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Establish Your Company's Innovation Infrastructure

By Michael S. Slocum

Managers have a considerable responsibility for driving innovation. Innovation cannot live on its own; innovation needs continuous support, structure and guidance. Managers are responsible for the resolution of problems on a day-to-day basis. Typical managers have spent time over their careers telling their staff to get back to the urgent work at hand. Managers tell their people “no” on a regular basis when it comes to hearing about different approaches to problem solving. The new, historically, has always been rejected in favor of the usual. The urgent has always trumped the important. Managers need to learn a complete set of skills to support innovation. Adopting a structured and intentional approach to innovation requires education for all involved. Leaders need to know how to lead innovation; workers need to know the methods and techniques that will be used to reduce innovation to a set of algorithms that are repeatable, predictable and reliable. The opportunities for organizational learning are legion, but there are key areas where learning must take place.

Cultural Leadership for Innovation

The cultural environment of an organization sets the tone for innovation deployment. If the organization is resistant to change and hesitant to move away from what has always worked in the past, then the anti-innovation inertia will be considerable and the deployment will fail. It is, therefore, critical to understand the organizational state-of-mind associated with this undertaking. Leaders define an organization’s cultural constraints. These same leaders must be willing to lead culture change so that innovation has a home in which to thrive and prosper. Some needed elements of this change are:

  • Willingness to accept change
  • Budget for innovation (time, money, priority)
  • Welcome innovation mavericks
  • The new is welcome
  • Fearof failure is no longer a barrier
  • The future is as important as the present
  • Innovation can be learned
  • Innovation iseveryone’s responsibility

These items are a good place to start and can lead to significant improvement in a company’s cultural foundation for an innovation deployment.

Innovation Infrastructure and Metrics

The organization needs to be disciplined in the way that innovation is deployed and in the way that results are produced and managed. Leaders will be the sponsors for innovation projects. They must be trained in 1) what tools are available, 2) the outputs for each tool and 3) the expected time intervals for the process. Outcomes must be realistic; the pursuit of completion and idea implementation must be methodical. Metrics must be used to identify progress and performance.

Key metrics may include:

  • Macro
    • Speed-to-change cultural bias
    • Amount of innovation budget
    • Ambidextrous index: balance of resource allocation between preservation and evolution (capital, human, technology)
    • Time to transition from preservation activity to evolution activity
    • Ratio of innovation projects sponsored by executives (disruptive technologies cannot occur without senior management sponsorship)
  • Volume
    • Number of innovations made
    • Number of invention disclosures
    • Number of patent applications filed
    • Number of trademarks obtained
    • Number of people involved systematic problem solving
    • Number of systematic innovation projects completed
    • Variance of all the above
  • Speed
    • Time to predict customer/market evolution
    • Amount of time per innovation
    • Research cycle time
    • Product development cycle time
    • Mean time to solve an innovation problem
    • Mean time to implement an innovation solution
    • Variance of all the above
  • Quality
    • Ratio of innovations attempted to innovations made
    • Time to abandon a poor idea
    • Degree of discontinuity (level)
    • Costs avoided
    • New revenue generated
    • Costs reduced
    • Mean ideality of innovation solutions

The most energetic and open-minded employees should be trained in innovation methods and tools. They must be fully committed to the success of the program and willing to relearn everything they thought they knew about innovation. The training program must take place at both the leadership level and the problem solver level – the two sessions must overlap so that there is synergy between the levels. Certification must include project completion and implementation with hard cost savings. Innovation return on investment (ROI) must be captured. Program successes must be communicated effectively and expanded to include all those who are interested. Innovation must become everyone’s responsibility.

Innovation Methodology (Tactical Innovation)

Problem solving innovation is tactical innovation. The selected innovation methods must work in concert to formulate the problem statement, constrain the problem space effectively and generate ideas for problem resolution. The algorithm may be divided into main sections and methods as follows:

The intersection of these methods forms a powerful problem-solving approach that is convergent and divergent as well as open and closed. It forms the approach that should be used for problem solving and an understanding of it uses, operation and results must be integrated into the culture and the infrastructure.

Innovation Proficiency

Using these innovation methods must be enforced so that proficiency is achieved. It is only with coached application that proficiency is achievable. This has to be an integral component of any innovation deployment. The algorithm must be used in support of actual projects with the results implemented and effects measured. At least two learning cycles are needed as part of the educational program (training). This must be repeated across the organization so that every department and functional group is trained in the methods. Then the organization’s ability to innovate will be dramatically increased.

Implementing a systematic innovation program is not about the number of people trained or the amount of hours spent on coaching. It is the speed to proficiency that matters. How fast can the organization’s innovative quotient be increased and by how much? These questions, and metrics, matter most.

Managers must be involved in each step of the deployment and they must be trained to foster, promote and practice innovation. Their skill-sets must expand to include those necessary for cultural transformation, infrastructure development, methodology application and speed to proficiency. Only in this fashion can innovation be reduced to science – as have productivity and quality.

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