Innovating to Compete

The LAB: Innovating an Aquarium Using S.I.T. (February 2010)
February 20, 2010
Innovation Sighting: The Division Template on a Cell Phone
March 8, 2010

nnovating is a form of competitive behavior. When we innovate, we compete with someone or something. We innovate to survive. We innovate for glory. We innovate to win. Leaders of organizations need to understand and leverage this competitive aspect of innovation to embed it into the organization. Innovating to compete occurs at many levels:

Innovating is a form of competitive behavior.  When we innovate, we compete with someone or something.  We innovate to survive. We innovate for glory.  We innovate to win.  Leaders of organizations need to understand and leverage this competitive aspect of innovation to embed it into the organization.

Innovating to compete occurs at many levels:

  • At the national level, governments compete with other nations for trade, economic power, and global political influence.
  • At the municipal level, cities compete aggressively to attract investment, firms, and employees to stimulate jobs and economic growth.
  • At the industry level, competition among sectors is fierce.  Industries want to attract customers, investment, talent, and favorable government treatment.
  • At the company level, firms want to be more competitive by differentiating themselves in the marketplace.
  • At the business unit level, franchises compete with one another for budget resources and manpower.
  • At the individual level, peer rivals compete with each other for promotion and bonuses.
  • At the personal level, we compete with ourselves to achieve a new “personal best” when overcoming challenges.

Here are suggestions of what leaders can do to embrace competition and drive innovation:

  1. National:  Governments need to create a National Innovation Policy.  The policy should outline a vision, identify opportunities, create guidelines for investment, coordinate partnerships, and nurture the development of human talent.  Here is an excellent example of an innovation policy from the Czech Republic.  Countries that pursue these policies will thrive.
  2. Municipal:  Cities compete just as nations do.  At the city level, government leaders can further the state of innovation by coordinating activities between firms, entrepreneurs, venture funds, and universities.  Many cities spark innovation by sponsoring innovation contests.
  3. Industry:  To be more innovative, firms within the same industry need to band together and form trade groups to facilitate and coordinate programs that sustain the vitality of the industry.  Trade groups can no longer focus just on government lobbying.  They need a coordinated approach to technology transfer and scientific investment.  They need to address the systemic flaws in their industry that stifle growth.
  4. Firm:  Companies need to train their employees how to innovate using systematic tools and processes.  Firms need to “innovate on demand” and maintain a healthy flow of new projects into the pipeline.  Most importantly, innovation strategy must be pursued within the context of competitive strategy.
  5. Business Unit:  The business unit is where innovation happens.  Innovation is a team sport, and franchise leaders need to deploy teams using facilitated workshops to create new products and services.  Leaders should allocate resources disproportionately to those who systematically produce new pipeline concepts…organically.
  6. Individual:  People succeed through innovation.  An employee’s value and vitality is sustained by the ability to generate novel ideas day in and day out.  People need to see innovation as a skill, not a gift, that can be learned through university or corporate training programs.
  7. Self:  At this level, it starts with a simple question: “Am I an innovator?”   Says Steve Banhegyi, “Your self image controls your level of personal innovation.  Your ability to innovate rests largely on who you think you are. You are as innovative as your narrative allows you to be.