Innovation is a Question of Value – and Focus

Ein Beitrag, der sich speziell zu lesen lohnt: für Champions, für Innovatoren, für Manager, die sich mit Innovationen herumschlagen müssen (dürfen).

Die Mehrheit der „radikalen“ und prägenden Innovationen im Angebot – gerade in grösseren Organisationen – entwickelt sich „von unten nach oben“. Das Management muss für die entsprechenden Rahmenbedingungen sorgen und die besten Ideen fördern.

Der nachfolgende Text ist geschrieben vom Betreiber von Martin Dugage (Direktor Knowledge Management bei Schneider Electric).

Robert Burgelman of Stanford made a presentation on May 2. at the Ecole Polytechnique in Paris about the nonlinear dynamics of innovation. Innovation Tribune talks about it.

Robert makes a distinction between two processes of innovation. One which is top-down, mainstream, induced by the company strategy, called the „blue“ process (why blue?), and another one, which is bottom-up, autonomous, rational at the local level, and divergent with respect to the official strategy, called the „green“ process (why green?). The blue process is a response to evolutions in the familiar environment as perceived through traditional SWOT analysis. The green process is a response to evolutions in the unfamiliar environment, i.e. faint signals that only specialists or visionaries can grasp.

This is not very new. Every engineer in large organization knows that radical innovation comes from small teams working in a stealth mode at the edge of the organization. But what was interesting to me was Robert’s insights into what makes this green process work at companies like Intel. He elaborated on the concept of „strategic recognition“, i.e. the ability of top management to recognize what makes sense for the company. Quoting Napoleon („on s’engage et puis on voit“), he showed how Andy Grove at Intel or Lou Gerstner at IBM were able to recognize a key initiative to launch from a small emerging project of the company.

What struck me is two things he said about Intel, a company he apparently knows very well. First, the honesty, if not humility, of the CEO acknowledging publicly his failure to appreciate the chipset initiative, a key strategic move that turned out to be a huge success for the company („And I said it could not be done“). And second, the importance of culture as expressed by the ability of the senior execs of the company to spot interesting ideas and gradually build support over time on good projects („The best for the company is definitely in the minds of top executives at Intel“)

This last point is key to me. In Who Really Matters Art Kleiner points out to the importance of the „core group“ of a company, i.e. the community of those „who really matter“ and around whom all other employees gravitate. Most senior execs are part of this core group, but other less senior people sometimes are too. Art distinguishes between the „good“ core groups who really embody the knowledge and the culture of the company, and the „bad“ core groups, who really equate to a bunch of mercenaries in search for personal success. If a company is plagued with a „bad“ core group who doesn’t really understand what the company is, internal politics are really the name of the game, and there is no chance to build support over time for any disruptive strategy.

So in the end, what makes a great company is a paradox. You need brilliant people at the edge able to generate great projects, and you also need a core group of decision-makers able to commit collectively to supporting bold moves. This means a very high level of trust. Read my book 😉