What it takes to innovate without an innovation department

When it comes to innovation, we usually face two main challenges.
  • Not everyone understands well the true value of innovation. So I like to say that innovation is the art of turning ideas into business (and money) in the mid and long term.
  • The hardest part of innovation is not having an idea: the hardest thing is to carry it out. The good news is that although the innovative idea fails, we always have the opportunity to learn from failures.

But let’s start at the very beginning. The first decision to make is what kind of innovation we want to do. This point is very important because it will determine who should take the lead and how.

Different levels of innovation:

According to The Innovation Policy Platform “a radical or disruptive innovation is one that has a significant impact on a market and on the economic activity of firms in that market, while incremental innovation concerns an existing product, service, process, organization or method whose performance has been significantly enhanced or upgraded”.

Radical innovation implies risk and has to be driven from the top to bottom and to make it work you have to exclude from the daily team and give to a separate business unit.

Incremental innovation implies lower risk and has to be driven from the bottom to up. To get it done you need to create an internal culture in the organization.

When there’s no innovation department and we expect innovation to surface among employees of the organization (therefore incremental innovation) then some conditions must be met. Somehow there must be a culture of innovation with the following approach:

Jump and learn: learning by doing
Most of the innovative ideas are already in the organization, although for many reasons very few arise. Not everybody feels comfortable when taking risks or dealing with uncertainty. And definitely only a few are willing to devote extra time to these processes. Therefore, the most important thing is to find the right people with the right attitude.

From this point, we must devote the right time for planning and then move on to implementation rapidly. Only by applying the appropriate methodology, we will ensure that we learn from the failures and we incorporate our learnings in new innovation processes.

Ownership & rewards: people first
It is highly recommended that the team that will develop the new idea feel that owns the process. The best scenario is one in which the team developing the idea is also the team that starts and operates it. Betting on teamwork is a way to significantly increase the probability of success and collective learning.

In my post “Questioning in business” I mentioned Yamashita’s considerations: “Company leaders are realizing that if they’re only asking the small questions, it’s not going to advance their agenda, their position or their brands. In order to innovate now, they have to ask more expansive questions”.

Devote time (quantity and quality)
If we are truly committed to innovation, it is essential to dedicate a specific time in our agendas. Senior management full alignment is also essential.

As I said before if we want to ensure that the innovation process works (results and / or lessons for the future) is essential to use a rigorous methodology. And that cannot be improvised. It is essential to have adequate training provided by the company.

Other posts on innovation:
The challenge of innovation
Innovation prowess
The role of the leader in the innovation process


4 business lessons from running a marathon

A little more than two years ago, when I had just beaten my personal record in the Madrid Marathon, I wrote a post in which I explained some of the key factors which had allowed me to run a distance measuring more than one stretch around the planet.

From then on, and although 16 years have gone by since I started to run, I haven’t stopped learning. Each race is unique and therefore a chance to keep on learning and know yourself a little better. In this last two marathons, for example, I have learnt four major lessons which can be applied really easily to the professional environment:

Confidence in oneself is vital but it should not fall on attempting to underestimate your external conditions or overvalue your own abilities. Because of this, flexibility and adaptability are two fundamental ingredients when it comes to tackling unexpected challenges (from a small lesson when preparing for our race to a sudden change in the commercial strategy of our main competitor).

Planning and preparing are keys to success. There are no possible shortcuts: in order to achieve our objective and finish the race in the desired time we need a combination of perseverance, resilience and a lot of will power. And, like in the business world, it is really important to be impeccable in the execution and follow-up of measurements which make up our desired performance.

Having a planned strategy for the whole course is indispensible- we cannot just focus on the short term. It is important to always remember what the final objective is and to ration our energy levels for the whole of the race (or the whole of the tax year). This will help us to overcome the well-known “wall” effect which comes up half way through a race, or to deal with any half-year profits which aren’t particularly brilliant.

