Field Notes – April 2010

It’s good to have a bit of time back in the office to catch up on things. In April, I was traveling for over half of the month; visiting with innovation teams at companies in France, Germany, Japan, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and South Korea kept me away. Meanwhile, we have some great innovation projects in our pipeline that I’m particularly anxious to dig into.

Yet, visiting with innovation practitioners from around the globe is a terrific way to gain insights and take a pulse on what is going on in the broader world of innovation. Here are a few of my takeaways from my April travels.

Innovation momentum is growing.
As the global economic climate stabilizes, more and more companies are starting to look beyond the survival mode mentality that took hold in the fall of ’08.  These companies see that they now need to refuel their revenue generation engines with new and differentiated offerings to the market.  New products for existing and new audiences are viewed as key to building market share and driving top line growth.  Companies need innovation now, and they understand with the ever increasing pace of market change, they need continuous innovation.  There is broad consensus that innovation capability is one of the key competencies that will distinguish winners from losers in the years ahead.

 

Many companies are still just arriving to the innovation party.
The number of companies that have taken a serious look at innovation and taken concrete steps to build innovation as a value driving core competence is still small.  Most companies are just beginning to question whether there is a better way than relying on serendipity for their innovation.  This means that there is a big opportunity for companies to take the high ground and drive their organization forward through innovation while the competition is still trying to figure out which end is up.

Companies are acting on, not just thinking about, innovation deployment.
Those companies that have internalized the importance and high-value of repeatable innovation best practices are not sitting on their hands.  They are seriously pushing awareness, innovation skills development, and IT infrastructure to support their innovation mandates.  These companies also realize that while grassroots acceptance is important, a corporate innovation initiative will never deliver to its potential if it isn’t backed by a top-down mandate tied back to corporate objectives.  Innovation is about change.  Developing a sustainable innovation culture requires a change in the corporate psyche and hence requires serious attention and management focus.

Innovation delivers value to companies that take it seriously.
Innovation takes many forms, but it always creates value.  Everywhere I went, I heard stories of how using repeatable innovation methods had overcome challenges, expedited time to market, and raised the value of key projects within organizations.  At Samsung for example, I was shown a new model of refrigerator.  The manager showing me this refrigerator & pointed out a key feature in the product that was blocked by a competitor’s patent.  Using the innovation skills they have mastered over the years, Samsung was able to create an alternative non-infringing design that allowed them to find freedom to operate and with it a fast path to market.

So, what does all this mean to you?  The bottom line is that now is the time to get moving when it comes to getting your innovation engine firing on all cylinders.  The companies that invest in innovation today will emerge as the leaders with new revenue driving products in the future and create new market differentiation.  While those companies that choose to wait on innovation will be left behind as the laggards in the new economy, never regaining the luster they lost in this most recent recession.

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