Innovation of Business

and the
Business of Innovation™
Who Owns Your Innovation Assets?

Who Controls Your Innovation Marketplace?

You’ve got it made.  Your innovation is great.  It has passed all proofs of concept and every field test.  It is robust and works in conditions well outside expected requirements.  Everyone likes it, and it’s ready to move on down the value chain to daily use by customers.

Your credentials and those of your development team are impeccable.  Your papers are well received and your talks well attended.  You are both known and respected in your field.

You are in control.  Right?  You own the playing field.  Right?  Nothing can go wrong now.  Right?  Well…

I hate to crash your party, but things may not be as good as they seem.

You see, many of the most important ingredients for our success are owned by someone else.  By our customers and those who use our innovations inside the company.  By those who fund us and our projects.  By those who manage us every day.  By those who license our innovations into their own companies.  By influencers inside and outside our business.

In short, ingredients essential to our success are owned by our markets, not by us.  We can’t control what they own.  We’ll focus here on product innovations for convenience, yet the problem of control affects every type of innovation including whole businesses.  We’ll speak about external markets, yet also look for parallels for innovations inside the organization.

Who Owns What?

This can be a dangerous time ? when everything seems to be working perfectly and we’re on a roll.  We need to pay special attention as we roll out products for market delivery.

We can easily overlook factors outside our technical focus.  We may forget about the world outside our team or company.  We can easily mistake technical success for business success.  It is easy to assume we are in control… when the truth is that we can, at best, only influence many elements critical to our success.

Think about who owns what.

We own our technical vision.  Our markets decide whether or not they are impressed with that vision.  We own our technical and business focus.  Our markets decide whether our focus is relevant, important, and timely.  They set their priorities, and those priorities may not be what we want.

We own our innovation.  They own their needs for it.  They own their wants, wishes, frustrations, and pain.  They own awareness of their needs, and if they don’t know they need us, then they certainly don’t want us.  They set the timing; we don’t.  They own their urgency.

We own the sweat and tears it took to create our innovation.  They own the value.  They are the ones who will use it to solve their problems and create their opportunities.  They own the benefits; we don’t.

And they only care about benefits, not about the sweat or the vision or the innovation.  To them, our innovation is a vehicle for delivering solutions, not something of fundamental value.


Do you begin to understand the problem?  This is a dance we do with our marketplace.

This is a partnership, a balance of power through a balance of ownership.

This is a relationship to which we both contribute over time.


We own our skills and potential for developing wonderful results.  They own our resources.  We own our inspiration.  They own their perspectives.  They decide whether to invest enough to enable us to exercise our potential.  We can’t force investment.  We can only persuade.

If we have a commercial product or service, we can set the price, and we will own the revenues from sales.  But our markets decide whether the price is right.  Their purchasing power can make or break us.  Their decision processes determine our revenues.

We own the selling points for our innovation, but they own their opinions.  We own our persuasive skills, but they decide whether or not to listen.  We have great knowledge about what we offer, but they own their understanding of what we say.


To influence what they own, we need to leverage what we own.  We need to make what we own visible and important through communications that develop relationships. There is no choice.  What they own is far too valuable to ignore or minimize.

What they own is far too critical to our potential marketplace relationships.

We worked long and hard to achieve our credentials and history of performance, and we own them.  But how much time have we spent working to build our credibility and reputation in the marketplace?  Credibility is orders of magnitude more important than credentials, yet we don’t own our credibility.  They do!

We own our brand name, but our brands live in the minds of those in our markets.  We can state the value promises at the core of our desired brands.  They decide whether our promises are important and whether we’ve kept those promises.

We own who we are.  Our personal and corporate identity are ours to define.  But our markets own our image.  Try as we might, we cannot take ownership of our image.  Like our brand, our image lives in the minds of other people.  And try as we might, we cannot succeed in the marketplace with a poor image.

We own what we say, but they own what they hear.  There are so many gaps in language, motivations, job descriptions, and other paradigms that what they hear is almost certainly not entirely what we intended.  Knowing the potential for misunderstanding, we can work hard to clarify and simplify.  Still, they own their perceptions.

At the bottom line, we own our integrity and trustworthiness, yet they own their trust.  Everything we do in our marketplace is perceived and interpreted in terms of building or destroying trust.  The process may not be conscious, yet it is very real.  Without marketplace trust, we are out of business.

Are you convinced?  Our job is to create and sustain win-win relationships with stakeholders.

Businesses, processes, and products are tools for building relationships, not ends in themselves.

Relationships are our only truly durable form of wealth.  Every action taken, every word spoken, and every agreement made are all strategies and tactics for building relationships.

Ownership and Control

We bring critically important strengths to our market relationships, yet at a very basic level, we have only partial control of our business.  Our markets own many of our most precious assets, yet markets wield only partial control.  We each need the other.

We and our markets share control.  Leaders and followers, companies and customers, sources of innovation and investors in innovation, management and staff.  Success always requires a balance… an ongoing win-win relationship.

Communication is crucial for managing this shared power ? listening and informing, defining needs and presenting value, choosing our brand image then reinforcing it with everything we do and say.  Knowing what messages to deliver, and delivering them well.

At the core is our value promise.  Whether a project team or a multi-national corporation, we sustain relationships by making and keeping both corporate and product value promises.  We win trust by making our promises clear and visible, and then visibly and credibly honoring those promises over time.

We grow loyalty by putting relationships first, and managing our teams, businesses, and company to sustain relationships in spite of competition and changing market forces.  That is, we grow our market power by innovating relationships, not just businesses and products.

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



9. Theory is knowledge that doesn't work. Practice is when everything works and you don't know why. (Hermann Hesse)

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