Successful Innovation and Successful Innovators

Before we move to look at examples of successful routines for innovation management, we should pause for a moment and define what we mean by success.

We have already seen that one aspect of this question is the need to measure the overall process rather than its constituent parts. Many successful inventions fail to become innovations even when well planned. Equally innovation alone may not always lead to business success. Although there is strong evidence to connect innovation with performance success depends on others as well. If the fundamentals of the business are weak, then all innovation in the world may not be sufficient to save it. This argues for strategically focused innovation as part of a balanced scorecard of result measurement.

We also need to consider the time perspective. The real test of innovation success is not a one off success in the short term but sustained growth through continuous invention and adaptation. It is relatively simple to succeed once with a lucky combination of new ideas and receptive market at the right time – but it is quite another thing to repeat the performance consistently . Some organizations clearly feel able to do the latter to the point of presenting themselves as innovators — for example, 3M, Sony, IBM, Samsung, and Philips all of whom currently use the term in their advertising campaigns and stake their reputations on their ability to innovate consistently.

In our terms, success relates to the overall innovation process and its ability to contribute consistently to growth. This question of measurement – particularly its use to help shape and improve management of the process.

What do we know about successful Innovation management?

The good news is that there is a knowledge base on which to draw in attempting to answer this question. Quite apart from the wealth of experience (of success and failure) reported by organizations involved with innovation, there is a growing pool of knowledge derived from research. Over the past 80 years or so there have been many studies of the innovation process, looking at many different angles. Different innovations, different sectors, firms of different shapes and sizes, operating in different countries etc. have all come under the microscope and have been analyzed in a variety of ways.

Table gives some examples of the research which underpins what we know about successful innovation management.

From this knowledge base it is clear that there are no easy answers and that innovation varies enormously – by scale, type, sector etc. Nonetheless there does appear to be some convergence around our two key points:

Innovation is a process not a single event and needs to be managed as such. The influences on the process can be manipulated to affect the outcome – that is it can be managed

Most importantly the research base highlights the concept of success routines which are learned over time and through experience. For example, successful innovation correlates strongly with how the firm selects and manages projects, how it co-ordinates the inputs of different functions, how it links up with its customers etc. Developing an integrated set of routines is strongly associated with successful innovation management, and can give rise to distinctive competitive ability – for example being able to introduce new product faster than anyone or being able to use new process technology better.

The other critical point to emerge from research is that innovation needs that managing in an integrated way; it is not enough just to manage or develop abilities in some of these areas. One metaphor which helps draw attention to this is to see managing the process in sporting terms; success is more akin to winning a multi event group of activities (like the pentathlon ) than to winning a single high performance event like the 100 meters.

Source: Managing Innovation