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A leading innovation and marketing blog from Braden Kelley of Business Strategy Innovation

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Innovation Tournaments Interview

Interview - Christian Terwiesch of "Innovation Tournaments"

Christian TerwieschI had the opportunity to interview Christian Terwiesch, one of the co-authors of "Innovation Tournaments" about how to create and select exceptional opportunities. We also discuss a variety of other innovation topics including: barriers to innovation, education, and metrics.

Professor Terwiesch teaches MBA and executive classes in the areas of operations management and product development at The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. He also holds a visiting appointment at INSEAD in Fontainebleau, France.

Here is the text from the interview:

1. When it comes to innovation, what is the biggest challenge that you see organizations facing?

Innovation is seen as an art and organizations believe that the best way to nurture innovation is to simply create the right organizational culture and environment for people to become creative. Open floor spaces, many meeting rooms, x-functional collaboration, etc. But it is not enough to rely on culture and the passion of individuals. You need to put processes in place and you have to equip people with the right tools of innovation. Innovation is NOT an art, I can teach you the basics of innovation in a day. I found innovation tournaments to be one great tool for people and organizations to move to a more process driven approach to innovation.

2. From your experience, what are some of the keys to increasing variability to help get the best ideas?

Variability is key in innovation and in innovation tournaments. The more diverse the set of ideas, the better are your winning ideas. But I find that many companies have a hard time coming up with high variability ideas. Those in charge of innovation always turn to the same people for ideas, they listen obediently to their bosses and to their customers. That kills variability. I'll give you another example - In some of our most recent research, we look at how brainstorming meetings function. Many of us are taught to build on other people's ideas in such brainstorming meetings. But our research shows that while this might make us feel happy and collaborative, the resulting ideas are actually less innovative. At least at the ideation step, you have to just break a lot of norms and existing molds.

3. What metrics do you usually see organizations using to measure innovation success?

Organizations need to measure innovation - what you don't measure, you do not manage. Talking to companies, I often see them struggle with measuring innovation - often I get asked "what measures should we track?". Organizations often don't know what they should measure. And so they measure what is easy to measure. Number of patents, percentage of revenues generated from new products, R&D spending, etc. You should not measure just for the sake of measurement. Before you measure, you first need a game plan, a strategy.

Let me give you an example. For managers, measures are what the dashboard is for a driver. They give you information about the way the process operates. Now look at the dashboard in your car. You are driving 60mph, your engine spins at 3000rpm and you currently get 20 miles per gallon. So what? These measures are meaningless unless you have some targets in mind. Is your goal to quickly drive from A to B? Then focus on speed and ignore the fuel efficiency. If you care about the environment, get into a higher gear (I like to drive with a manual transmission...) so your rpm's come down at the same speed and maybe you want to slow down to 50mph. Every performance measurement system needs to be custom built to fit your business needs. You cannot just ask a consultant for the "right measures".

4. If you were to change one thing about our educational system to better prepare students to contribute in the innovation workforce of tomorrow, what would it be?

I like to say "Fail quick, fail cheap, fail often". Innovation is all about failures. In an innovation tournament, you have 100s of 'losing' ideas for every winner. Our educational systems do not provide candid feedback to students. Every little project is praised as being great and every student is told that they did a 'good job'. So when these students graduate, they think that everything they touch is great. But they fail to understand that every great innovator loses far more often than they win. Innovation is not about avoiding failures, it is about recognizing a failure early and then learning from it.

My book review of "Innovation Tournaments" can be found here.

Braden Kelley is the editor of Blogging Innovation and founder of Business Strategy Innovation, a consultancy focusing on innovation and marketing strategy. Braden is also @innovate on Twitter.

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