Innovation Prowess: Lessons from Professor George S. Day

Innovation is very often a trite topic that is part of the mainstream speeches in the companies and the people who lead them. However, in my opinion, it is rarely managed rigorously. For that reason it is so important to find tools to facilitate its implementation.

I had recently the opportunity to read the book "Innovation Prowess" by Wharton Professor George S. Day and I think his proposals are really practical and to some extent quite easy to apply in the day-to-day of any organization.

As a conclusion he offers five “sturdy handrails” for capture the key lessons of his book. Here I offer a brief summary of them.

Handrail 1: Focus relentlessly on customer value.

He recommends senior managers “to have employees whose passions and priorities are aligned with those of their customers”. Consequently every single level of the company “has to have people who are living with customers, attuned to what they are experiencing, and empathizing with their frustrations and problems”.

Handrail 2: Balance discipline and creativity.

Professor Day emphasizes the importance of having a good balance between “the creative risk-taking part of the innovation culture and the discipline, rigorous, and results-oriented part”. He assumes that tolerating failures can be a good lesson to improve the processes and the next wave of innovations. At the end of the day it comes to getting a good compromise between long-term vision and immediate pressing needs.

Handrail 3: Profit from uncertainty.

“There is no reason to become paralyzed by uncertainty”. This could be a good summary of this handrail. It is important to remember that innovative leaders “stay ahead by nurturing a risk-tolerant culture that is ready to make moves that cannibalize the sales of established products and endorse continuous experimentation”.

Handrail 4: Master ambidexterity.

In this context the ambidexterity is a skill that enables organizations “to diverge with a search for opportunities along a full spectrum of growth pathways, while exercising the discipline to converge in a few high-potential prospects with an attractive balance of risk and reward”.

Handrail 5: Mobilize the entire organization.

When we talk about growth and innovation strategies we shouldn’t settle to simply communicate them to all staff. We should aspire to something more: we have to sell them to every single employee and make sure that they have been bought.

In short, the book shows us that the best way to develop a prowess  strategy is to combine discipline in growth-seeking activities with an organizational ability to innovate.

Video (interview with George S. Day): Leadership strategies for accelerating growth