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  • 07.29.08

Innovation Infrastructure

This is installment four in my series on building a sustainable innovation culture. In installment one, I outlined the Five Pillars of Sustainable Innovation Culture. Installment two examined Executive Leadership, the first pillar. Installment three considered Innovation Skill Development. Now, I’d like to look at an all too often neglected aspect of innovation deployment—the infrastructure to enable innovation success. Why is infrastructure neglected? I see three factors that contribute to this.

This is installment four in my series on building a sustainable innovation culture. In installment one, I outlined the Five Pillars of Sustainable Innovation Culture. Installment two examined Executive Leadership, the first pillar. Installment three considered Innovation Skill Development. Now, I’d like to look at an all too often neglected aspect of innovation deployment—the infrastructure to enable innovation success.

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Why is infrastructure neglected? I see three factors that contribute to this.

Factor #1 – The myth of innovation genius

It seems that this myth is so engrained in our popular culture that
it is a strong and silent impediment to building a true innovation
culture. Just last week in a discussion with Gartner analyst Carol
Rozwell, she raised the issue as something she also sees, calling it
the Edison Effect. (We shared a laugh over this name as Edison is the
poster boy for innovation by dint of effort.)

The reality of innovation is that innovation is a process that takes
time to mature. It is an integrative process that yields results with
information is viewed and combined in new ways. It is also a process
that can be learned and mastered. Until managers understand this, they
tend to get trapped into thinking, “I pay my people lots of money to
solve my business challenges; they should just go off and innovate
already.”

But talented people still need tools to work. It wouldn’t make you
feel very sanguine to hear a nurse say as you were being wheeled into
the operating room, “Dr. Kutemup gets paid a boat load of money, so the
hospital doesn’t see any need to waste money on frivolous items like
equipment or anesthesia.” Just like the surgeon, your knowledge
workers need the right tools. They need tools to provide a repeatable,
structured framework for the execution of innovation best practices,
and they need the information infrastructure to provide them with
efficient and purposeful solution concept sourcing.

Factor #2 – Lack of awareness that infrastructure and tools exist to help support repeatable innovation

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Once managers get past factor #1, they often find themselves at a
loss. They understand that they need to invest in infrastructure, but
they don’t know what to do about it. The fact is they usual don’t know
that tools exist to help address the sustainable innovation challenge.
They flounder looking at product development and quality processes such
as Stage Gate or Six Sigma to provide the roadmap. But these processes
don’t address the key issue of how to repeatable identify the best and
innovative solution to the challenges facing the business. These
processes only provide a backdrop against which the innovation strategy
will unfold.

Finally in desperation, the hapless manager turns over the search
for innovation infrastructure to the IT department. Shortly after
this, the business runs afoul of factor #3.

Factor #3 – Traditional bastions of IT feel threatened by innovation technology

IT departments are generally not equipped to understand or evaluate
innovation platforms. (It is for this reason that some would say that
IT stands for Innovation Termination.) As a result, most IT
departments quickly reframe the search for innovation infrastructure as
a search or knowledge management initiative.

All to often and just again today, have I sat across the table from
someone in charge of a knowledge management initiative and listened to
them proudly talk about there beautifully constructed taxonomies, how
they have designed their portals around communities of practice, and
how easily their knowledge workers will be able to share and
collaborate with the new knowledge portal capabilities. These people
rarely want to learn that there is a newer and better approach and tend
to expend their energy justifying what they already know how to do.
All the while, the cries for help from users who are unable to find
valuable information asset in the rigid framework fall on deaf ears.

When I hear this sort of prattle, I wonder when people will
understand that the old school approach to knowledge management is a
failed approach. In the vast majority of organizations, these
initiatives have consumed vast resources and produced little in the way
of tangible results. Recently, Joe Barkai of Manufacturing Insights
hit the nail on the head when he declared that what knowledge workers
need is a semantic, design intent based approach to sourcing concepts.
People need more than a way to browse available data. They need a way
to get their jobs done. They need a way to find the precise
information to address their challenge without having to sift through
load of irrelevant information to get their. They need a high
precision, just in time, concept sourcing environment.

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So, if we are ready to move past these three factors and consider
serious innovation infrastructure, what should we be looking for? Here
are my recommendations.

  • Strong support of proven innovation best practices
  • Points of integration that mesh with existing processes in the company
  • Strong capabilities to source and deliver concepts without tedious searching
  • Ability to seamlessly integrate knowledge from inside and outside the enterprise
  • Support of a passive collaboration model
  • Utility for both breakthrough and incremental innovation
  • Capabilities spanning market analysis, new product definition, product improvement, risk analysis, and IP leverage

What would you add to the list?

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