Success Factors for Breakthrough Innovation
This is not a revolutionary list – there are a number of these lists out there, and within the collection there is both clear overlap as well as room for customization. In talking through these I hope to get people’s reactions as to what really is necessary to achieve breakthrough innovation, and in so doing I hope to get a sense of what the industry standards are and where the differentiation tends to lie.
Our belief is that in the pursuit of truly breakthrough innovation you must have:
A compelling case for innovation – people must understand why innovation is necessary in order to get behind the push for breakthrough. That push will inevitably require change from the status quo, and people fear change.
A vision of the future – the company has to have an understanding of what the future might look like, and it must be a future in which the company might be deemed irrelevant (if you are fully deductive – that is predicting the future based entirely upon the past – then you’ll always appear relevant). It’s always guesswork, but it’s essential guesswork, and can be done in an “educated” way (see: Future Pull).
An aligned strategic innovation agenda – the company has to have a sense of what business it is in, and what business it wants to be in, and also what its risk-tolerance is, before it can move toward breakthrough. An innovation portfolio with 100% breakthrough is generally not right for any company – you have to know what is right for you given your aspirations and the realities of your business.
Senior management involvement – traditional metrics cannot be applied to breakthrough innovations as the metrics for incremental or sustaining innovation are defined by historical successes. Breakthrough innovation doesn’t look like anything that has come before it, that’s why it’s breakthrough, and this is why it so desperately needs support from above.
A decision-making model that fosters teamwork – autocracy almost always misses some critical stakeholders and consensus sinks every decision to its lowest possible common denominator. A broader team has to be engaged in the process, and then a passionate “champion” has to be able to make the ultimate decisions for that team.
A creative, multi-functional team – a cross-sectional representation of the company is essential, not only for the full perspective (and to enable cross-pollination), but for conveying a flat, non-hierarchical or preferential one group vs another mentality.
Willingness to take risk and value absurdity – this is really two in one, as risk-taking is one thing and valuing absurd ideas for what they are is another. Both are essential though, risk-taking for its strategic and cultural implications, and absurdity for its potential to take the organization in unexpected and (occasionally) highly valuable new directions. And, contrary to common belief, absurd ideas can be pursued with little initial investment.
A well-defined, yet flexible, implementation process – far too many high-potential, breakthrough ideas suffer because they are force-fit into the same pipeline as the incremental. These big ideas require nurturing – a flexible process that can help these ideas evolve into something that fills a new space, and often it won’t look like it did coming in, which is a tough thing to be ok with at the front end, but at the back end, you’ll be so happy you were when you see it thrive.
What’s your reaction to these success factors? What do you think are the critical success factors for breakthrough innovation? Would love to hear your perspectives!
- Clay Maxwell (@bizinovationist)