Monthly Archives: May 2016

Ambidextrous Innovation

Innovating for breakthroughs is not the same as innovating for smaller gains. That is the conclusion of several experts who were cited by Ralph-Christian Ohr in a recent article.

The biggest difference is the level of certainty. Incremental innovation is a familiar, routine process. Manufacturers can predict with confidence that a new model of their product will be ready for launch on or about a certain date. Service providers know that changes and improvements in their marketing and delivery systems will occur regularly. These changes often result in more sales and profits, but not much more.

There is much less certainty in breakthrough innovation. An open-minded leader can assign an innovation team to “invent something,” specifying only the desired outcome and not the device that will achieve the goal. In such a case, there is no way to know or predict the result of the innovation project.

Such uncertainty is uncomfortable to most managers because it involves risk. Manpower and money must be invested with no assurance of a return. However, as the old saying goes, “nothing ventured, nothing gained.”

To run projects with high risk/reward ratios in a company whose prime directive is to save every rupee, it is advisable to create a separate process, structure and team. The breakthrough innovation process is likely to be too unfamiliar, uncomfortable and even threatening for traditional managers and employees.

A wise promoter or senior business leader understands that innovation should be ambidextrous. On one hand, much effort should be devoted to incremental gains through traditional methods. But the other hand, devoted to high risk/reward projects and long-term investments, must not be ignored. To those who are willing to accept the discomfort and risk of the breakthrough innovation process, the rewards can be exceptional.

Related reading: The Case for Dual Innovation


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How Fast Should You Innovate?

In innovation, faster is almost always better.

Every day of delay represents a lost day of additional earnings. Every day of delay gives competitors the opportunity to gain an advantage. As I posted earlier, the cost of getting things wrong on a new product may be 4% of revenues, but the cost of delaying the launch by six months is estimated at 33%!

Yet, most corporations feel little urgency to innovate. We have seen 9-week innovation projects stretched to 50 weeks, and some managers have let six months go by without contacting us for further assistance on their projects.

Time is a dimension of culture. If we grow up, as Americans do, learning that time is money, we can be fanatical about getting things done in a hurry. If our parents teach us instead that that schedules are flexible even at the last moment, that nothing is urgent, and that relationships count more than results, we often schedule our professional endeavors in the same way.

There is one area in innovation where we need to be willing to wait. That is in the first step, discovery of insights. While we should work quickly, we should not rush to the second step, invention, until we are sure that we have identified the most valuable insights. Too many companies, however, have little patience for primary research, and they want to jump headlong into brainstorming for solutions.

Let’s appraise our own willingness to innovate faster. It may mean reordering our priorities, investing more manpower and money, or even refusing a request to postpone an innovation activity. If we are willing to put innovation first, we are more likely to get the maximum rewards from our innovation efforts.

Related reading: The Rising Need for Innovation Speed


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