Just like strategy, being innovative or creative is useless unless ideas can be executed on.
While academics and practitioners alike still argue over whether innovation can be dictated and prescribed, these arguments tend to revolve around the act of creativity or inspiration, rather than the process of innovation. Just like strategy, being innovative or creative is useless unless ideas can be executed on. The innovation strategy framework does not attempt to regulate the act of inspiration, only to provide an environment fostering both the identification of ideas as well as the development of these ideas into successful projects.
One of the single greatest challenges in developing sustainable innovation practices is not the lack of ideas, but the inability to focus on those ideas most likely to succeed, both in the market as well as within the organization. Organizations are awash in good ideas, but lack the resources and capabilities to develop all of them into viable products, services, and processes. Rather than selecting and curating the best ideas, the ones most aligned with the organization’s capabilities and direction, ideas are often selected solely at the whims of organizational influencers using idiosyncratic criteria. Innovation tends to be born out of circumstance rather than cognizance.
This is where strategic domains fit into the innovation strategy framework (figure 1).
Strategic Innovation Domains
Every company has a set of strategic goals, either explicit or implicit. These strategic goals help orient the organization, prioritize spending, and become the yardstick by which success is measured. It only makes sense that these same goals should help an organization identify, develop, and manage its innovation efforts. Strategic innovation domains align the innovation process with the overall organization acting as agents in the innovation process to seek out innovation opportunities contributing to organizational success.
The inclusion of strategic innovation domains is the key difference between the innovation strategy framework and many other approaches to sustainable innovation. Innovation is frequently addressed as something that everyone in the organization should do, or be a part of. Again, this is likely a result of confounding ideation from execution; however, even regarding ideation, expecting organizational participants to be more innovative or creative simply because they are told to do misses the mark. Employees see this as another task they are expected to perform in addition to their existing duties, without additional compensation. In addition, this approach is based on the notion that organizations lack ideas, rather than lacking a focused approach to seeking out and executing on the right ideas.
Applying Focus to Innovation Efforts
Strategic domains focus on innovation execution. Each strategic domain is responsible for identifying, developing, and managing innovation aligned with its strategic focus. Rather than relying on happenstance to surface the right innovation ideas, strategic domains leverage the innovation processes (attracting, foraying, and experiencing) to seek out appropriate ideas as well as develop the most promising ones. There are several benefits to this approach.
Imagine if an organization refused to invest in accounting and just told employees to be more accountable.
The most obvious benefit is the alignment of innovation and the strategic trajectory of the organization. There should be as many strategic innovation domains as there are strategic goals within the organization. If the organizational strategy changes, then the strategic innovation domains should change to reflect this. In this manner, the organization’s innovation efforts are focused on those most likely to fit within the organization’s capabilities and long-term focus. This significantly reduces the signal to noise ratio by eliminating those ideas unlikely to be successfully executed by the organization.
By making an individual (or group) specifically responsible for innovation efforts, you also gain ownership. If everyone is responsible for innovation, then no one can be held responsible for the success or failure. Using the innovation pipeline approach of the strategic innovation framework, the innovation efforts of each strategic domain can be measured; and, that which can be measured, can be managed. Strategic domains make innovation just as much a part of business operations as HR, accounting, sales, or product management.
Finally, making innovation the primary function of an individual (or individuals), leads to more consistent performance. Making innovation “everyone’s job” in addition to their existing roles means either innovation or operations will suffer when the two objectives compete. Employing people with dedicated innovation functions ensures continued focus on developing innovation and raises the chances of success significantly.
Importance of Strategic Domains
The number of organizations believing they will be successful with innovation without investing is staggering. This would be a ridiculous approach to any other business activity. Imagine if an organization refused to invest in accounting and just told employees to be more accountable. Yet, when it comes to innovation, leaders somehow assume that telling employees to be more innovative will somehow launch the next market-leading product or service. Investing in strategic innovation domains not only creates an environment where innovation can succeed, it also telegraphs the organization’s commitment to being successful. It’s easy to say you believe in the importance to innovative, but until you are willing to invest, it is hard to believe it.