Innovation of Business

and the
Business of Innovation™
Seven Core Roles of Innovation

A Vision of Corporate Innovation

Innovation has two jobs:
Turn ideas into products that delight customers. (For “product”, also read at least: product, service, process, strategy, business model, and business.)

Turn funding into revenues that satisfy management and investors.

OK. No big deal. You’ve got that covered. Right?

You’ve got people, resources, and processes. You own expertise, experience, and leadership. You access global market knowledge and competitive intelligence. Your innovation functions include everything from ideation and R&D through engineering, manufacturing, and launch. And you also innovate internally with teams such as manufacturing engineering, IT, and technical services.

Congrats! You’ve taken huge steps. Now it’s time to supercharge those components with the mindsets of your people. The way they view their jobs is as important to the success of innovation as is the sum of their resources.

Core Roles

Let’s treat innovation in your company as if it were a person. Innovation (italicized)has two jobs, and we want the very best innovation performance possible.

To write Technology and the Agents of Change, I received generous cooperation from corporations and federal labs, including Amoco, Chrysler, Corning, Fisher-Price, Lockheed Martin Astronautics, Lucent (Bell Laboratories), Motorola, Texaco, and US WEST plus elements of the departments of Commerce, Defense, Energy, Interior, and the National Science Foundation.

Those research projects surprised me. Both management and staff spoke to me about what they did and what they wanted other team members to do. None of the organizations interviewed would define themselves around the results I found. Instead, I found powerful practices that were unspoken assumptions about the way innovation should work.

Synthesis delivered seven core roles played by innovation, innovators, and innovation managers.
• Change Agent
• Value Creator
• Customer Satisfier
• Leader
• Strategy / Strategist
• Opportunity Generator
• Wealth Creator

Roles are like layers of an onion. The outermost are superficial. That is, titles and functions don’t say much. The real power shows up in behaviors, responsibilities defined and accepted, and commitments to strategy and action.

Knowing such behavioral roles changes viewpoints and influences perceptions, decisions, and follow-through. Perceptions, in turn, impact who innovation is and what it can accomplish. When roles are unclear, innovation flounders in tactical waste and frustration. Clarity of shared roles magnifies every type of strength.

Since few innovators ever think about their roles, even just conceptual awareness changes the nature of performance and opens competitive edge. Let’s look quickly at each role.

Change Agent: Change drives today’s world, and innovation is a major engine of that change. Indeed, innovation changes what is possible, every day. Everywhere we look, innovation defines both change and momentum toward change, impacts technology and culture, and creates mechanisms and media through which change occurs.

Innovation creates change ? new knowledge, methods, implementations, and paradigms. Innovation enables change ? new products serving new customers in new markets, competing more effectively and gaining new revenues. Innovation helps us cope – with technical, economic, competitive, environmental, political, and social advances worldwide.

Innovation leads change ? setting directions through new ideas, then turning those possibilities into reality. Innovation prepares for change ? looking as far into the future as anyone on Earth. Innovation works at the leading edge of both technology and process to define the leading edges of commerce, manufacturing, education, art, and the exploration of nature and the universe.

Wow! Are you an agent of change? Do you change what is possible? Every day?

Value Creator: Change is expensive. Successful innovation always delivers value in excess of costs in two distinct ways. End customers get value much greater than their purchase price. The business gets revenues much greater than its costs.

Value is the sum of benefits received, and benefits are results of meeting needs. The value of an innovation is owned by customers and stakeholders, not by innovators or businesses.

Return on investment enables new innovation which then delivers new levels of value to customers. The overall purpose of innovation is to add value, every day, by changing what is possible.

Value justifies innovation. Do you create value? Every day?

Stakeholder Satisfier: Innovation serves three stakeholders.
Management, board, and shareholders (e.g., with revenues)
Operations (e.g., with new strategies, tactics, processes, equipment, and facilities)
End customers (e.g., with products, services, distribution, and communication)

Satisfying stakeholders means knowing respective definitions of value. We satisfy stakeholders by consistently meeting their needs better than any competitive alternative.

Of course, stakeholders are often nearsighted and may not realize their needs. The best innovation meets both known needs and needs stakeholders can’t yet articulate. Ideally innovation creates products that stakeholders will want just as soon as they know such a thing is possible.

Stakeholders pay for innovation. Do you satisfy them? In measurable ways? Every day?

