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The road from innovation to success

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I’ve written (ok grumbled) about the apparent obsession with idea generation as a proxy for innovation a few times on this blog.

Early exponents of open innovation such as the Dell Idea Storm and Starbucks Ideas for instance achieved a pretty awful conversion rate of ideas to actually implemented ideas.

It casts the ideas side of things as the glamorous part of the equation, with the implementation something of an afterthought.  Before Christmas I wrote about some of the most inventive people in human history, and how many of them had a partner who was exceptional at the ‘boring stuff’ of implementation.

Anyway, it’s probably fair to say that I think ideas in themselves are a very long way away from representing innovation.

So it was interesting to recently read a paper authored by researchers at Kaunas University of Technology (KTU) that explored this very topic.

If you haven’t heard of KTU before, they’re a Lithuanian university, so unsurprisingly the focus of their study was the Lithuanian economy.

They explored the economic competitiveness of 450 or so companies, with a decent mixture of the supposed innovative ones in with the laggards.

The paper particularly wanted to explore the idea that economic performance was directly linked to our innovative capabilities.

The researchers first set out to understand the innovative capabilities of the companies included in the study.  They broke these down into five core areas:

  1. the ability to monitor the environment for signs of change
  2. the ability to recognize and select new possibilities
  3. the ability to distribute resources efficiently
  4. the ability to create and sell knowledge intensive products and services
  5. the ability to obtain and renew knowledge and skills

The results revealed that the most successful innovators were often those who took the highest risk.

“The successful innovative enterprises tend to choose possibilities having higher added value, although it is often related to higher risks. Plus, these enterprises devote more time for searching for original ideas“, the researchers say.

This contrasted with the trial and error method that seemed to be common amongst the less successful organizations.  The paper suggests that this approach can often waste a lot of time and resources.

A more successful approach sees organizations learn constantly, evaluating ideas quickly and implementing them well through strong project management.

What’s more, such standard bearers were also very active in collaboration partnerships with outside bodies, be they outside their industry or in other countries.  These partnerships ensured that the organization retained a constant flow of information and knowledge into the enterprise.

The results also showed that innovation was often employee led rather than management led, which is a good sign that successful organizations are sensing and responding to their environment.

“In a successful company its employees devote their personal time to search for innovative ideas, and they offer those ideas for implementation. These enterprises work according to the principle: if there is no leader for an innovative project, there is no project. The initiative in those enterprises rises from the employees and not from the management”, the authors say.

The paper provides a further reminder however that simply investing in innovation or generating a lot of ideas does not make us successful.  That requires us to go about things in the right way.

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