With all this Strategy… Who’s got time to Innovate?

InnovVStratWhen did Innovation turn into something we all feel a bit guilty about?

Innovation usually gets called on when we’re worried that Strategy alone might not get us through… Innovation is creative, and daring. It introduces us to new things and makes us look good (we hope).  And every now and then we even get caught up in the notion of running off with it altogether.

But sometimes.. it can feel hard to handle; it brings its own Dilemmasnobody responds well to its ultimatums (Innovate or Die)…and anyone could be forgiven for backing silently away from something called The Innovation Death Spiral.

Innovation remains a priority. As Rita McGrath recently told us the kind of killer competitive advantages that enable companies to succeed without innovating are increasingly short-lived.  But when the pressure is back on we pull away.

This trepidation can’t just be because innovation is risky. Anyone involved in strategy knows that it involves substantial risk.

The difference between Strategy and Innovation is that while we are familiar with the planning activities of Strategy, when it comes to Innovation we simply don’t know how to manage it.

As with all implementation, embracing Innovation means finding techniques that work in the day to day context of your own organisation.   One such tool is Design Thinking; a process for creative problem-solving popularised by Californian design firm IDEO and now being used in many Fortune 500 companies thanks to the Stanford dSchool’s work with the business community. It’s simple, straightforward, and run well it works and across industries it’s proving to be a very effective method of finding new ways of creating value; we use it at IMI to create business education and partner solutions.  

Design Thinking is about trying to create more value for your customers (and in turn for your organisation) by thinking of them as end-users in an iterative design process. Those in Marketing will calmly point out that that they’ve been trying to get us to listen to our customers from day one.  But the empathic design advocated is as much about empathising with and trying to define latent needs before customers are fully able o articulate them. The whole process is geared towards rapidly ideating, prototyping and testing a pipeline of ideas – long before the necessary product-specific market research.  As a method it is more than just a set of tools for innovation but rather a whole new perspective on how to create new value.

And that is what it’s about after all. In the end Strategy was and is essentially military, made for zero-sum games where there is a set amount of value to play for.  Innovation on the other hand is about extending the overall amount of value available.  It’s the ultimate game-changer.

Finding the right way to manage them both as part of the same value creation process in the context of each of our own organisations will mean no longer having to make the choice between the two. And should help to banish any niggling feelings of guilt.

Eva Maguire is Head of Design & Innovation at IMI, a team of program designers and customer relationship managers that use industry insight and innovative learning methods and technology to create client solutions and experiences.  Her expertise is in strategic planning, research and innovation management.


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