Business management

Innovation strategy

Elvin Turner, author of Be Less Zombie, says firms need to look further, dream bigger and think deeper.

Arguably the most valuable asset that leaders can build today is a dedicated innovation strategy. Yet despite being the single most important route to a profitable future, few companies have one.

So what are the essential elements of an innovation strategy?First, a focus on what isn’t changing. The “why” of an industry usually changes much slower than the “what” (products) and the “how” (business models). Blockbuster died, but the demand for watching movies at home has never been stronger.

Spread your bets with a portfolio of ideas that has a range of risk and return

Elvin Turner

What is the “why”? For a camera manufacturer it isn’t making better cameras but making better photographers. It is a technologically agnostic pursuit that stops today’s products from blinding us from better ways to help customers make better progress.

Second, more focus on the future. Based on the important progress that customers want, what future trends (especially technology) could help us deliver better progress? And what might those trends mean for our products, business models and operating models? Look further, dream bigger, think deeper.

Third, spread your bets with a portfolio of ideas that has a range of risk and return. To prevent risk-avoidance, back it with metrics that create a healthy balance, like [manufacturer] 3M’s “34% of revenues from ideas that didn’t exist five years ago”.

Finally, let go. Leaders crave certainty but it’s a rare commodity. While we can’t always lower risk around bolder ideas, we can lower the stakes. Test your ideas’ underlying assumptions with cheap, fast experiments. Then use the data to inform investment decisions.

A culture of experimentation is one of the hallmarks of all great innovators.

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