Is Innovation Worth More as an Initiative or as a Capability?

Most of us in the world of business have been taught to think of innovation in its adjective form. "What an innovative product!" or "Let's get someone more innovative on our team." When thought of merely as a modifier of some other activity or thing, the power of innovation is dissipated, at least in this author's mind.

Innovation IS the thing. Innovation achieves strategic value (i.e. it's worth more and has a permanently positive effect) when it becomes an intrinsic part of the organization. When it becomes a business artifact like a balance sheet, scorecard, or water fountain in the hallway. When it becomes a capability others can depend on.

Focusing on innovation as a core capability of the business yields an elevation in status equal to a company's other core operations. Think 3M = Scotch tape. Think 3M = Innovation. Designating innovation as a capability in your organization creates focus, designates budget, requires governance, and specifies performance metrics. As a capability, innovation becomes connected to most other parts of the business. From these connections it gains strength.

So, the next time you're in a conversation and the word "innovation" appears, pause for a moment and think. Is the word being used as merely an adjective or is the conversation about something more important and more valuable. Your company's innovation capability, its core value-generating asset and, possibly, its very reason for being.

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  • Uday Gulvadi

    Mike - Great distinction. Obviously innovation as an initiative runs the risk of being a one off excercise or "flavor of the month." TO mitigate that risk, organizations need to turn innovation into a capability. A repeatable, iterative process that is not person dependent but a part of the cultural fabric of the company.

    I'd like to hear ideas on how people have managed to turn innovation into a capabilty....and what challenges they have faced along the way.

  • Charles Evan Smith

    Mike - right on. The challenge for leaders and managers is how to embed innovation within a corporate culture, infrastructure, processes and "IP". I spend substantial time working with companies seeking to shift their innovation capabilities. Would be interested in hearing more from you on this.