Well, Bruce Nussbaum has being making me think alot apparently, I posted yet another comment to his recent entry asking if CEO’s have “innovation fatigue.”
I think that is partly true, but I wonder if it is more about “broken promise fatigue” rather than “innovation fatigue.” Companies that you listed: the Nikes, GE’s, Apple’s of the world have all seen great returns on big bets, and can also stomach the loss they have experienced in the past as well. They know what this Practice of Innovation can offer when done in a disciplined way, and are experienced in working through the failures that are also part of the process. Trying to squeeze out more efficiency is a short term bet that has short term results. The fact is that most of the world-class manufacturing players are pretty blasted efficient already, and there is not much water in that well. Many are already seeing the best efficiencies of scale they can get. Who are the people that are most susceptible to broken promise fatigue? I suspect they are the ones that approach trying to create compelling new opportunities for their companies in the same way, and with the same expectations, as they think of squeezing profits from efficiencies. Rather than being part of a systematic whole, expressed strategically, it is approached on a very tactical level. It would be like building the iPod without iTunes, partnerships with the music industry, and signaling a direction for the entire company.
So this word “innovation” popped up as the next silver bullet to improve revenue streams as the other methods: downsizing, manufacturing, squeezing other people in the food chain, have been tapped out. I suspect that over time, innovation as the primary word for this practice will fade into the background, as it should, to be replaced with a core intellectual competency that is as standard to a modern business as having an HR department. Humans (as opposed to companies, a legal construct with no thoughts or feelings) have been in this business of innovation for hundreds, if not thousands of years. The printing press, the cotton gin, the original walkman, all innovations that somehow changed the landscape.
I think what is tangibly different now is that shift we talked about previously. Now companies are talking about making the practice explicit, rigorous, embedded in the culture so it is far less random. People are realizing the problems of waiting for the company guru, like a Henry Ford or Steve Jobs, to have a eureka moment, or the seemingly scatter-shot approach to R&D of many avenues of research in parallel. Instead, we are drawing the threads of the company together in a conscious and deliberate way to create an approach to increasing revenue that can set a large strategic vision, and has an output of a roadmap of tactical action.
Perhaps the job skill of the future might not be “manager” but “facilitator”. Who cares about your degree, can you help different parts of the company tie diverse activities together in delightful and unexpected ways? Are you able to have draw out and help people expand on their best ideas? Can you prescribe for them the actions to take to go to the next level? That’s how you build revenue in the long term.