A brilliant editor once told me that all news is local. In other words, unless the news has a direct impact on you or someone you know, it’s largely irrelevant.
His observation also applies to IT innovation. A new tool or solution qualifies as innovation when it delivers a tangible benefit that helps you perform a task or achieve an objective faster, better and more cost-effectively than before. When it doesn’t deliver a tangible benefit that leads to some kind of measurable improvement, I don’t think it qualifies as innovation.
It’s quite possible that a particular innovation can deliver tangible benefits to some people and to some organizations, but not to all people and to all organizations. It’s also quite possible that a particular innovation might be great for a large organization, but prove impractical for a small organization.
If you accept the idea that innovation has to provide some tangible benefit, it becomes apparent that global innovation does not necessarily translate into local innovation. Scale and location matter. They are variables that must be taken into account when considering the potential value of innovative projects.
My research into innovation has convinced me that successful innovation models are complex and multi-dimensional. They are neither simple, nor linear. Like physics, innovation seems to work differently at different ends of the scale. As a result, small organizations and large organizations are likely to approach innovation in different ways.
Innovation can appear dramatic or mundane. It can be sustaining or disruptive. It can have a large audience or a small audience. It can result in high-margin gains or low-margin gains. It can be embraced and adopted quickly, or over time.
Will a standard model for innovation emerge? Possibly, but it won’t be a simple model. It will look more like a network or a bundle of synapses. It won’t be reduced into a binary equation. In fact, I see five at least five distinct capabilities required for continuous innovation in the modern enterprise:
1. Multi-Directionality. The modern innovation models will take multiple paths and explore multiple options. It will combine internal and external resources. It will have focus and structure, but it is also flexible and resilient. It will assume a certain level of risk, with the understanding that risk is proportional to reward.
2. Inside / Outside Balance. Successful innovation strategies will leverage a blend of traditional R&D and external resources to find creative solutions and serve new markets.
3. Redefined Teams. Innovation requires a different approach to team building. In the past, team members were selected for compatibility and skills. Modern innovation teams will include insiders and outsiders, people who can find and leverage the appropriate resources (whether external or internal), people who bring different views and opinions — people who might not even be considered “team players.”
4. Deep Knowledge and Market Awareness. Innovation also requires deep and extensive knowledge and awareness of the competitive landscape. You have to know that the competition is doing and know your competitor’s business — even better than the competition knows it own business!
5. Partnering With the World. For serial innovators, everyone is a potential partner. You must find good ideas wherever they are, and figure out how to make them work within your ecosystem to create new value for your customers.
This is by no means a complete or exhaustive list. We’ll add more key qualities and capabilities as we continue researching and exploring the best ways for IT leaders to bring innovation and value to the enterprise.