Big Thoughts, Innovation

Essential innovation: Essennovation Part 2

In a recent blog I argued that in order to prosper as an IT professional in the new, sobering world of alternative sourcing, new skills may be necessary. These skills are being necessitated by the changing role of IT within organizations. While it is possible to outsource much of the commodity technology and related services required by organizations, there is an increasing need for creative, complex problem-solving technology skills. This layer of technology need requires high doses of innovation and the attendant right-brained skills to make it happen. Rather than discretionary innovation for both the IT professional and IT organization, I called this essential innovation and coined the term essennovation. While my intent was to bring clarity to a common theme currently being discussed within IT circles and in board rooms across the world, I was delighted by the high degree of new conversation the blog provoked.

There was broad agreement with my thesis. Across social media sites and at water coolers, people said that, with a few exceptions, IT innovation was essential. When describing the ideal new-era IT professional, I said that business skills were a bonus. Many corrected me and said business skills were essential. I agree. What was clear–and certainly my intent–was that my blog focused on a very thin slice of essennovation: the IT professional and the role of IT. However, it got me and a lot of other people thinking: what other areas of an organization require a posture of essennovation and even more importantly, what industries are required to essennovate?

In several follow-up forums I suggested that industries such as healthcare and mobile clearly survive because of essennovation. I maintain that innovation is part of their DNA. Resting or gloating in market share does not cut it, lest a competitor quickly out-innovate them. Others chimed in with an interesting counter-point that caused me to pause in thought: did an industry or business exist where innovation was not essential? Upon reflection, I determined my response as yes. But it is a conditional yes and I dedicate the remainder of this blog to its defense.

The answer lies somewhere between my definition of innovation and the maturity of innovation leadership and processes adopted within organizations. First, to address the definition: I generally support the theme that the conversion of ideas into value is a decent description of innovation. But does that mean that process improvement or re-engineering initiatives are also innovation? Somewhat.  When we implement Six Sigma initiatives, for example, are we innovating? Maybe. But, inversely, when we innovate are we delivering Six Sigma initiatives. Probably not. This takes me to the second point, the context in which I consider innovation. To me, innovation is a deliberate and mature set of processes in and of themselves. Couple that with sincere and focused organizational support and leadership and you have my view of innovation. In this context, let’s go back and review the question that was posed: Did an industry or business exist where innovation was not essential? Sure, many organizations have process improvement activities, or they look for ways to improve products and services, but do many of them have mature and supported innovation processes? In my experience and observations working with a vast array of businesses and industries, the conclusion is that many don’t.  Often, the way in which they are tackling the marketplace is working just fine; essennovation is not a factor. For others, it is a matter of education and understanding; they just don’t have the skills or haven’t yet recognized a need to have a mature innovation process. And then there are many who are trying and having limited success. Essennovation belongs to those organizations that live and die by innovation. Essennovation belongs to those who have aggressive revenue growth and performance objectives and they execute upon them by having deliberate, leadership-supported, mature innovation processes. Thus, I conclude that for some decent chunk of organizations, essennovation is simply not a factor.

For me, this provokes a new question: under what scenarios or triggers does an organization move from a non-essennovation state to one of essennovation?  Let me know your thoughts.

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