Listening to the Drumbeats

steps-for-innovationI see it almost everywhere. Senior executives who run global corporations are frustrated that ideas to transform their business never get traction even though they put their own personal encouragement behind the early investigation needed to get the nascent ideas moving “up the food chain”. They have taken one or more steps to create forward motion:

  • Tasked a special internal team to evaluate and pursue the ideas,
  • Hired consultants to invent and install processes and cultural attitudes conducive to innovation,
  • Handed ideas over to the Open Innovation Department created a few years ago after the board meeting when directors challenged the CEO about progress of breakthrough innovation.

And nothing seems to be making the desired impact.

Clayton Christensen got it right. So those executives who know that Disruptive Innovation will happen – caused either BY their companies or TO their companies – settle into a state of funk over what I call the Innovation Logjam. They are beginning to realize that something is missing from the bright future suggested by the OI movement. It just isn’t delivering the results they had hoped for, but it IS costing them overhead allocations. And in the meantime all the potentially good ideas in the innovation portfolio just seem to cause incessant discussions over which is the best idea, issues over which business unit “owns” the opportunity, and long lists of why the idea is no good.

So how does one break up The Innovation Logjam?

Think about it; you can’t break up a logjam from the shore.

To really investigate, prioritize, develop and advance breakthrough ideas to early commercial status is chaotic, time consuming, conflict causing and chock full of reasons for sensible, hard-working team members to kill the ideas. Logjam.

But what if you had a trusted external partner who could do much of that heavy lifting for you by listening, researching, prioritizing, filtering and even investing capital to help you nurture your ideas? What if you discovered that the cultural brain surgery wasn’t required because your team would like to be involved in the excitement of innovation without all the frustrations of balancing long term and short term? What if ideas could be explored and developed in the clear light of the world outside your corporate walls without disclosing your identity to competition?

There is a revolution coming, and it isn’t Open Innovation. OI is a great concept, but it doesn’t come with an instruction manual and the few best practices which have been identified are incomplete. The revolution is in the simple realization that the engagement of outside partners may just be good business. Rather than rely on a random “cloud” for discovery, analysis, reporting and further development, it could make sense to find a trusted partner to seek and validate innovative applicable technology without any bias or preconceived notions.

Some of you can think back 30 years when brave souls began to suggest that traditional functions like finding, screening, hiring and training new employees could be best done by outside firms working closely with the client, but extremely skilled in the specialized tasks required for top performance. Those professional search firms were thought to be a threat to the Human Resource departments who ruled all aspects of the recruitment process from within the company. But today most firms recognize that they are far better served to partner with such firms to maintain confidentiality, reduce costs, increase speed, cut internal bias out of the process and increase retention.

It is natural for companies to attempt to do new tasks internally. But many important initiatives should not be held captive by Christensen’s “laws”.

Finding the right external partner for innovation efforts can break open the Innovation Logjam.

A recent PwC study identified that today’s CEOs recognize that they need to be personally involved in driving innovation. The change in this awareness has increased almost 300% over the last three years!

The drumbeats are getting louder.

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