Hutch Carpenter on the Innovation X Factor
Despite the common wisdom, most of the truly great ideas I have seen in the past 20 years have not come out of R&D. They have come from salespeople (talking to customers), journalists, designers, business analysts and even accountants. These too are not launched because the Executive Suite are looking at R&D or themselves for ideas. The ideas outside of this group remain blocked behind an intellectual firewall.
In my experience in the executive corner it’s tempting to dismiss ideas from the front lines because candidly – they are mostly bad. Not bad due to poor intellect, but bad because most people on the front lines don’t have the proper context or experience to analyze the idea. Once executives see a few bad ones – they quickly shut the idea pipeline down.
Spigit helps companies surface their best ideas by providing an easy to use innovation software platform. Because ideas are voted on and filtered by the crowd, the best ones get seen by executive decision makers. That helps open up the aforementioned idea pipeline to the Executive Suite. This time however, the ideas have been refined by the crowd and filtered through the sales, product, marketing and finance departments.
Peter Drucker made the point that: “Most innovations, especially the successful ones, result from a conscious, purposeful search for innovation opportunities, which are found only in a few situations. Four such areas of opportunity exist within a company or industry: unexpected occurrences, incongruities, process needs, and industry and market changes.”
Problem: How to Build an Innovation Culture and Why it is Important
Have you ever been a part of organization of people with intense collaborative energy? The kind of organization where ideas are incubated and encouraged and tested. When spontaneous groups gather around the white board to flush out the latest idea or process improvement.
Hutch believes those unique organizations have strong middle managers with an innovation mindset. Of course executives need to be on board and open, but it’s middle management that sets the tone.
“Employees always have ideas, but there is very little they can do. Your employees are the best consultants. Senior Executives need to recognizes that this is an untapped resource”, exclaims Hutch.
I can attest to Hutch’s assertion. At A.T Kearney we used to hold workshops with employees of the companies that hired us. We often learned the true reality of the issues which didn’t match the company’s executive version. Frequently, the employees knew how to solve the issues, but were never asked or given a forum to share their solutions. So why are you paying consultants $5000 a day?
Hutch believes it’s important to come up with ideas in the flow of work, “your employees are solving problems, why not document and add to the innovation repository.” Hutch’s assertion is similar to Chris Koch’s learning networks metaphor where ideas are shared and provide fuel for building a culture of innovation.
There’s also a hidden benefit that emerges over time when institutionalizing innovation in your company. Call it the Innovation X factor or Serendipitous discovery through idea refinement and trial and error. Peter Drucker illustrated this benefit by pointing to Ford’s Edsel failure. Most people don’t realize that the Edsel’s failure was the foundation for the success of the Mustang and Thunderbird.
But it took years for Ford to learn from the Edsel bomb because they didn’t have the information and crowd selecting tools we have today. If they had a solution like Spigit, the Edsel never would have been built. The crowd (customers and employees) would have refined the car to be more consumer friendly, and Ford would have built an automobile closer to the Mustang or Thunderbird instead.
Of course sourcing and refining innovative ideas are important, but the real challenge is execution. Do you have an infrastructure and culture that can capitalize on the idea? It’s an important question that decision makers need to understand before purchasing innovation software. In fact, we’ll discuss that with Hutch in the next installment.
Question: When do you think Innovation Platforms will take off? Do you use them now? Please share your experience.
Want to see Hutch present on Innovation at the Enterprise 2.0 conference in Boston? Vote for him here:
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