Is Innovation Everyone’s Job?

by Jay Deragon on 10/08/2008

Technology is fueling rapid change within markets, management methods and the definition of success for business. Old established paradigms of what makes a business successful and competitive is being replaced by “innovation” fueled by massive unstructured collaboration enabled by social technologies. Innovation is to business is what communications is to relations, without it little if any progress can be made.

An excerpt from “The Future of Management,” by Gary Hamel with Bill Breen provides a good overview of the critical elements being fueled by innovation.

In a world where strategy life cycles are shrinking, innovation is the only way a company can renew its lease on success. It’s also the only way it can survive in a world of bare-knuckle competition.

In decades past, many companies were insulated from the fierce winds of Schumpeterian competition. Regulatory barriers, patent protection, distribution monopolies, disempowered customers, proprietary standards, scale advantages, import protection, and capital hurdles were bulwarks that protected industry incumbents from the margin-crushing impact of Darwinian competition. Today, many of these fortifications are collapsing.

Collapsing entry barriers, hyper efficient competitors, customer power—these forces will be squeezing margins for years to come. In this harsh new world, every company will be faced with a stark choice: either set the fires of innovation ablaze, or be ready to scrape out a mean existence in a world where seabed labor costs (Chinese prisoners, anyone?) are the only difference between making money and going bust.

Given this, it’s surprising that so few companies have made innovation everyone’s job. For the most part, innovation is still relegated to organizational ghettos—it is still the responsibility of dedicated units like new product development and R&D, where creative types are kept safely out of the way of those who have to “run the business.”

Today innovation is the buzzword du jour, but there’s still a yawning chasm between rhetoric and reality. If you doubt this, seek out a few entry-level employees and ask them the following questions:

1. How have you been equipped to be a business innovator? What training have you received? What tools have you been supplied with?

2. Do you have access to an innovation coach or mentor? Is there an innovation expert in your unit who will help you develop your breakout idea?

3. How easy is it for you to get access to experimental funding? How long would it take you to get a few thousand dollars in seed money? How many levels of bureaucracy would you have to go through?

4. Is innovation a formal part of your job description? Does your compensation depend in part on your innovation performance?

5. Do your company’s management processes—budgeting, planning, staffing, etc.—support your work as an innovator or hinder it?

Don’t be surprised if these questions provoke little more than furrowed brows and quizzical looks. Truth is, there are not more than a handful of companies on the planet that have built an all-encompassing, corporate wide innovation system.

Our world is changing faster than most can comprehend. Technology is accelerating relational communications. Communications are the foundation of any economy. Conversational rivers connected by social technology enable waves of innovation to flow and creative thoughts to manifest at the click of a mouse. Innovation is about changing things for the better. Are you ready? Are you contributing? After all innovation is everyone’s job.

What say you?


Chicago Blues CD May 19, 2010 at 12:22 pm

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Chuck Frey November 6, 2008 at 3:25 pm

If innovation is supposed to be everyone’s job, what does that REALLY mean? Here are some questions to consider:

Alan October 8, 2008 at 12:30 pm

Innovators are leaders and always have been. We are in a leadership crisis now – and the need for leadership is more desperate by the hour. Thinking of “new” things – the ‘nova’ of ‘innovate’ – requires freeing up our minds and being fearless in our communities. It takes courage, as well as creativity. If you are such a leader, step forth!

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