Chris Simcoe, says, in a comment on my last post (I was remarking on the role of labs in banks):
Could one not ask the same question of institutions which have “innovation” groups or departments and why innovation is just not part of doing business. Is it not something that should be part of the day to day business? If you make innovation someone’s specific job then it becomes someone else’s job.
This is an especially insightful remark, and one that brings up the thorny question of whether what one wants is an innovation group or an innovation culture. In an ideal world, of course, the latter is preferred. But is it realistic, and more particularly, is it predictable?
When innovation is someone’s specific job, you at least have someone thinking about innovation. The converse, that it is no one’s job, leaves things pretty much to chance. You might be lucky enough to get a highly motivated employee who pushes something through, but not everyone is going to be a superstar. Remember, these are people with day jobs who must go above and beyond to get the new stuff done.
When people state they have an “innovation culture” I always wonder if what they have is a well tuned ideation culture. Ideas are fun to dream up, but pretty valueless without some execution. Almost never do people complain about a lack of ideas, yet they do complain that they have too little innovation. What do they imagine is missing?
In my discussions with other bank which have structured ideas management programmes (as we do), one thing is clear. If idea velocity were the measure of innovativeness, we’d all be working in the most innovative industry in the world. That, unfortunately, is not the perception most people have of us.
The art of innovation is being able to take an idea and turn into something. Not everyone has those skills, even if they did have the time above their day jobs.
Turning ideas into reality involves politics, it involves sales, it needs technical know-how, and it needs a certain degree of credibility internally. it also takes a lot of time. That’s why having an innovation team that can provide part of the execution helps to get things predictable.
Predictability, by the way, is the hallmark of a successful innovation function, whether it be a distributed culture, or a central team. Here’s the real question: is it better to have the potential of huge innovation volume but no certainty that anything will happen (the culture approach) or much reduced levels of activity but certainty that there will be outcomes (the innovation team approach)?
I’d be betting most institutions would take the latter.