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Real Innovation

By Michael S. Slocum

“It must be remembered that there is nothing more difficult to plan, more doubtful of success, nor more dangerous to management than the creation of a new system. For the initiator has the enmity of all who would profit by the preservation of the old institution and merely lukewarm defenders in those who gain by the new ones.”
– Nicolo Machiavelli

“Only those who attempt the absurd will achieve the impossible.”
– M.C. Escher

Innovation rhetoric has become a commodity. You find innovation everywhere you look. Finding innovation is like finding a reality show on television – it’s everywhere. The more pervasive it becomes, the more diluted it becomes. The books about innovation all describe its importance. How companies must innovate or die. It is difficult to spot practiced innovation. We have to move to the point at which innovation is practiced habitually and methodically. We have to create an innovation accounting system. We have to train and foster the application of systematic innovation. We need the scientific component of innovation to be brought alongside of the artistic component. We have to make innovation REAL.

The Current State
“He who rejects change is the architect of decay.”
– Harold Wilson

Innovation has typically been the practice of a few special people in a business. They are seen as the possessors of a rare and special gift. Although there are people with this gift of innovativeness and creativity, they are not the exclusive holders of the right to innovate. With the advent and implementation of world-class methods like Lean and Six Sigma, it is clear that the font of business action needs systematization as well. What good is the application of world-class methods to the commercialization of an idea that is produced in an ad hoc manner and at a non-controllable quality level? It’s a bit like getting an invitation to an IRS marketing event. Nice, but who would go. There is a lot of buzz about innovation in the news. Every magazine has had its share of articles on the subject. Innovation is certainly the hip craze. But it should be more. It demands more than a few requisite demonstrations of its greatness.

You’ve read articles about Proctor & Gamble’s innovative efforts in Harvard Business Review. You’ve probably read about innovation at Intel and IBM. Those companies do not practice REAL innovation. Acquiring a profitable company is not innovation. Hiring smart people is not innovation. Spitting out patents like my daughter spits out sunflower seeds is not innovation. These may be important but they are not innovation. Not REAL innovation, but RHETORICAL innovation. And we don’t need anymore rhetoric. We need reality. We need an actionable set of principles and practices that can reduce innovation to an exact science. We need the fuzzy front end to be brought into focus. We need democratization of the creative process so that its application becomes predictable, repeatable, and reliable.

Connect and Develop or What Passes as Innovation at P&G
Business Week reported that innovation is in full bloom at P&G because its fourth quarter profits were up 44 percent. That is a great statistic but who says that the increase in profitability is due to innovation? G. Gilbert Cloyd, P&G’s CTO, stated that he has encouraged different departments to work together – that’s collaboration not innovation. Cloyd also describes the addition of a focus around the desired consumer experience – that’s meeting consumer needs not innovation. He also presents the integration of industrial design – that’s human factors not innovation. He calls concurrent development 360 degrees innovation. P&G has decided the consumer base is larger than what they thought – they call that cost innovation. Actually, that’s expanding your market and applying ethnography. Cloyd pays homage to Henry Chesbrough’s Open Innovation but again, to Cloyd, that’s just collaboration. These are all important factors that lie at the feet of innovation – but are not REAL innovation. If Cloyd wanted to really discuss innovation he would be talking about their systematic approaches to ideation and problem solving. He would describe their innovation process associated with metrics like: time to innovate, innovations per capita, cost per innovation, initial market acquisition (as a measure of meeting consumer needs post launch), patents per capita, discontinuations per capita, cycle time per innovative process phase, innovation proficiency or innovative quality. Cloyd would also be able to describe their innovation training program and its impact it has on P&G’s organizational innovative ability. But he only has rhetoric. When you’re P&G that could be all you need.

What We Need Now
“The more original a discovery, the more obvious it seems afterwards.”
– Arthur Koestler

Innovation needs structure. We need to originally explore the regions of creativity so we can bring method to the madness of originality. We need to expand that special resource known as innovativeness so that we are not dealing with a finite resource but with a renewable one. We need to give everyone in an organization the chance to develop innovative competencies. We need to make the systematic application of innovation real.

What does real mean? The Latin root is “realis” which means relating to things in law, or “res” which is relating to a “thing.” Merriam-Webster defines “real” as:

1 : of or relating to fixed, permanent, or immovable things
2 a : not artificial, fraudulent, or illusory :
2 b (1) : occurring or existing in actuality
(2) : of or relating to practical or everyday concerns or activities
(3) : existing as a physical entity

Therefore it is easy to see that “real innovation” is tangible and can be measured, calculated and touched. Something we can devote a systematic analysis to. Something that we can make permanent. Something that we reduce to habitual practice. Something we will make commonplace. Something we will introduce into the everyday stream of activity.

What REAL Innovation is All About
“He that will not apply new remedies must expect new evils; for time is the greatest innovator.”
– Francis Bacon

REAL Innovation is about the underlying principles of systematic innovation. It is about the application of systematic innovation to business problems. It is about the formation of processes that increase innovative process repeatability. It is about building a community of innovation professionals (everybody) and providing a forum for the habitualization of innovation.

REAL Innovation is about the evolution of business excellence. It is about the Third Wave1 and all the ripples that it causes. It is about the exploration of the impact that innovation will have on business and how that impact may be maximized and dollarized. REAL Innovation is about the struggle to create the body of knowledge that allows business leaders to learn at an accelerated rate. It is about the speed to innovative proficiency. It is about minimizing the number of trial-and-error attempts required to get it right. Forming a tripartite structure from which success will stem – better, faster and cheaper. It is about competitive excellence and the role innovation plays as the DNA of survivability. Innovation holds strategy and execution together in a business model just as the four bases of DNA (adenine, thymine, cytosine, and guanine) hold the double helix together. In business the equivalent of the four bases would be Infrastructure, Culture, Method, and Proficiency. Innovation is intertwined with excellence as much as productivity and quality.

The “why” of innovation has been answered thousands of times. Without innovation, an organization is caught in the death spiral of continuous improvement on a single, finite evolutionary path. Businesses must reinvent themselves if they want to survive. This reinvention has to be driven by strategic and disruptive innovation. Systematic innovation must be the core of any program engaged in ideation and problem solving. Innovation must become systematic and its’ outputs made repeatable, predictable and reliable.

[1] The First Wave was the evolution and maturation of Productivity. The Second Wave was the evolution and maturation of Quality. The Third Wave is the evolution and maturation of Innovation. The reader may investigate this concept further by reading Dr. Slocum’s, Mr. Decarlo’s, and Mr. Silverstein’s book, INsourcing Innovation.

About the Author:
Michael S. Slocum, Ph.D., is the principal and chief executive officer of The Inventioneering Company. Contact Michael S. Slocum at michael (at) or visit