Approaches to successful innovation

I read an interesting article on innovation today that looked at the ideas of David Midgely, marketing professor at INSEAD, who has written a book called the Innovation Manual

Although many companies are looking towards innovation to help them gain market share or increase sales coming out of the downturn, Midgely says that many of them are wasting resources by not managing the innovation process properly. He is quoted as saying, "It's not the effort that companies put into innovation that decides success. Instead it is how firms go about doing innovation that separates leaders from the rest."

So how can companies be sure that their innovation dollars are being spent in the right place? What's important, says Midgely, is to look at innovation across all functions. Companies looking to develop an innovative product and service need to consider where they are trying to innovate. This could be in any of the following: customer, technology or business model. The article outlines examples of each of these:

  • Customer: Nintendo developed the Wii to appeal to a new customer base that didn't traditionally buy games consoles;
  • Technology: For its PS3 console, Sony focused on developing a new chip that would give its games the edge amongst gamers;
  • Business model: Apple's iPod was successful, not because it was a great device, but because it created a new business model around iTunes that would allow users to easily buy only the tracks they wanted.

What's interesting about these examples is that the company focused on innovating in a single area. The Wii, for example, doesn't have any real innovation in its business models and even its motion sensor remote can be considered as helping establish the product amongst a new segment of gamers.

Once a decision has been made about where to target the organizations' innovation efforts, Midgely suggests a number of steps to make it a success. These include:

  • Set up a cross functional team responsible for developing the innovation;
  • Work directly with customers in the development phase;
  • Make the right organizational changes to deliver the innovation (this is particularly important for service or business model innovations);
  • Build momentum for the innovation through proper marketing.

Anthony Plewes

After a Masters in Computer Science, I decided that I preferred writing about IT rather than programming. My 20-year writing career has taken me to Hong Kong and London where I've edited and written for IT, business and electronics publications. In 2002 I co-founded Futurity Media with Stewart Baines where I continue to write about a range of topics such as unified communications, cloud computing and enterprise applications.