Friday, February 1, 2013

Innovation – Is It Just Another “Shiny Thing?”

There'll be Another Soon

Innovation has a head of steam.  It’s in all the business publications and on every CEO’s lips.  It’s today’s silver bullet.  It’s the key to growth, sustainability, and employee engagement.  But is Innovation here to stay or is it just another “shinny thing?”

I can make the case on either side of the question; however, recently I’ve had my faith restored in Innovation becoming deeply embedded in the science and practice of management.  My encouragement comes from the Management Innovation Exchange web site where it lists finalists in this year’s Innovation contest.  Two of the entries come from clients and friends.

Whirlpool Corporation
The first comes from Moises Norena the Global Director of Innovation at Whirlpool Corporations.  He writes about: Whirlpool’s Innovation Journey: An On-Going Quest for a Rock-Solid and Inescapable Innovation Capability.  The full story is at: Whirlpool's Innovation Journey.

For me the significant part of Moises’ story is that it starts in 1999.  As he says, the Innovation journey can be long but it has big rewards.  I was involved in the early chapters when Gary Hamel started Whirlpool down the Innovation path.  He and his team at Strategos used their tools to begin building the Innovation capability within the corporation.

My role in the early 2000’s was to lead the team that focused on Customer Loyalty.  We used our global customer research as the primary input into understanding Customer Insights and Discontinuities in the appliance market.  We then used the Innovation tools to frame and implement innovations that would capture the articulated and unarticulated needs of Whirlpool’s customers.

From these green-shoots Moises weaves an interesting tale of the constant adjustment Whirlpool makes to the expectations and theories about embedding Innovation.  I’m not sure if Moises agrees, but my major take away from his work is that: Innovation can’t be embedded; it can only be a capability that evolves to meet the business needs of the day.

Korea Telecom
The second article is from Misook Lim the Director of the Innovation Management Center at Korea Telecom.  Her story is about Transforming Culture Through Pervasive Innovation.  It can be found at: Korea Telecom - Innovation Changes Culture.

I worked with Misook and her team for about 26 months.  Again the connection was through Gary Hamel and this allowed us to draw on the Whirlpool experience through the generous support of people like Moises and his boss Nancy Tennant who has been named by Business Week as one of the world’s 25 Innovation Champions.

Misook does a wonderful job of relating the multiple fronts that had to be pursued to have Innovation recognized as a needed tool to position Korea Telecom for the aggressive changes taking place in its market.  She walks us through a series of initiative such as: building capability in a core team; leading Innovation challenges within business units; setting the governance structure; and developing the companies executive team and vice presidents.

For me the Korea Telecom experience re-proved something we all know: culture is a major issue when implementing change.  I learned that you have to understand culture and respect it as a starting point for change.  The culture at Korea Telecom was hierarchical and deferential; sometimes our western beliefs about equality and participation had to wait.

Often in the Innovation consulting business we’re asked for proof, best practices, and where this has been done before.  Moises and Misook answer the question.

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