Creating an Innovation Strategy

flower-power-appThe buzz word in times of downward spend and tough economic conditions is innovation, an organisation capable of innovation can create a signifigant competitive advantage.

This is nothing new, innovation focusing on products or efficiency, but what about creating an innovation strategy, this requires a broader consideration because it can results in either future success or failure.

Understanding what innovation strategy should achieve is the most important step in guiding both targets and  goals. 

Begin at the end

Picture where you want to be in 5-10 years time and work back as the innovation strategy will start the journey. Future objectives should be realistic and reflect your current position. Having a strategy for product development that neglects the sales team, R&D, marketing, financial modelling etc will fail. Its a collaborative process so get early support from the touch points within your organisation or team. Expect this to vary depending on size but a good indication;  larger the scale the larger the complexity. Most innovation comes from smaller more agile groups.

Type of Strategy

General trends show a shift from ‘all things to all men’ strategy, due to costs related to diverse product portfolios and the challenge of keeping those products competitive, to a more streamline and focused approach resulting in considerable growth through open collaborations. Agility is key to any strategy by creating an open environment through removing the  sacred cows often the limiting factor in innovation. so what are the options


Developing a strategy does not mean just putting people  in a room and seeing what you can come up with, partnering with think tanks such as mocom2020 / Tech freedom allow exploration of more visionary ideas and enable unbiased thinking, although often independent claims to strategic ideas conclude with  “sponsored by” in the footnote, beware such independent conclusions can be questioned. Part of the challenge in bringing together strategic minds in innovation can be heavy bureaucracy limiting free thinking, hence a wide variety of consultants offering the service.


New thinking is an important part of a disruptive strategy. Start with the basic approach of doing the same thing different. Avoid proven methods and approaches out of principle, its worked for them so it will work for us mentality will not help you disrupt a market.  High levels of customer insight are needed to really establish the gaps that exist in the current models that can be exploited.


The need to innovate is a universal challenge, sharing with suppliers and customers is a great way of building intelligence around thoughts and ideas. Strategies to innovate via collaboration achieve more support and reduced risk. On the reverse, you dilute the potential benefits through sharing it with others.


Innovation needs to be in the DNA, so acquisition of innovative companies can be a short cut. But make sure you get infected with the good innovation gene and not the other way around. Keep your new purchase at arms length and don’t rush into some large scale integration believing that this will accelerate the DNA culture of your business.


Smaller scale strategies can be achieved through simple adoption on the techniques and practices from other organisations and proven models. These help when focusing on a specific objective but not much help when your looking for a large scale innovation strategy change.

Avoid the big boys

Should you feel the urge to phone Mckinsey because it will be; better, quicker, cheaper, more effective then please have a read of  this great article from the HBR whilst it focuses on corporate strategy, some of the conclusions are quite telling. Experience with BCG, Mckinsey and a host of home brand consultancy firms highlights a strength in driving efficiencies in existing models, but limited in developing innovation.

Get Inspired

Now you have to put the genuis into your world beating strategy. If you have watched the horse whisperer  with Robert Redford or read the book, yes there is a book, then this is the closest I can get to explaining the actual putting together of a strategy, I can give you some places to look and some ideas for the ingredients but the rest Im afraid is down to you.

Building the foundations for strategic innovation comes from a number of sources. The traditional approach of getting everyone into a room for a brainstorming session or white boarding enables some nice slides but is unlikely to be strategic or innovative.  Get out there, mix it up with different industries, people and places. Generating new innovative approaches and ideas is challenging. Here are some favourite sources of inspiration


Scan the worlds ideas in less than 140 characters, a variety of tools are available to help filter millions of tweets in search of the good stuff. Be selective in who you follow, and keep reviewing it. Its easy to fill a timeline with junk. Less is more and seeing frequency someone in tweeting and the size of following are good indicators of who and whats hot. Engage people on twitter, some of the most influential industry leaders will be happy to have a coffee or share some advice, most of the time thats why they tweet in the first place.

Multi News Applications and Prismatic are current favourites. Great for mobile news, clean and intuitive user interface allows the collection of your favourite news under one app. It’s a step up in detail from twitter, with more than 5 minutes to spare, a great way to global news features. Easy to use folder features enbles simplified management of news feeds and sharing via various social networks. Raising your awareness and seeing whats happening is a fundamental. Nothing is invented any more, its just reworked.


Transparency and Honesty

Hiding your ideas away with a view of a grand launch in front of your CEO, Family and friends just wont work. Innovation strategy is a continuing process of refinement. Talking through your ideas with people you feel can provide some value is a great way of developing further. Often you get too close to an idea and end up brushing over any cracks due to your passion or unwillingness to acknowledge any weakness, being honest could save a lot of time.  If your strategy is going to work it will need buy-in from key stakeholders within the organisation, too complex and it wont work.  Avoid being restricted to your inner circle, get outside opinions, specifically from people not worried about your feelings.

Go for a run

Get out of the office and refresh the mind and the ideas will come. All the traditional boundaries are already falling around the work environment, the realisation that your most valuable commodity, your employees need stimulation.  I like what Mayer is doing at Yahoo, 6 months into the job and she’s giving free lunch and the mobile of your choice, only little things but she knows if your going to innovate and evolve you have to have invigorated people.


Developing a strategy is complicated enough, but for innovation its that much harder. The strategy will drive all the other aspects of the business and decisions around it. Getting it right can mean the difference between success and failure.


If you want to know more please drop me a note