currently have on the payroll in.  The team dynamic is the single accelerant or retardant to innovation efficacy.

3) Give them a space and a team to be creative.  The team and space doesn’t have to be big but it has to be theirs.  

4) Don’t limit them artificially (if you can help it).  Most innovative people and the team-members they attract are self-sufficient.  Don’t ham-string them with arbitrary rules like what technology they can use or whether they can have a Keurig coffee maker in their space.

5) Hold them accountable – but not too accountable.  No one in today’s market has the resources to fund things like PARC (other than the Fortune 50 – and if you’re in a Fortune 50 company and reading my blog, please let me know).  For all the other companies out there we need to have some level of accountability.  The art is to make it open enough to not stifle creativity and innovative thought but not so open ended that it ends up sending you to the poor house.

In my next edition I’ll drill into each of the five keys, starting with of course, #1.

Thanks for reading…@ErnieHarris

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