How innovating does not compromise efficiency

We all embrace innovation. It is the key-word in board meetings and sales training sessions and it is claimed to be important on many company websites. The word ‘innovation’ fills miles of shelves in bookstores. We know innovation is necessary to build the sustainable future of our company, secure our jobs and so on … But in real life it is just slowing us down. You can’t tie your laces while you run. Innovation takes time – time off.

Someone has to do the job; someone, who is experienced and has the authority to lead the process; someone, who is passionate to work hard, maybe even without getting a credit for it. Innovation means to change something without the guarantee that customers will pay for the improvement. In many cases innovations are not recognized as they just help to keep up with the pace of the industry. And innovation requires significant resources. The process of innovation stands in contrast to operational efficiency. It’s a parallel universe.

Just like daily exercise and culture is essential for building your personal health and mental vitality, innovations has to be planed and managed correctly and must find room within the organisation. There are three successful models how to do it:

1 Phases of operational efficiency and creative innovation alternate over time:

At first sight it sounds like a solution only suitable to small organizations or single divisions, but also large global players have successfully practiced it over years. The whole company takes a creative breath, rethinks the process, turns everything inside-out and upside-down and then goes back to business- ideally NOT –  as usual.

2 Innovation matrix:

The process of innovation is a solid component of every employee’s daily tasks. This concept aims for continuous improvement and requires not only dedication and common goal setting but much more an effective system of communication; a well know strategy at Toyota and Google. It is only possible for companies that use criticism as a positive tool and who understand that the company hierarchy – which is needed for the operational business – might inhibit creative thinking.

3 Outsourcing:

Simply let someone else do it.  The task of innovation can be delegated to an expert, an external consultancy or a work group that stands outside the operational business. This allows to control the costs of the innovation work effectively and saves internal resources. It also protects the company structure and lets all operations run smoothly. But it may represent a challenge to keep the external group close to the company goals and culture. The results must be manageable and not totally out of space. At some stage you have to implement the changes yourself. You don’t get fitter if you send your consultant to the gym.

Finally innovation is not a purpose. It is not about changing everything just to change everything and appear innovative. Purposeful innovation means to systematically analise and use the opportunities that any changes might create to the company. It is to do whatever it takes to reach the goal – before your competitors do.