I’ve always struggled to understand why many companies ask fully occupied employees to do innovation in addition to their day job and expect spectacular results. Do we ask people to do accounting, marketing or operations on the side? No, because we accept them as professions. Innovation is still fighting for the right to be a serious function in most companies.
The lack of sufficient time to focus on innovation is the biggest challenge I see in the companies Strategyzer works with.
Often these companies expect people to do innovation work on top of their daily workload as if it was a simple additional business task that doesn’t take a lot of time. What these companies fail to understand is that innovation is a profession or function just like accounting, marketing, or operations. Innovation requires a distinct set of tools, processes, and skills that are different from the management of an existing business. We can’t expect serious innovation results if we don’t give people who we ask to innovate sufficient time and space.
You look at marketing teams: they have time, they have entire teams (sometimes in the thousands) working on tasks and projects. The same discipline and importance needs to be placed on innovation teams. In the early stages of idea collection and light testing people may do this as a 20% activity besides their main jobs. However, once you consider to more seriously explore an idea, you need to give a team the time required to innovate professionally.
Also, turning ideas into tested value propositions that customers want and business models that can profitably scale doesn’t happen overnight. You can't expect innovation teams to bring back perfect and completely validated ideas without giving them time to test and iterate. A long-term view is necessary to gather good evidence and to de-risk ideas. Amazon founder Jeff Bezos says, “every overnight success takes ten years.”
Lastly, there’s CEO facetime. I pointed out in a previous post how you can tell if a CEO is serious about innovation based on how much time he or she spends with innovation teams and innovation projects on a week-to-week basis.