Innovation of Business

and the
Business of Innovation™
Perspectives on Innovation

Ideas to Tickle Your Mind

Everyone has ideas about what innovation is, yet we don’t all have the same ideas. For the next few minutes, I’d like to tickle your mind with several intriguing viewpoints.
Geoff Nicholson, Former VP, 3M
“Research is the transformation
of money into knowledge.
Innovation is the transformation
of knowledge into money.”

Nicholson has a great idea here. Innovation is part invention and part commercialization. Part proof of concept and part delivery to customers.

And he has another perspective. Successful innovation first costs money and then produces return on investment. Money in. Money out. Money in, of course, pays for people, expertise, facilities, and other required resources. Money out includes cash flow, competitive advantage, brand equity, and other measures of financial success.

For all that I love this quote, Geoff isn’t quite general enough for me. You see, innovation happens everywhere in business. It happens all of the time. Geoff talks here about product innovation, yet one of 3M’s most powerful innovations was a strategy – the gift of time – the suggestion that every employee spend 10-15% of their work time thinking up new things.

Innovation is much, much larger and more important than products. We need to apply every innovation lesson to businesses, products, services, strategies, processes, events, and more. Innovation is fun!

Capgemini, 2003
“Innovation is the realization of value
from a new solution to a problem.”
Capgemini generalizes innovation to any kind of problem. For them, innovation changes every aspect of business. Every year. And Capgemini knows that new-ness is core to innovation. Radical innovation is new to the world. Incremental innovation contains new features.

Of course, these authors still focus on investment. “Realization of value” is actually a sly way of saying “making lots of money.” Still, their language invites us to see value realization from the customer side. Value to customers is the sum of benefits gained by using the innovation. Market success demands that we deliver unique and preferable value to our customers.

Though Capgemini speaks of solutions to “problems,” opportunities also drive innovation. Think about the figurative doors you open every day, using capabilities that reached market in just the last few years. You help create opportunities for your customers every day, and you do so at productivity levels no 1980’s manager ever thought possible.

Innovation is bigger than solutions to problems. Innovation is the path to the future… for you and for your customers. Innovation literally creates the future. You and your peers around the world are changing what is possible. I can hardly wait to see what you achieve.

Accenture, 2003
“It’s not how many ideas you have.
It’s how many you make happen.”
Though more broadly focused, Capgemini still defines innovation as a result. Accenture points out that creating that result is hard work. Of course, innovation is both process and result. Both the process of developing something new, and a new result that meets needs in new ways.

A group of innovation specialists recently brainstormed six principles of innovation. Our Principle of Process suggested that the innovation process has five interlaced elements: Corporate focus, new product development (including portfolio management, stage gate, etc.), project management, branding/marketing, and decision making.

Whatever your principles, innovation simply doesn’t happen without process. Innovation takes the integration of ideas with leadership, management, skilled professionals, and adequate resources, all coordinated by processes.

The Cheshire Cat to Alice
Under the Looking Glass
“If you don’t know where you are going,
then any path will take you there.”
Do you remember the dialog from Under the Looking Glass? Alice was lost and asked for directions. The Cat, of course, asked her where she wanted to go. When she said she didn’t know, we got one of the most profound statements in human history.

The Cheshire Cat would suggest that the path to innovation begins with a vision of where we want to go. What should we envision? A completed innovation? By itself, that isn’t good enough. Not even close.

You see, we need to envision our innovation being chosen over competitive alternatives and now in use by its logical customers that are so please with its performance that they gladly deliver market loyalty and repeat business. Now that takes quite a vision! The Cat would be impressed!

To grow such a vision, begin with the value promise… the key, unique, preferable benefits your innovation will deliver. Stating such a promise means knowing a lot about both your market and your own potential. Then envision what it will take to deliver on that promise – what you must do to make and keep satisfied customers, over time, at a profit, in a competitive environment.

The innovation itself is just part of the vision. Don’t stop there. Put your vision into context of the real world. The real world will thank you with funding, purchases, and investment.

Gary Lundquist, 1997
“How?” is not the most important question.
To be strategic, first ask, “Why?”
With vision in mind, we’ve taken a huge step toward innovation. We could jump right into development… or… we could take time to build a strategy. I chose to quote myself because I know the pain of weak strategy. I innovated a software business in the ’80s. Our tactics were elegant, yet we lost the company on strategy.

Only later did I learn this fundamental truth. “Why?” is the core skill of leaders and strategists. “How?” is the core skill of managers and tacticians. We need both, yet in the rush to market, we all too often forget to ask, “Why?” Strategy begins with long term goals and near term objectives – the “Why?” As you then work through “How?” with possible strategies, keep resources in mind. It makes little sense to choose strategies you can’t implement. On the other hand, if your resources are limited, consider adding a strategy to increase resources (e.g., a strategy to find new investment).

Your result will be a nested context for innovation: goals, objectives, strategies, tactics, delegation, resourcing, and the truly hard work of innovation. Without strategic foundation, that hard work could implement tactics that implement strategies that reach objectives not in your company’s strategic focus.

Strategy is both a powerful and practical way to accelerate innovation and empower the skills and energy of everyone on your team.

Francis Ford Coppola
“The difference between a good movie
and a bad movie
is getting everyone to make the same movie.”
I love this quote because it so clearly applies to us all. Movie makers have such obviously cross-functional teams. They employ actors, direction, staging, cinematography, sound, music, marketing, and on and on and on.

Every innovation project faces the same challenge of building and sustaining multi-functional teams of people with distinctly different skills and mindsets. We want them all on the same page, working together, making the same innovation.

A culture of innovation creates needed coherence. Such businesses attract top talent because their cultures build positive reputation. Top talent in the right culture, in turn, enables an engine of innovation that consistently spins out winning products. When we all work together from a shared vision, clear strategies, and adequate resources, there is no limit to what we can accomplish.

Whew! Return on investment, value to customers, process, vision, strategy, culture, and engine of innovation. That’s a lot. Yet it still isn’t enough.

SAP, 2003
“Today’s innovation
is tomorrow’s commodity.”
SAP says it succinctly. Innovation must go on! The end of every innovation cycle is an opportunity to begin another. At today’s pace of business, we really don’t have a choice.

Innovation must be reinvigorated, at every level, every year, for the foreseeable future. People and processes. Management and staff. Vision, strategy and tactics. Re-envisioned, re-invented, and constantly renewed. Re-ignited to keep up with the pace of change.

To sustain the pace, we need to refresh our minds and re-energize our teams with new ideas. And we need to apply our skills and vision to our own innovation processes, from major revamps to ongoing fine tuning.

Glance back at the quotes again. Let them tickle your mind. To get the best out of our innovation efforts, we all need a tickle once in a while.


47. Mathematical education and maturity are more important in managing large software projects than in working on such projects. (Harlan Mills)

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