Moving Forward with Innovation by Looking Back

Most organizations have their unfortunate history of major initiatives thrust on them by well-meaning executives and zealous consultants: total quality, six sigma, employee engagement, knowledge management, and other fads. While all can have their value, the reality of a sudden change in direction – “something completely different” – is a huge leap that often fails to pan out. To succeed with innovation, an organization must build on what it has done in the past, including:

  • Original innovation legacy
  • Past innovation history
  • Recent innovation results

By gaining an understanding of these elements, organizations can develop an innovation program that builds on the past – and thus doesn’t feel completely different at all. To assess your organization’s innovation capability and receive a customizable report comparing your responses to others, click here.

Innovation Legacy

Many organizations were founded on the basis of disrupting an industry with an exciting new product, service, or business model. At that point of first innovation, the organization took on the existing establishment – and won. But fast forward a few dozen years, and what do you see? Do the stories of those early days still permeate the culture, reminding everyone of the organization’s innovation legacy? At Hewlett-Packard they do; their legacy is captured in a video, a virtual museum, and even in the preservation of the now-famous “HP Garage” where it all began.

To tap into your own organization’s innovation legacy, collect answers to the following questions:

  • How did we get started?
  • What was going on with our industry at the time?
  • What did we do that was different?
  • What was it like to be part of that?

Innovation History

Most organizations maintain at least a low level of innovation, including new products, services, delivery mechanisms, systems, support, technologies, processes, partnerships, etc. Chronicling this history and raising it to the organization’s conscience can build the awareness and confidence that is needed to reignite innovation today.

To tap into your organization’s innovation history, collect answers to the following questions:

  • When have we successfully innovated?
  • What triggered the need for innovation at that time?
  • How did we do it?
  • Who was involved?
  • What did we accomplish? What did we learn?

Innovation Results

Quantifying innovation’s current contribution to a range of organizational results can point out where you stand with regard to markets and competitors. Identifying current results helps quantify innovation’s role in the organization’s success equation.

To leverage your organization’s innovation results, collect answers to the following questions:

  • What top-line results have we attained, with regard to new markets penetrated, new customers acquired, or new businesses created?
  • Where has innovation contributed to the bottom line, such as costs reduced, or risks avoided?
  • What other objectives are we achieving, such as social consciousness, public relations, or employee engagement?

What is the purpose of this little side trip into the organization’s past, when all we care about is setting a new course for the future? Unlike the Monty Python crew who could simply segue, “And now for something completely different”, your organization’s best chance of success lies in extending its innovation legacy, history, and recent results into the future. Compile the answers you receive into a short “learning history” of innovation, and provide it to your leaders for their use in communicating. You may be pleasantly surprised to find that innovation isn’t going to be all that different after all. Maybe “And now for even more of the same.”

Andy Beaulieu
Senior Consultant, Strategic Partners, Inc.


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