Saturday, January 14, 2006

Can't We All Just Get Something Done?

Innovate: v. To begin or introduce something new for the first time

Everyone needs to innovate these days. Governments should innovate to better serve citizens. Companies should innovate to better serve shareholders and customers. Parents should innovate to better raise healthy kids. I am all for change, cool ideas and new paradigms. But I think innovation has it's limits in the way it is discussed. Seldom does it include any aspect of execution.

Perhaps if I'm looking at it from an entire systems perspective (e.g., innovation in the US) it's fine not to put any bounds around innovation - some percentage of innovators in my system will succeed and I don't have to worry about the rest. But If I'm in a single entity, like a company or a government division, innovation has to be carefully managed because it can take you down rabbit holes, suck up your resources and push you in the wrong direction. For only one costly example, consider space based ballistic missile defense.

Popular business press would tell you that everyone needs to innovate these days ... from the leadership to the line manager. I think that is part of it. But I would supply a few adjectives to that. Focused, executable innovation. Sure, somewhere in your organization you want a free flowing idea lab where anything goes. But in the other 90%, you want leadership actively managing innovation.

My simple test to see which companies innovate well? Look at the amount spent on consultants (Bain, BCG, Mckinsey) versus the percentage of people who can actually tell you what those consultants accomplished. Consultants are about innovation, new ideas. Everyone loves to be part of a cool consulting project because it seems fresh and new. 80% of the time, though, nothing is executed. So, did they innovate? Yes because they came up with new ideas. But often this does little for revenue, increases costs and sucks up focus.

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