Archive for June, 2009
I’m happy to announce that Conquering Innovation Fatigue has been honored by being selected as the “Featured Book” at InnovationCoach.com. Thank you! Innovation Coach is the brain child of Robert Brands, former CEO of AirSpray (a company with cool dispensing systems such as their famous innovation of soap pumps that dispense foam) until they were acquired by Rexam. Robert is a terrific innovator who has held high positions in other companies such as Kohler and Rexam. Robert is working on a book on innovation called Robert’s Rules of Innovation which I hope to see in print by the end of this year.
Just got my first copies of Conquering Innovation Fatigue. Very happy with the printing by John Wiley & Sons. Many thanks to artists Nichole Marshall and Mark Benyo for assistance in cover design and graphics. Both are from the Fox Cities of Wisconsin (Menasha and Appleton, respectively).
While the book is written with a global perspective and features information and case studies from all over, there is a Wisconsin element included in the book. I must say that I’m impressed with how much innovation occurs among the inventors, entrepreneurs, universities, and corporations of this state.
Wisconsin-related elements include:
- a case study (entire chapter) on Sunrise Farms of Neenah, the innovative broccoli sprout farmer that was nearly shut down by a bad patent;
- a case study (entire chapter) on Orion Energy Systems of Manitowoc, the innovative energy-saving company that Pres. Obama publicly highlighted in a recent speech;
- a review of the decline and potential hope for the paper industry, with an introspective discussion of Appleton’s former Institute of Paper Chemistry (now IPST at Georgia Tech) and its role as a microcosm to understand some of the “fatigue factors” in the industry;
- several discussions of Kimberly-Clark Corporation and best practices and unusual approaches to innovation;
- a lesson from the director of The Lion King during a backstage tour at Appleton’s Performing Arts Center; and
- several lessons from our work at Innovationedge in Neenah.
This book focuses on the personal side of innovation and reveals the often unseen “innovation fatigue factors” that can shut down innovation. It’s written for entrepreneurs, business leaders, inventors, and even government officials, showing these unseen and often unintended barriers and revealing how they can be overcome. To order at Amazon, go to http://tinyurl.com/nofatigue.
The Entrepreneur Daily Dose Blog from Entrepreneur Magazine discusses a new web tool that calculates business success. The Odds of Success Calculator from StartupNation.com takes 8 factors into account that have been correlated with the eventual success of a startup. They note that entering the information for Twitter gives it only a 46% chance of success:
The Wall Street Journal blog, Venture Capital Dispatch, tested the calculator using Twitter’s information. The Odds of Success Calculator gave Twitter a 46 percent odds of success over the next five years. The lack of confidence shown by the online tool for one of the most revolutionary startups underscores the improbability for any algorithm, much less one constructed of only eight variables, to provide accurate or even directional guidance. Think about it. If you were Evan Williams, the chief executive of Twitter, would you quit?
46% chance of success? That’s better than my current estimate for Twitter’s success, if success is defined as being profitable. Lots of money sinks achieve popularity – just try handing out cash and you’ll see. But sustained profitability? I give them a 40% chance of success. And that’s terrific, because in reality, the odds of success for any startup are painfully low. Innovation is a high risk activity and failure is the norm. There are things you can do to increase you odds and reduce the risks, but nothing short of totalitarian power will guarantee your success, and even that tends to be short-lived.
In Conquering Innovation Fatigue, we look at the many barriers to innovation success and reveal many steps that bold, courageous, persistent innovators can take to overcome them. But even when all is done, there are market risks, legal risks, political risks, technical risks and other risks that cannot always be anticipated or easily conquered. But by taking the right steps, you may increase your odds by five to ten times or more. For example, Clayton Christensen has shown that if an innovation can be positioned as a disruptive innovation, its odds of success increase from about 6% to about 36%. Still challenging, but much more likely to succeed.
I don’t think the success calculator should be taken too seriously, but I agree that it may be a helpful reminder that even well-funded efforts with lots of positive factors on their side may still face an uphill battle in achieving success. That’s the reality of life and of innovation. Nothing in the journey is meant to be easy. But when you do realize success, it can be very rewarding to see the difference you’ve made. So go for it with a combination of wild dreams and tempered realism. The realism part comes in listening to sound advice and understanding the risks that you face, in spite of tremendous hope and enthusiasm. You will be beaten down. It’s the ones who can keep moving forward in spite of the initial barriers that are more likely to win the prize.
We have emphasized the importance of strengthening “the will to share” as a key to having a culture of innovation in an organization. Breaking the will to share is one of the most dangerous innovation fatigue factors that we discuss in our book.
Google, typically a hotbed of innovation, continues to show that they understand the importance of keeping individual innovators engaged, connected to the company, and personally motivated to share their best. The Wall Street Journal reports today that Google is taking new steps to further keep the best ideas of their employees within Google, reducing the risk of them leaving and taking their best ideas elsewhere. These steps include new access to top management, increasing the chances that good ideas will be seen at the top. “Innovation reviews” are part of this program. These are formal meetings where concepts from employees are presented by Google executives to the the CEO, the founders, and other top leaders.
Google has also given some of its engineers increased power to launch major projects of their own choosing, and is taking other steps to keep inventors motivated and to have increased chances of realizing value from great ideas. This is all sound business policy when one realizes how important the “will to share” is. I expect that they will have increased success by keeping that will to share healthy and vital by paying attention to innovators at the individual level and making sure that they have a chance to make a difference. Few things are more frustrating than sensing that your great ideas never get seen or heard, and have no chance of changing the future.
