At any one time there is a management fad. At the moment it is ‘innovation’. Everyone seeks and speaks of innovation, saying: “Innovation is critical for competitiveness, progress and results.”

Technology is making innovation easier. Small companies are disrupting established players with new ideas, new approaches and new services — look at Seek, Uber, and Airbnb. The established players see innovation as necessary in order to be able to respond, but…

The concept of established organisations innovating is almost an oxymoron. Established organisations are set up not to change.

They are set up to be consistent and stable for ease of control. Stability, consistency and control are the antithesis of innovation, disruption and change. Which is why established organisations so often fail to innovate and see their markets cannibalised by new players.

2 ways to innovate

  1. Introduce an innovative product into new market. Very high risk market risk and not recommended.
  2. Introduce an innovative product into your existing markets. Lower market risk but higher organisational risk.

Here we will focus on the second option.

2 processes for successful innovation

1. Ideation

Coming up with the idea is the easier part. This is the fun part. Various methods can be used to ‘think outside the box’ or to reinvent a product, market or industry, but once you have your idea how do you implement it in an established firm?

2. Implementation

Executives hope the challenge of bringing a product to market will be solved by effective project management. But implementation is more than just a project to get the idea/product to market; it also involves the challenge of getting the product implemented into and through your own organisation and, at times, changing the market and its mindset.

American business author Tom Peters, years ago recommended ‘skunkworks’ — small unofficial teams that worked outside the organisational structure to get things done. This approach is trying to emulate the small start-up type of organisation within or along side the established organisation. It can by-pass the established obstacles and get the idea to market, but then it still needs to be incorporated into the organisation as a whole to become part of business-as-usual. Using ‘skunkworks’ merely delays the hardest part and is a structural solution to a process problem.

Incorporating an innovation into an established firm is a transformation process, not a change or project process — a transformation process few organisations are capable of executing successfully.

Think, how successful have you been in the past when changing how your organisation works?

A recruitment organisation came up with a new approach to recruitment and was highly successful, although it couldn’t let go of what had made is successful in the past. While it still exists, it has moved from number one in its industry to an also-ran. It refuses to let go of the things that made it successful all those year ago.

Are you willing to let go of your core success factors to adopt a new idea? Do you have proven processes to do it? No processes, no success.