Nowadays, goes the theory, innovation is supposed to be done constantly, by everyone in the company, improving everything the company is about — and new Web-based tools are here to help it happen. Is the theory right? Or do the experiences of companies reveal something different?
Historically, most managers equated innovation primarily with the development of new products and new technologies. But increasingly, innovation is seen as applying to the development of new service offerings, business models, pricing plans and routes to market, as well as new management practices. There is now a greater recognition that novel ideas can transform any part of the value chain — and that products and services represent just the tip of the innovation iceberg.1
This shift of focus has implications for who “owns” innovation. It used to be the preserve of a select band of employees — be they designers, engineers or scientists — whose responsibility it was to generate and pursue new ideas, often in a separate location. But increasingly, innovation has come to be seen as the responsibility of the entire organization. For many large companies, in fact, the new imperative is to view innovation as an “all the time, everywhere” capability that harnesses the skills and imagination of employees at all levels.2
Making innovation everyone’s job is intuitively appealing but very hard to achieve. Many companies have put in place suggestions, schemes, ideation programs, venturing units and online forums. (See “A Glossary of Established Drivers of Innovation.”) However, the success rate of such approaches is mixed. Employees face capacity, time and motivation issues around their participation. There is often a lack of follow-through in well-intentioned schemes. And there is typically some level of disconnect between the priorities of those at the top and the efforts of those lower down in the organization.
The Leading Question
What conventional wisdom about innovation no longer applies?
- Online forums are not a panacea for innovation.
- Innovation shouldn’t always be “open.” Internal and external experts should be used for very different problems.
- Innovation must be bottom-up and top-down — in an approach that’s balanced.
Moreover, Web-based tools for capturing and developing ideas have not yet delivered on their promise: A recent McKinsey survey revealed that the number of respondents who are satisfied overall with the Web 2.0 tools (21%) is slightly outweighed by the number who voice clear dissatisfaction (22%).