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Monday, March 29, 2010

Innovation Perspectives - Kill Your Innovation Champion

This is the first of several 'Innovation Perspectives' articles we will publish this week from multiple authors to get different perspectives on 'How should firms develop the organizational structure, culture, and incentives (e.g., for teams) to encourage successful innovation?'. So to kick it off, here is Drew Boyd's perspective:

by Drew Boyd

Innovation Perspectives - Kill Your Innovation ChampionHere are five things companies need to do to develop the organizational structure, culture, and incentives to encourage successful innovation:

1. Kill Your Innovation Champion: It seems like a great idea to establish an 'innovation champion' - responsible and accountable for driving innovation within the organization. In reality, it stifles innovation. Assigning a champion lets everyone off the hook. Why innovate when we have our 'champion' to do it? A study by the Association of Innovation Managers found that when companies assign innovation champions and establish separate funding, it threatens the R&D and the commercial departments.

"This kind of sponsorship opens the door for subtle forms of sabotage if the established business units believe that the innovation funding is inhibiting their ability to accomplish short-term objectives and take care of current customers. Without involvement, the commercial arm of an organization can also claim no responsibility for success or be blamed for failure."

Instead of relying on champions, a better approach is to encourage 'innovation subversives'.

If you won't kill your champion, no worry - they will go away on their own. The study also looked at what puts innovation managers at risk. Of the 15 innovation champions in the study, ten left their organizations and became consultants, four joined smaller or start-up companies, and one retired. None returned to a Fortune 500 company.

2. Don't Give Credit for Good Ideas: Tanya Menon from the University of Chicago describes the paradox of an external idea being viewed as "tempting" while the exact same idea, coming from an internal source, is considered "tainted."

"In a business era that celebrates anything creative, novel, or that demonstrates leadership, 'borrowing' or 'copying' knowledge from internal colleagues is often not a career-enhancing strategy. Employees may rightly fear that acknowledging the superiority of an internal rival's ideas would display deference and undermine their own status.

By contrast, the act of incorporating ideas from outside firms is not seen as merely copying, but rather as vigilance, benchmarking, and stealing the thunder of a competitor. An external threat inflames fears about group survival, but does not elicit direct and personal threats to one's competence or organizational status. As a result, learning from an outside competitor can be much less psychologically painful than learning from a colleague who is a direct rival for promotions and other rewards."

3. Fire the Lone Innovator: Innovation is a team sport. Keith Sawyer in his book, "Group Genius" highlights one of the most significant aspects of successful innovation - that groups of people are likely to be more creative than individuals working on their own. A properly facilitated approach with a carefully selected 'dream team' of employees yields innovation sooner, better, and bolder than the lone genius.

4. Teach Innovation: Innovation is a skill, not a gift. It can be taught using structured innovation processes and templates. Many universities offer courses and programs to learn innovation. It is unacceptable that a corporation seeking growth through innovation would not have its employees properly trained in the skill of innovating.

5. Build Innovation Muscle: The best companies see innovation as an ongoing capability, not a one time event. These companies work hard to build muscle around this capability so they can deploy it when they need it, where they need it, tackling their hardest problems. Companies do this to keep up with the ever changing landscape both inside and outside the firm. What does it mean to build innovation muscle? I think of it as the number of people trained, the frequency of using an innovation method, and the percentage of internal departments that have an innovation capability. Call it an Innovation Muscle Index: N (number of trained employees) x F (number of formal ideation events per year using a method) x P (percent of company departments with at least one employee trained in an effective innovation method). Innovation Muscle Index = N x F x P.

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You can check out all of the 'Innovation Perspectives' articles from the different contributing authors on 'How should firms develop the organizational structure, culture, and incentives (e.g., for teams) to encourage successful innovation?' by clicking the link in this sentence.
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Drew BoydDrew Boyd is Director of Marketing Mastery for Johnson & Johnson (Ethicon Endo-Surgery division). He is also Visiting Assistant Professor of Marketing and Innovation at the University of Cincinnati and Executive Director of the MS-Marketing program. Follow him at www.innovationinpractice.com and at http://twitter.com/drewboyd

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Blogger Adam said...


As usual, great article. But I could not disagree more with #1. I think you are missing the fact that standalone innovation groups are typically formed in response to a problem. The problem is that the company isn't innovating.

You are right that these groups are typically sabotaged (though it isn't subtle). But I think you confuse cause and effect here. The cause of the failure is not the formation of these groups. The cause is that the company just isn't serious enough about innovation. The failure of these groups is the effect, not the cause.

10:15 AM  
Anonymous David Locke said...

So Steve Jobs should be fired?

7:18 PM  

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