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Innovation – The drivers of innovation

In the previous article I looked at the issue of aligning your innovation strategy with your business strategy. This is an important innovation concept, as innovation will be one of the disciplines that also compete for scarce resources and therefore the right choices have to be made about the type of innovation that best match corporate objectives.  After this decision, the business needs to understand why it is innovating – that is, understand the drivers of innovation.
Defining the drivers for innovation
Knowing why you’re innovating is what defining drivers is all about, which is a necessary condition for success — these drivers are the motivation for the participants to get out of their comfort zone and to feel personally and collectively uncomfortable with the current state of affairs. Discomfort creates a rift in the current organisational “fabric” and opens a space for change.
There are two main drivers of innovation and a third less-defined driver that exists in between the two. Organisations are driven to innovate out of crisis, out of success, or out of something in between.
Many organisations initiate innovation out of crisis or in response to an external threat. For these organisations, identifying the drivers for innovation is straightforward. The usual crises are out-of-control costs, declining revenue, significant shift in customer sentiment, threat of a new entrant or game changer that has entered your industry or market, or loss of vital personnel. This knowledge is sufficient to set the context and to drive the organisation out of complacency or fear. Urgency is important if you’re in a crisis. Organisations that are very successful are likely to have some form of innovation process already in place, but it may not be formalised. In any case, these organisations know that continued innovation is critical to on-going success. Successful organisations are more likely to focus their innovation efforts on revenue generation or business model innovation than on operational effectiveness or business structure innovation for two reasons: One, their employees and partners are more likely to be motivated by the concepts of newness, because the prospect of spending a lot of time on processes when everything is working well is not that inspiring, and Two, the operational foundation of successful organisations is sound, and many managers and employees will take the attitude of “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it,” and people will be looking for new projects.
An organisation that is generally successful, is in the middle and looking for transformative growth or change. It may be more challenging for these organisations to pinpoint where the best opportunity is and generate the collective interest across the organisation to select a single point or narrow issue for innovation – people will have differing opinions. Driving disruptive change when no clear driver is apparent and nothing is really “broken” may be frustrating to many employees, and this is especially true of IT and operational managers. Their work is often centred on building and maintaining a reliable and well-performing environment.   If their current performance is good, then they are not inclined to change.

Next Time
After aligning your innovation strategy with the business strategy and understanding the drivers for innovation, innovation needs to be entrenched as a business discipline, the next topic to be covered.  I conclude with this piece of wisdom by Mark Sanborn: “Your success in life isn’t based on your ability to simply change. It is based on your ability to change faster than your competition, customers and business.”

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