Leader: Innovation influences decisions, including corporate strategic directions and areas of investment. Innovation develops options that empower other business decisions. Effective innovation leads businesses, companies, and whole industries.

Innovation creates new knowledge that defines what is possible technically, competitively, and globally. Innovative technologies enable new products, features, components, and manufacturing methods.

Innovation leads markets with new capabilities for consistently improving cost and price. Innovation opens doors to entirely new ways of doing things, changing society at large. The sum of innovation worldwide leads civilization along the path of progress.

Wow again! Do you lead? Does your team? If asked, can you point to a record of leadership?

Strategy / Strategist: Innovation is a method (a strategy) for achieving corporate goals. Innovation is, quite literally, the only way to initiate and manage fundamental change in technology, products, and processes. Innovation is the very best way to respond to changes in markets, competition, globalization, and regulation.

Effective innovation management and staff are also strategists. They envision potential results and develop ways (strategies and tactics) to realize their visions. In the squeeze between costs and inability to increase prices, better thinking up front always leads to better use of strengths.

The flow of new products and processes is the life blood of every company and the core strategy for turning internal investment into revenues.

Are you strategic? A strategist? An effective strategy? Would your stakeholders agree?

Opportunity Generator: Innovation creates opportunities for the company by creating opportunities for itself. Effective innovation never waits for chances to perform, but goes after them aggressively. Innovation persuades its stakeholders to support projects by developing clear innovation visions presented in stakeholder-centered language.

Innovation constantly improves itself through self-innovation. It improves talent, funding, facilities, and focus. It partners with others to increase its speed and impact. Innovation constantly seeks new and better alignments, staffing, tools, skills, processes, structures, interfaces, and management relationships. Ongoing high levels of performance deliver ongoing sources of opportunities.

Truly powerful innovation seeks strategic opportunities for itself that deliver strategic market positions for the company. Innovation belongs at the core of strategic plans, especially when businesses face economic and competitive threats.

The path to success is paved with opportunities. What opportunities did you work discover today? What did you share with your staff and management?

Wealth Creator: One third of a typical company’s revenue today comes from products not sold five years ago. The top 20 percent of innovative firms deliver up to four times the shareholder return of the bottom 20 percent. Innovation delivers top-line revenues.

Innovation goes further. Just 5% inefficiency can kill competitive advantage through higher costs and risks. So innovation increases productivity, both doing the right things and doing them right. In a world where invention can be duplicated, operations innovation delivers as much to the bottom line as does sales. Innovation is a tool for every corporate function.

As an innovator, are you a practicing wealth creator? Be realistic? Are you?

Anthropomorphized Innovation

Imagine a person who plays all seven roles well:
• An agent of change who doesn’t settle for the ordinary
• A contributor who adds value every day
• A person focused on satisfying stakeholders
• A leader who knows how to develop visions and attract people to action
• A strategist with strong discipline skills
• A source of opportunities and relationships
• A builder of wealth that drives new cycles of innovation

What a powerful combination! Sounds like someone we’d like to work with, someone who could inspire us to higher achievements.

My research also identified people skills to go with the roles. Add great relationship skills, willingness to listen, team building, accurate decision making, talent for persuasion, and consistent ability to achieve valuable results.

Our imagination is defining a winner, a corporate hero. This is someone who will advance fast and go far, yet we are seeing more than that. This person is a learner able to absorb and synthesize information, then adapt as needed relative to context and trends. This person is more than a winner. This is a long-term survivor.

“Seven-Role Innovation” can be that winner and survivor. Innovation can behave this way. Groups throughout the value chain can develop these characteristics. Innovation can make this kind of impact and hold this kind of power.

“Seven-Role” Innovation

The seven roles are not really optional. Every innovation team needs to perform these roles every day. Since few know the roles, few do those jobs well. So consider introducing the seven roles as a quality standard for the people who make up innovation in your organization. Consider developing both awareness and powerful capabilities around each role.

And then conceive of your entire business as a Seven-Role Innovator. Quality, productivity, value production, and innovation will all increase with known and accepted roles, bringing higher investment, better market image, faster payout, and higher revenues.

Seven-Role performance is your choice. What actions will you take? For yourself? For your team? For your company?

The time for principled action is now, and it always will be.


45. One can show the following: Given any rule, however fundamental or necessary for science, there are always circumstances when it is advisable not only to ignore the rule, but to adopt its opposite. (Paul Feyerabend)

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