HBR recently posted an article whose title states that innovation requires a strategy. As a tool I would agree. A strategy signals that it is being thought of in a considerate fashion. However, I would like to suggest that innovation requires strategic intent. This means that no matter how big or small a business, its fundamental nature believes and strives for innovation and is at the core of the business.
An innovation strategy is compatible with my view of innovation as a strategic intent. As a tool a strategy is a good management discipline but it does not raise or solve any problems about how strategically important innovation is. And the only way to ensure that innovation is mission critical is that it comes from the top consistently, is embedded in the culture and is not an adjunct or after thought.
So often innovation is seen as a saviour to poor business performance and money is thrown at it for a magic-like fix. Unfortunately, innovation that occurs as an after thought or is used in desperate measures is often costly and rarely delivers what is expected. Partly, this is because innovation requires a level of risk and risk is not something most companies have an appetite for when times are tough. The best way to approach innovation as mentioned before is consistently and preferably from the start of the business so that it becomes part of the culture (the way we do things here).
Delivering innovation is pretty simple. It can be measured in terms of new products, new markets, new models, new technologies, new application of technologies, new ways of working – anything new. Innovation is about either taking something existing and adding to it or making something completely new. In either case, whatever it is didn’t exist before and that delta is what you measure.
Easier said than done but it can be done.
As a word of caution, Professor Robertson from Wharton University will tell you that innovation requires a management system. It isn’t wise to constantly incur new ideas without properly planning for their execution and implementation. A collection of new things can be just as damaging as no innovation at all and this is because new things are time consuming and potentially distracting. His book on Lego’s innovation history says more about how innovation can lead to losses without proper management.