Sunday, September 23, 2018

Three Complementary Elements of Innovation

Although there’s no magic formula for innovation success, there are also many complementary quality elements in innovation management to strike the right balance.

Innovation - the practical application of creativity is essentially about problem-solving at various levels; and to solve a problem implies a wish to make something, or everything, better. In a fundamental view, innovation is a process and every process needs to be managed. Some highly innovative organizations fail to capitalize on great ideas because there was no structure in place to manage the ideas and produce quality products/services. Here are three complementary elements of quality to improve innovation success rate from the management perspective.

: On the surface, it seems that efficiency and innovation are the opposite. Because in many organizations, there is an emphasis on efficiency rather than innovation or creativity, in pursuit of operational stability. They focus on improving margins by trimming the bottom-line cost rather than increasing the top-line growth. However, to think the long-term, actually, efficiency and innovation are complementary business characteristics to run the high-performance business. The greater the efficiency of an organization, the greater the need is for creativity to maintain high performance in the long run. Many process innovations will be concerned with increasing and optimizing efficiency and maintaining existing skills and linkages. Efficiency and innovation have to learn to live and function together seamlessly. If an organization is inefficient, it will be inefficient with new ideas as well. Efficiency will extract the maximum benefit from a new idea. However, be cautious, an over-obsession with the rigidity of efficiency stunts innovation processes, innovation is supposed to be fluid and should not be straight-jacketed, otherwise, efficiency perhaps easily destroys the seed of innovation which is not quite ready to be analyzed for its profit margin. When the business management can strike the right balance of efficiency and creativity, they are on the right path to both improve the bottom line benefit and the top line business growth. "Efficiency and creativity complement, not oppose, one another." - Edward de Bono

Simplicity: Though innovation seems to be the light every organization is pursuing, for many of them, innovation is still serendipitous, nothing but simple. Because companies of all sizes, especially large corporations, are designed to suck at innovation. They become too dependent on satisfying corporate regulation or protocols, and things, either processes or systems, in fact, turn out to be so complex. But back to basic, innovation is about simplifying things, not the other way around. The ability to simplify means to eliminate unnecessary layers of complication so that the better or more innovative solutions coming out. From innovation management perspective, innovation processes fall into one of two camps: Either they are too abstracted from the real world issues at hand, so they can’t provide practical guidance or lack of formal processes to streamline ideas and push them through, or they are so detailed and specific, such that they are not flexible to adapt to the emerging changes or the compliance with the processes is impractical. Innovation processes need to be flexible and adaptable. Unlike many other types of operational business processes which are strictly based on hierarchical management discipline, innovative ideas should be reviewed, selected and developed by leveraging simple empowered processes, cross-functional communication and collaboration are crucial to bridge idea creation and implementation, things should be as simple as possible.

Change: Innovation is the change, though not all changes are innovations. Some additional variables that might merit consideration are the nature of changes. The broader the scope, scale, and impact of the change, the more one leans towards calling such change an innovation. More often than not, innovation management and change management are complementary business processes going neck to neck to improve the innovation success rate. Either change or innovation is hard for many organizations because people are part of the status quo, and it isn’t until they are forced by circumstances when the old paradigm becomes incompatible with the new reality and there’s no other choice but changes. With change management as an embedded mechanism in innovation management, successful organizations can manage a portfolio of innovation initiatives, prioritized with adequate support across the whole business spectrum, to either make the current business improved or look for new business model and everything in between (refreshing the portfolio, finding totally new fields or ensuring on-going profitability and extension of the current portfolio). Change and innovation are complementary and core business activities which enable the digital business flow, drive new product development and make continuous business improvements.

Although there’s no magic formula for innovation success, people, structure, technology, and process are all important factors. There are also many complementary quality elements in innovation management to strike the right balance. There are times fostering a culture where creativity thrives really helps to drive innovation that can fit into an existing business or process. Innovation is both art and science.


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