Our thought topic this month was: “Innovation in Technology Organizations”, so if you follow Thought Ensemble’s website, you’ll see a flurry of blogs on this topic over the next couple weeks. Our focus was on technology groups (software engineering or IT organizations) who want to be more innovative. Generally these organizations are building software or products that ultimately touch end customers.
Across industries, we are seeing renewed interest in becoming more innovative as a technology organization or as a company as a whole. We believe the first step is getting clear on the type(s) of innovation the organization wants to pursue, especially within the context of incremental versus radical innovation and how much they want to invest in each part of the innovation “portfolio”.
For companies who want to focus on incremental innovation, which is arguably the best place to start, we all had lots of experiences and ideas for process, organizational and cultural changes that can be brought into practically any company. It makes a lot of sense to weave this type of innovation into existing structures.
For companies who want to focus on radical innovation, the path is a little less clear. It is a challenge to build this type of innovation into an existing organization or culture that isn’t built to be innovative from the ground up. The financial processes alone can destroy radical innovation.
I’m personally becoming increasingly convinced that radical innovation has to be done by a separate group, possibly even outsourced. Entire companies are sprouting up successfully to take on the outsourced innovation needs. There’s a pretty strong case that if you don’t have an innovation culture and need to get something to market quickly, outsourcing is the most cost effective and speedy way to accomplish your goal. The problem is that outsourcing radical innovation, or separating it into its own group, reduces the cultural improvements that could come with other types of innovation. It dumbs down the rest of the group. Great people leave. Good people lose motivation.
Because of this, I believe if companies do outsource or create a separate group for radical innovation, they should keep it small and ensure that at the same time they are doing a parallel innovation investment in the rest of their company.
At Thought Ensemble, innovation is so important to our culture that we built it into the core from the very beginning. This is why we don’t have someone ghost-write our blogs and why we don’t intend to build a separate thought leadership arm like many consulting firms do. We want EVERYONE thinking about ideas beyond just their immediate client work, all the time. There’s something that happens when you are always in the context of “Ooh, I could write a blog about that” or “Ooh, I could write a BOOK about that!” that opens up your mind.