Let Me Save You Some Time

I admit it. I’m terrible at keeping up with work-related reading.  If I come across something, I’ll pile it on top of my credenza. By the end of 2016, I hoarded a stack of unread stuff that was more than two-feet high and two-feet wide!

After the New Year, I found time to get caught up on my reading and rescue several lost and buried items that succumbed to the piles in my office.

I’ll chalk this up to my own selection bias, but I amassed a nice collection of insights on the shared characteristics of the leading innovators.  In my quest to save you time, I boiled my pile down to three themes: Managing Risk, Defining Innovation, and Managing Innovation.

Managing Risk

Leading innovators think of their business as a mutual fund.  The organization is effective at running the core business that pays today’s bills and resourcing the efforts that will pay tomorrow’s bills.  For them, innovation is placing bets; on some bets, they will lose, and on some bets, they will win.  Like investments, they are purposeful in balancing risk.

Defining Innovation

These leading innovators have a very sharp definition of what is considered innovative for their organization. (Launching the next iPhone is not the best benchmark for everyone.) These firms know the difference between an idea and an insight-based concept. They also know that innovation is more than product. Even better, these firms stick to their core competency but take a wide-angle lens when defining their playing field.

Managing Innovation

Leading innovators know that the process is not linear and at times messy.  They view the process as a framework (not a prescription), and tweak as they learn.  Conversely, they spend a lot of time deciding on criteria to evaluate ideas and concepts knowing that being too restrictive early on is not ideal.

Their innovation teams have the right balance of people who are creative, good problem solvers, and able to get stuff done.  There is mandate for fewer, bigger launches, and killing ideas early and often.  While they kill ideas, and continue to fill the bucket, the bucket is never emptied. They know that new learning may strengthen or weaken an idea that is in the hopper. Within their framework, innovation teams advance dark horse candidates and know these are different than pet projects.

Without question, leading innovators have developed a culture around innovation.  Most notably, they are comfortable with ambiguity and value continual learning.

Hopefully, I boiled my heap into something digestible and useful. If I’m lucky, you’ve read the entire article and have not put this into your hoard. If you are finally reading this article at the beginning of 2018, the insights are just as relevant now as they were in January.

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