Companies depend on innovation for their long-term survival, yet the innovation process is plagued with uncertainty, risk, surprise and failure. In US-based companies, more than 90% of all innovation initiatives are either abandoned or fail, costing Fortune 1,000 firms alone nearly $80 billion per year. Fortunately, innovation doesn’t have to be a chance occurrence or a random event that is contingent on serendipity or luck.
There is a better way, but it requires managers to think differently about innovation. They must recognize that innovation is not an art form and not a random event, but rather a critical business process; a process with specific steps that, if managed and controlled, would yield desired and predictable results.If you made it this far you may be asking yourself, “Does the world need another book on innovation”? If you Google the term innovation, you’ll obtain at least 120 million hits in seconds, suggesting there’s a lot of information available on the topic. Some of the greatest minds in the field, such as Peter Drucker, Clayton Christianson, James Utterback, Steven Johnson and many others, have written brilliantly and extensively, describing innovations from many points of view. So why should anyone else bother adding another book to this already substantial library?
The evidence suggests innovation has not been treated as a skill that anyone, from students to senior executives, across any field, can learn in order to become more innovative. I’m not advocating a universal recipe for becoming an innovator. That would be a fool’s errand. I’m asserting that certain basic elements of innovation can be learned, taught and mastered, making innovation a discipline. The premise is that a person can become innovative in the same way they learn to ride a bicycle. The analogy is that innovation is natural to human beings, something they can learn at an early age and master to a significant degree and never forget how to do. In fact, learning how to become innovative should be as easy as learning how to ride a bicycle, and is a skill that can be developed at a very early age. So the question becomes, “How does one synthesize what has been published about innovation, allowing an individual to acquire the required educated point of view useful in developing innovative behaviors?”
Accepting the definition of innovation as being a human response to, and exploitation of, a change that creates wealth in the present, then it seems reasonable that a process can be delineated that enables individuals to become more innovative by first recognizing change, defining its meaning to the individual’s circumstances, assessing what responses to make and why, combined with a starting point of how to exploit the change force, creating wealth in the present and then preserving the wealth created. A precondition for such a process to work is that innovation must have common features that are independent of the context in which the innovation will occur. These common features suggest that innovation is fractal, looking the same from whatever vantage point you view it.
The approach for developing this educated point of view is to combine the thinking of thought leaders in the field of innovation with the experiences of actual practitioners into a holistic framework. This framework begins with a strategic view that defines what change forces should be responded to, why they’re valuable to the endeavor, which specific choices will be made as to where to invest time and money, all supported by specific plans yielding measurable and desirable results.
My book: “Applied Innovation: A Handbook” is divided into six parts beginning with strategy and tactics – what to do and how to do it, followed by very specific approaches to leadership, processes, and managing relationships and data in the information age. People do not innovate alone, so how people interact with each other when swimming in an ocean of data is a critical component of being more innovative today. This is followed by a treatise for converting the innovation into something a customer will value and pay for, which creates wealth. This part deals with business models, financing, delivery, protection and propagating the success. Finally, I’ll close with some case studies of successful innovations leading to well-known enterprises spanning the globe over the past 300 years in several unrelated industries. The critical objective of these case studies will be to identify the common themes that emerge when innovation takes place.
1 This information is based on the finding of Kuczmarski and Associates, a Chicago-based consultancy, and a footnote in Wellspring of Knowledge, Chapter 7.
2 Edersheim. Elizabeth Haas. The Definitive Drucker, McGraw-Hill, 2007
3 Christensen, Clayton. The innovator’s dilemma: When new technologies cause great firms to fail, Harvard Business Review Press, 2013.
4 Utterback, James M. Mastering the Dynamics of Innovation, Harvard Business Press, 1996.
5 Johnson, Steven. Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation, Riverhead, 2004.
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