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The other week, a client and I were discussing how to approach an innovation process within their organization. After reviewing and agreeing on the details, I asked how we’d proceed after each work cell produced an MVP (or Minimum Viable Product). The client replied: “We’ll worry about that later. We don’t have the budget right now.” 

This is one of the most common pitfalls in innovation processes: organizations underestimate or downright ignore the “day after.” They dedicate time, effort, and resources to driving innovation processes in order to generate new solutions. Yet strangely enough, they don’t think about the long-term. They lose sight of the fact that every new solution also requires new methodologies, tools, and skills in order to work. That is, organizations forget to map out the final stretch on the road to innovation. It’s shortsighted to gauge the success or failure of an innovation on the performance of a product or service in the market. This is just one part of the process (and there are usually opportunities to produce different outcomes). In short, many innovations fail before they can even get going.

 
What does this final stretch look like?

Innovation processes are usually based on agile and flexible structures. These require the utmost commitment from those involved, since innovative ideas are owned by all — and, thus, by no one. Yet when the time comes to implement these ideas, structures and company processes often prove slow and lethargic, and it can take ages to properly assign roles and ownership. Innovation needs a plan to ensure continuity past the opening stages. According to Boston Consulting Group, around 20% of companies have high-performing innovation systems aimed at transforming ambitions into actual results. One example of an end-to-end innovation process would be the one implemented by Apple many decades ago — and which still serves as their roadmap, as they continue to grow and employ 150,000 people around the world.

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This process grew out of the functional structure implemented by Steve Jobs in 1997 upon his return to Apple. Back then, the company was organized around independent business (and product) units. Each was led by a manager who concentrated on the success of their unit’s business plan. Jobs believed this classic corporate structure generated friction and competition for budget and resources. It also stifled the company’s broader vision: to build a consistent pipeline of innovative products that are valuable to consumers. In response to this, Jobs decided to reorient the company’s activities around areas of functional excellence. Leaders would no longer be business managers but experts in their unit’s area or field. They’d have the experience and know-how to “read” the market and stay ahead of the pack. And the success of their units would not be measured in profits and losses but, rather, via their contributions to the company as a whole. Innovation thus became the main focus across the company value chain, from Sales to Research & Development. 

For any innovation to be successful, organizations must not only focus on getting the process started, but also make sure to realize and implement whatever solutions might appear along the way. “We’ll worry about that later” tends to quickly become, “And now what?” The key to innovation is anticipating this turning point, so the answer to the latter question doesn’t end up being: “Nothing at all.” 


By Mariana Socorros, Innovation Director and People Centricity at OLIVIA.