Honesty with oneself. Dreaming and thinking big are not big challenges but they can become dangerous if we do not act with the right criteria. Whenever I have managed to meet my sporting objectives there has been a strategy designed beforehand: starting with a look at my abilities when it comes to preparation and being honest with myself in terms of my potential to develop in the time remaining, I have come up with some aims which, although ambitious, were sensible, along with realistic training plans. I insist on honesty with myself because we cannot expect miracles to happen. If something happens, it will surely impact negatively on the expected performance: never the other way around.

And a final lesson on travel companions. Counting on the support of your family and friends when it comes to marathons and your colleagues in the professional world is, without a doubt, the greatest incentive to keep going until you reach your goal. Without them, it’s mission impossible. As an African proverb says “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go accompanied”. And I like to add “accompanied with the best people”.

Versión en español de este post

4 lecciones para los negocios que he aprendido corriendo un maratón

Hace algo más de dos años, coincidiendo con la que ha sido hasta ahora mi mejor marca en el Maratón de Madrid, escribí un post en el  que explicaba algunas de las claves que me han permitido correr la distancia equivalente a más de una vuelta al mundo.

Desde entonces, y aunque han pasado ya 16 años desde que empecé a correr, no he dejado de aprender. Cada carrera es única y, por tanto, una oportunidad para seguir aprendiendo y para conocerte un poco mejor. En los dos últimos maratones, por ejemplo, he aprendido cuatro grandes lecciones que pueden aplicarse muy bien al entorno profesional:

La confianza en uno mismo es fundamental pero no  se debe caer en la tentación de subestimar las condiciones externas ni sobrevalorar tus propias capacidades. Por ello, flexibilidad y adaptabilidad son dos ingredientes fundamentales para abordar retos inesperados (desde una pequeña lesión en el caso de la preparación de nuestra carrera hasta un cambio repentino en la estrategia comercial de nuestro principal competidor).

La planificación y la preparación son la clave del éxito. No hay atajos posibles: para conseguir cumplir nuestro objetivo y terminar la carrera en el tiempo objetivo es necesaria una combinación de perseverancia, resiliencia y mucha fuerza de voluntad. Y, como en el mundo de los negocios, es realmente importante ser impecables en la ejecución y en el seguimiento de las métricas que objetivan nuestro rendimiento.

Es imprescindible tener una estrategia meditada para todo el recorrido y no concentrarnos sólo en el corto plazo. Es importante recordar en todo momento cuál es el objetivo final y dosificar las fuerzas para toda la carrera (o todo el año fiscal). Esto nos ayudará a superar el famoso efecto del “muro” a mitad de carrera o a enfrentar unos resultados de mitad de año no especialmente brillantes.

Sinceridad con uno mismo. Soñar y pensar en grande es muy estimulante pero puede volverse peligroso si no lo hacemos con suficiente criterio. En todas las ocasiones en las que he conseguido cumplir mis objetivos deportivos ha habido una estrategia previa diseñada para ello: partiendo de un diagnóstico de mis propias capacidades en el momento de comenzar la preparación y siendo honesto conmigo mismo respecto al potencial a desarrollar en el tiempo restante, me he planteado unos objetivos ambiciosos pero sensatos y un plan de entrenamiento realista. Insisto en la honestidad con uno mismo porque no se pueden esperar milagros. Si algo pasa, seguramente será para impactar negativamente en el rendimiento esperado: casi nunca al revés.

Y una última lección sobre los compañeros de viaje. Contar con el apoyo de tu familia y de tus amigos en el caso del maratón y de tus colegas en el mundo profesional es, sin duda, el mayor aliciente para seguir adelante hasta cumplir el objetivo. Sin ellos, es misión imposible. Como dice un proverbio africano, “si quieres ir rápido camina solo, si quieres llegar lejos ve acompañado”. Y yo añado “acompañado de los mejores”.

English version of this post