What is Successful Innovation?

Successful innovation can be defined many ways. The Center for Innovation Management Studies (CIMS) at NC State University defines innovation as something that drives commercial value.  To measure and study innovation, CIMS specifically looks at the following types of innovation: products, services, processes, and business model.  These types of innovation and the definition itself are further discussed on our website.

Regardless of how you define “successful innovation,” part of the inevitable process is to determine whether initial thoughts/hypotheses have viable opportunities to bring top line growth to a firm.  Some of the methodological-type questions that may be asked during this time of analysis and strategy are:

  • What is the market currently telling us that may influence our decisions on products and services and ultimately what must change to meet these new demands?
  • In addition to offering a better, more enhanced product or service, are there growth opportunities for it in other segments that we are currently not invested in?
  • Will we need to transform our business model to adapt and respond to these changes or is the change and innovation concentrated more in the process itself?
  • Will our internal culture support such change, especially if it is radically different from how we currently operate?   What could happen if we don’t have a supportive culture and we must confront that challenge?
  • How can we more consistently uncover the needs that aren’t being met and meet them? More importantly, how might we be able to determine unidentified needs and bring those solutions to market ahead of our competitors?

What’s important to remember is that innovation does not take place in a vacuum. It is very much a collaborative process that requires thinking outside of your department, office, company, and at times even your industry.  It is a “full contact, team sport” and boundaries and functional lines must be crossed, be multi-disciplined in approach, and inclusive of many rather than just a few in R&D and/or the ‘C-Suite.’ The largest advances and gains you can make in innovation come from having the courage to shake things up (perhaps even upside down) and being willing to be disruptive with your approach instead of just incremental. The following are a few CIMS tips to keep innovation flowing in your company:

  • Innovation needs to be embraced from the top down.  Leaders at the highest level need to commit to the pursuit and lead by example. With this said, efforts that are both top down and bottom up, we believe stand a greater chance of success in which leaders understand the value and implications of innovation to the firm and line workers are encouraged to lead the change.
  • Team support is a critical element in establishing and ‘standing up’ your innovations. Opposing attitudes will stifle the efforts to make successful innovation stick.  Involving the team means including the entire organization in the process and empowering individuals to feel that they possess the ability to contribute and be a part of the charge for ‘change’ is a far greater unifier than one single remote group quietly working on such innovation.
  • Incorporate into everyday processes the skills and tools available to make innovation a repeatable process so that when you gain success the first time, you can then replicate it in the future. – i.e. create a platform and supported process which allows for the management of your firm’s innovation to be learned and managed!
  • Perpetuate communication by keeping innovation on the top of your mind, increasing the degree to which both line workers and management are willing to carry out leadership’s mission.  Sharing success stories openly and often will help create a culture, which embraces innovation and can even motivate.

The bottom line is that successful innovation is indeed possible to achieve and unlike the lottery, should you ‘hit it once,’ you actually have pretty good odds at hitting it again.  In order to do so, you must recognize that innovation can be measured and therefore managed, and that it must include the entire organization’s effort and energy, not just a single individual or division. There are basic tenants of innovation that cross core competencies, environmental factors, and management disciplines. Your outcomes will most certainly vary but true innovation success comes from embracing your own innate strengths and uniqueness, and then spanning organizational boundaries to find solutions to accommodate the market signals being received.

Paul Mugge
Executive Director, Business Collaboratories
Executive Director, Center for Innovation Management Studies (CIMS)
Poole College of ManagementNC State University

Related CIMS Newsletter Articles:

Fall 2006 CIMS TMR: “Staying Innovative: What the Chiefs Must Do”

Winter 2006 CIMS TMR: “Help Your Boundary Spanners Work Better”

Fall 2008 CIMS TMR: “Five Researchers from William & Mary Probe How to Make Collaborative Innovation Work”

Fall 2009 CIMS TMR: “Bring Ideas to Market with Innovation Ecosystems”

Winter 2010 CIMS TMR: “Get the Most from Your Boundary Spanners”

Winter 2011 CIMS TMR: “Business Model Innovation is What Counts Today: Can You Answer Five Touch Questions?” (Part 1)

Spring 2011 CIMS TMR: “Business Model Innovation is What Counts Today: Can You Answer Five Touch Questions?” (Part 2)


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