People often ask when is the best time to innovate: early in the pipeline process, middle, or late. Teams tend to resist innovation late in the process when they are busy launching a new product. Teams tend to resist innovating in the middle of the NPD process because they are too busy developing the next generation product. Teams tend to resist innovating early in the process because they are too busy developing franchise strategy. So when is the best time to innovate? Anytime.
My advice: stop evangelizing and start doing. Use a proven innovation method on a mainstream issue or product and let the results speak for themselves. Don't ask permission. Don't call it innovation. Don't preach the "..see, I told you!" message. And then...do it again. I take advice from Thomas Bonoma's classic HBR article from 1986, "Marketing Subversives."
How do you tie innovation to strategy? Professor Christie Nordhielm from the University of Michigan has developed what I consider the best single contribution to marketing thought since the 4P's. Her Big Picture framework of the marketing management process provides the context for innovating across the entire business model. Applying systematic innovation tools to each aspect of her Big Picture model can yield amazing insights at both the strategic and tactical levels of the business. It is the intersection of these two ideas...Big Picture Strategy and Systematic Inventive Thinking...that will yield consistent, profitable results. Innovation follows strategy...not the other way around.
How do you innovate a business model? You can create new products and services within the current business model to drive growth. Or you can create a new business model and open up a whole new world of possibilities for the firm. Either innovate within the current game, or change the game. But how?
Companies are enamored with chasing "white space opportunities." White space is the nickname for new, undiscovered growth segments. It spins the notion that opportunity lies just ahead of us. Telling colleagues you are working on white space opportunities suggests you are doing really important stuff. It is the ultimate growth endeavor, the risk worth taking. White space will save the day. I'm not so sure. I have two problems with white space. It is neither white, nor a space.
Once you have a systematic and routine way to innovate, you are confronted with a new problem - how to decide how much innovation is enough. For many, this is odd an question. If innovation is essential for survival and growth, most people would want all the innovation they can get. But that is oversimplifying. Too much innovation can overload the system, confuse the organization, and lead to ideation fatigue. So how much is enough?
Venture capitalists could increase the value of their investments by applying a corporate innovation method to those investments. Take Twitter for example. It just received its third round of funding - $35 million. Yet it has no revenue, no business model...just the promise of such. It is the perfect time to innovate.
I decided to take the challenge to create new concepts for the Twitter platform that have the potential to earn money. Others are chasing this, too, including the Twitter management team. It reminds me of the early days of Amazon when many (including me) wondered if the company would turn a profit. The difference between Twitter and Amazon is an important one. Amazon started with a business model in mind. From there, it had to achieve economies of scale. Twitter started with none. Economies of scale do not matter until it can define a viable business model.
Let's see how innovation can help.
Finding adjacent market spaces is an attractive way to grow. Adjacent markets are not too far away from your core business in terms of channels, technology, price point, brand, etc. Adjacent means: lying near, neighboring, having a common border, touchable. Although chasing adjacencies can be distracting, it is a much easier to sell internally. Adjacencies seem more achievable than far out, ethereal white space opportunities.
Adjacent markets are even more appealing when you apply a systematic innovation method to it. Giving yourself the gift of novelty in a new market space right next to your own seems like the best of both worlds. The trick is finding the right adjacencies.
As some U.S. automakers face inevitable restructuring, the key questions are what should they become? What is the best way to do it? The answer depends on what battle they think they are fighting. In simplest terms: should they build better cars? Build cars better? Build cars?
Consider the battles U.S. automakers have fought against the Japanese and other automakers. How has Detroit done in: design? quality? productivity? brand building? Given the steady loss of market share and margin, they seem to be losing. There are a variety of reasons, some of their own making and some not.
There is one battle worth winning more than the others - the battle of ideas. U.S. automakers need to outperform the competition in one definitive way - systematically develop and deploy a steady, uninterrupted stream of novel ideas and inventions across all aspects of their business. At the risk of falling deep into the "easier-said-than-done" category, I offer my blueprint for change for U.S. automakers: reframe, retrain, and redeploy...a model based on my own experience.
Innovation creates dilemmas, and these dilemmas can either help or hinder your innovation effort. Dilemmas arise when we confront natural tensions between two apparent opposite ideas or concepts. In business we face these dilemmas all the time: cost vs. quality, centralization vs. decentralization, stability vs. change, short term results vs. long term competitiveness. Dilemmas are dynamic but inevitable. They don't go away. They must be managed over time.