While the authors of Conquering Innovation Fatigue are passionate champions of innovation, we also recognize that innovation for its own sake is not always wise. It needs to be aligned with the real needs of a company. If something is working well, it may not need change.
In a New Product Development discussion group at LinkedIn.com, Monika Wingate called our attention to the story, “Post Shredded Wheat Celebrates Non-Innovation.” Ogilvy is emphasizing the original, unchanging nature of Shredded Wheat as a virtue that stands out in this era of constant change and questionable innovation:
A new campaign from Post Shredded Wheat promotes the product’s lack of change as a virtue, turning the trend toward enhanced, “super ingredient” food and beverage products on its head.
Developed by Ogilvy, the campaign with the tagline “We Put the ‘No’ in Innovation” emphasizes that the cereal has been made with “one simple, honest ingredient” — 100% natural whole grain wheat, since it was created 117 years ago.
“There’s been a marked change in American values, with a greater desire for honesty, trustworthiness and security during a time of economic and societal uncertainly,” Kelley Peters, director of integrated insights and strategy for Post Foods, tells Marketing Daily. “Post’s marketing messages underscore that Shredded Wheat has always been a simple, honest brand, and one of the healthiest foods on the grocery shelf.”
There is a lesson here. Change is not always desirable. When things are working and needs are already being met properly, innovation can be harmful. When it comes to financial services, we’ve seen some recent innovations can be disastrous.
Sometimes what is hailed as innovation is a return to failed systems and products of the past. Innovation by doing away with Constitutional checks and balances, for example, can lead to the old failures of tyranny. Innovation in monetary policy can lead to the age-old failures of debased currency. Innovations in the arts sometimes bring hideous results. And some innovations in health care and other areas bring unexpected dangers that take time to explore and understand (though the delays arguably have become excessive and bring the risk of blocking life-saving innovations – the risks of delay need to be more carefully weighted, in my opinion).
Change comes at a price. There are risks to be weighed against touted benefits. When things work and work well, as Ogilvy wishes to remind us, why introduce change?
Personally, I like Shredded Wheat and am glad that it and a few other products have stayed relatively constant over the years. These are unusual exceptions.
Anecdotal evidence of innovation thriving in times of economic trouble have found broader confirmation in a recent study from the Kaufman Foundation. Their press release, “Kauffman Foundation Study Finds More than Half of Fortune 500 Companies Were Founded in Recession or Bear Market,” summarizes the story nicely. Here is an excerpt:
According to a new study by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, challenging economic times can serve as the rebirth of entrepreneurial capitalism, leading to the creation of much-needed new jobs.
The study, “The Economic Future Just Happened,” found that more than half of the companies on the 2009 Fortune 500 list were launched during a recession or bear market, along with nearly half of the firms on the 2008 Inc. list of America’s fastest-growing companies. The report also suggests a broader economic trend, with job creation from startup companies proving to be less volatile and sensitive to downturns when compared to the overall economy.
“You can see the story of the American economy in these numbers,” said Carl Schramm, president and CEO of the Kauffman Foundation. “History has demonstrated this time and again: new firms create new jobs and fuel our economy. Policies that support entrepreneurship support recovery.”
The study points out that while recessions often create widespread economic grief, they also can encourage potential entrepreneurs, acting “as an extra spur to founding a new company, if the founders perceive their prospective competition might be weakened.” Rising unemployment can benefit new enterprises: entrepreneurs may view unemployment as an opportunity to start a company, and seize the advantage provided by the ability to tap into a larger pool of potential employees.
This is no time to succumb to innovation fatigue, as painful as this recession is. This is the time to ramp up innovation efforts on all fronts. The winners of the future are being shaped now.
An April 2009 report in the McKinsey newsletter, “R&D in the downturn: McKinsey Global Survey Results,” reveals that many leading companies are not shredding their R&D budgets. These companies view R&D and new product development as a source of competitive advantage. Where R&D is clearly important for future success, many companies are actually expanding their programs. This is excellent strategy. During a downturn, a lot of great talent will be laid off by short-sighted competitors. This is the time to pickup the brains needed for the next wave of game-changing innovation. It is also a great time to take the steps needed to seize market share in the near future by building momentum as others are slowing.
At the same time, it is frustrating to watch some companies aggressively downsize their innovation staff and innovation efforts, even when it is definitely not needed. They may get a boost in stock price over the short term, but as the economy revives, those who pay the price now to build innovation momentum will rush to victory and leave the laggards in the dust. (That’s if the economy revives, which it certainly should–if we can resist the temptation to give it too much artificial help. Sometimes well-intentioned first aid, like over-zealous CPR on a patient whose heart is beating, can be worse than doing nothing.)
Economic downturns can seem like huge external fatigue factors, but for those who are prepared and wise enough, they can be great opportunities to change the balance of power in the market. Don’t forsake innovation, even when times are tough. Look for creative ways to expand your efforts and become more innovative.
One thing that can help is pursuit of low-cost intellectual assets (there are many creative things that can be done with defesive publications, for example) and more cost-effective innovation strategies such as the targeted “just in tune” innovation based in the “Horn of Innovation” model that we discuss in the book, Conquering Innovation Fatigue.