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Kumar Mehta


Recognizing Innovation Right in Front of You

Can you see it?

Published: Wednesday, August 22, 2018 - 12:01

Establishing the conditions that encourage innovation is the best way for your company to develop an environment that lets you produce offerings with new and novel value—innovations in the eyes of your users. The most innovative companies do this instinctively—perhaps because of the culture instilled by superstar leaders, by a conscious and successful effort, or by the emergence of the right conditions after things just fell into place.

But the fact is that every company can develop this innate innovation capability—something I call an “innovation biome.” Companies are inherently innovative, and their employees often have great ideas that can become market winners. The problem is that companies often don’t have an environment to germinate and nurture great ideas because they believe that these ideas are “out there” somewhere. It is critical that your organization focus on innovation from within by recognizing the innovation in front of you.

One of the core assumptions about innovation is that ideas always build on other ideas. Breakthrough innovation is never something that comes out of the blue. Nothing is independent; progress breeds progress, and improvements lead to other improvements. Just like the internet—everything is connected. Creativity and innovation are about improving on what is out there and connecting dots in an original way to create new value.

Innovations are rarely, if ever, unique breakthroughs with no history. They come from interconnected, networked ideas. They come from expanding on the lessons of the past. The one common truth across all innovations throughout history is that if an innovation had not happened as we know it, it would still have happened, only with a different set of players and circumstances. We would still have antibiotics if Alexander Fleming had not observed that mold kills bacteria. We would still be flying had the Wright brothers not pioneered flight. We would still have mass-produced automobiles and light bulbs had Henry Ford or Thomas Edison not made the contributions they did.

Every company has in its possession great ideas and developments. The problem is that these ideas never materialize into inspiring products. For your company to thrive on innovation, it must excel at identifying the ideas and game-changing opportunities that are there for the taking. In many companies, there is often little knowledge of the potential developments being produced in product or R&D departments, or even in the minds of employees. A good first step to get ready for breakthrough innovation is to map out the idea-to-development flow and analyze why new-product development or R&D investments aren’t creating products that get used by customers.

Creating an innovation map is critical if an organization wants to develop an innovation or growth mindset. Without knowledge of the innovation activities going on in your organization, or without knowing the barriers that prevent ideas from morphing into market winners, success through innovation will simply be a shot in the dark.

You can build this innovation-readiness map by following the journey of innovation from the time an idea is introduced to the moment it goes into development and reaches customers or is abandoned somewhere along the way. This exercise is certain to highlight the barriers preventing ideas from germinating and becoming value-enhancing offerings.

You will learn why great ideas never become great products. You will learn why innovations that could be breakthroughs often get shoved aside (like the first digital camera developed at Kodak). It could be because they don’t fit with the existing business model, did not get the right attention or have a large enough contribution, or they got subsumed by a larger and more profitable business unit. Any of these factors can impede an innovation from achieving its full potential.

Your company also needs a simple and replicable methodology to evaluate how new developments can affect customer value. Don’t just make initial judgments solely on near-term profit-and-loss impact; That will likely lead you in the wrong direction. Evaluate how much of an improvement an innovation offers in altering a customer experience journey, or the journey a potential customer takes to complete a task. The bigger the impact, or the larger the experience delta, the more likely the new development is going to be a successful innovation.

Have confidence that your team is coming up with great ideas that can be market-winning offerings. That is not the problem. The problem you need to solve is recognizing these ideas and making sure you have an environment where they can flourish.

First published July 30, 2018, on the thoughtLEADERS blog.


About The Author

Kumar Mehta’s picture

Kumar Mehta

Dr. Kumar Mehta, author of The Innovation Biome, has been at the forefront of innovation, research, and data analytics for over 25 years. Mehta founded Bridges Insight, an innovation think tank committed to researching innovation and helping organizations accelerate their rate of innovation. He has applied many innovation frameworks in his fourteen years at Microsoft and throughout his tenure building out innovative companies. Mehta also serves as a Senior Research Fellow at the Center for the Digital Future at the University of Southern California and serves on the board of The Committee for Children. For more information, please visit www.BridgesInsight.com.