The Other Side of Innovation: Solving the Execution Challenge
Can businesses really change the world?
Yes—but only if they adjust. In our new book, The Other Side of Innovation: Solving the Execution Challenge (Harvard Business Press), we argue: "Through innovation, business organizations can change the world. There is just one little problem. Business organizations are not built for innovation; they are built for efficiency."
In fact, we point out, organizations today are only modestly more prepared for the challenges of innovation than they were fifty years ago. While most companies have plenty of creativity and plenty of technology, they lack the managerial skills to convert ideas into reality.
We liken innovation to an ascent of Mount Rainier. Most climbers focus their energy and enthusiasm on attaining the summit, leaving very few resources for the less glamorous and more dangerous part of the expedition—the descent. Similarly, companies devote their energies only to reaching the innovation summit—that is, identifying, developing, and committing to a brilliant idea. "Getting to the summit can seem like the fulfillment of a dream, but it is not enough. After the summit comes the other side of innovation—the challenges beyond the idea. Execution. Like Rainier, it is the other side of the adventure that is actually more difficult." In short: There is too much emphasis on ideas, not nearly enough on execution.
We have spent the past decade studying innovation within established organizations. In the process we have compiled perhaps the most extensive library of innovation case studies in the world (many of which are summarized in the book). Our work has led us to the conclusion that established organizations should be capable of executing any innovation initiative.
In The Other Side of Innovation, we offer practical advice for senior executives, chief innovation officers, leaders of innovation initiatives, members of innovation teams, aspiring innovators, and all those who support innovation. The principles and recommendations in the book span the full spectrum of innovation initiatives—from small process improvements to high-risk new ventures.
A fundamental premise underlying the book is that each innovation initiative needs a special kind of team and a special kind of plan. Part I of The Other Side of Innovation focuses on the team; Part II focuses on the plan.
In Part I we explain the steps for building the project team:
• Divide the labor. Decide how responsibilities for executing the innovation initiative will be split between the two components of the project team: The Dedicated Team, which works exclusively on the initiative full time; and the Shared Staff, who work on the initiative part time while maintaining ongoing operations.
• Assemble the Dedicated Team. Determine who will serve on the Dedicated Team and how to define their roles and responsibilities.
• Manage the partnership. Establish clear expectations for each partner and mediate the inevitable conflicts that will arise between the two.
In Part II we examine three steps for planning an innovation initiative and evaluating its progress:
• Formalize the experiment. The basic principles for learning from experiments are familiar but hard to follow.
• Break down the hypothesis. All but the simplest innovation initiatives are really compound experiments. There are two or more uncertain conjectures.
• Seek the truth. Myriad pressures in organizations push people toward interpretations of results that are comfortable and convenient rather than analytical and dispassionate. These pressures must be understood and overcome.
Once the innovation initiative is deemed a success, the innovation leader may move on to positions of greater authority in which he or she supervises an initiative, chooses the supervising executive for an initiative, oversees a family of related initiatives, and helps shape a more innovative company from the top. We conclude The Other Side of Innovation by extending the principles of the book to address each of these challenges.
Chris and I hope you find The Other Side of Innovation useful.
A final thought:
"For more than a decade, innovation has been practically synonymous with the latest cool gadget. In the new era, innovation will not be about cool. It will be about profound change. . . In the new era, the word innovation will convey breakthrough solutions for a peak world population of nearly 10 billion people, all striving for a better life, all facing the realities of a crowded and constrained planet."
Let us know what you think.