As every high-quality report on innovation, Accenture’s 2015 U.S. Innovation Survey is a mixed bag of news. On the one hand, responses provided by “500 managers and executives with roles in innovation at large U.S. companies” paint a bright picture of the state of the American corporate innovation. Consider this promising numbers:
- 74% of the respondents reported having formally established corporate innovation processes
- 63% of companies are appointing Chief Innovation Officers (a note to those who hastened to bury the poor CINO alive)
- 85% utilize digital platforms to manage innovation process; 84% practice virtual prototyping; 91% use customers as a source of new ideas.
But here comes the bad news. The study found “that a significant gap exists between what companies want to do in the area of innovation and what they are able to do.” Take a look at the numbers leading to this sobering assertion:
- 72% of companies miss opportunities to exploit under-developed areas or markets (53% in 2012)
- 60% admit their companies don’t learn from past mistakes (36% in 2012)
- 67% believe their organizations are becoming more risk-averse (46% in 2012).
Based on these conflicting trends, the authors of the study gave it a peculiar title: “Innovation: Clear Vision, Cloudy Execution.”
With all due respect to the esteemed Accenture folks, I’d disagree with the first part of their two-pronged heading. My own experience with corporate innovation programs suggests that in very many companies, there is no clear understanding of the very fundamentals of the innovation process: what innovation is (and what it is not), what types of innovation and innovation tools exist and which particular tools are suited for each type of innovation.
Signs of such “unclear vision” are evident in the study itself. For example, 84% of the respondents admit that their organizations prefer chasing “silver-bullet” innovations at the expense of developing a portfolio of opportunities. Yet 72% complain that pursuing “line extensions” takes over “developing totally new products or services.”
Wait a minute! Do these two statements not contradict each other? How can any organization prefer chasing “silver-bullet” innovations and at the same time ignore developing new products and services? Is it not supposed to be the same type of innovation?
This is a sign of a total confusion, not a “clear vision.” Yes, you can establish a formal innovation program, appoint a Chief Innovation Officer and buy a piece of innovation management software. However, if no one responsible for innovation in your organization understands the difference between incremental, “adjacent” and radical innovation (a.k.a. the 3-Horizon Model of Innovation) and is familiar with the concept of Integrative Innovation Management, both your innovation vision and execution will be…well, cloudy.
It appears to me that the C-level executives responsible for corporate innovation are becoming increasingly better at using “correct” innovation vocabulary. Sure, innovation is a top-3 priority for our organization. Sure, we strive for disruptive innovation. Sure, in our organization, innovation is everyone’s job. It’s also automatically assumed that this “vision” is universally shared by the rest of their organizations.
But I keep coming back to another innovation survey, the one sponsored by Wazoku, a UK collaborative idea management software company. In their survey, 85% of respondents too considered innovation important to their companies (exactly the same number as in Accenture’s); yet 72% had no understanding of what innovation meant to them. 53% of surveyed managers were unaware of their organizations’ definition of innovation; 38% of the managers said innovation wasn’t their job.
So, I have a suggestion for Accenture folks. Next time they run an innovation survey, they poll the same number of people (500). However, instead of posing questions on corporate innovation to 500 of executives working for different companies, Accenture would present the same questions to 500 people working for the same company–at every level of the organizational ladder. I’m sure the results of the survey will surprise Accenture’s analysts.
Image credit: Zdzisław Beksiński (1929-2005) (http://www.lazerhorse.org/2013/05/12/terrifying-visions-hell-murdered-polish-painter/)