Innovation Requires Execution NOT Creativity

by Patrick Lefler

Innovation Requires Execution NOT CreativityEveryone talks about the need for creativity and great ideas. It’s become the fad of the month with entire industries now devoted to idea generation. Innovation labs and teams are the new thing and are popping up all over. And these new innovation labs have their own set of rules; white boards and post-it notes are mandatory; go for quantity and encourage wild ideas; be visual; number your ideas; twenty-five ideas per hour is good, fifty ideas per hour is the sign of good brainstorming (and I suppose that a hundred ideas an hour is like nirvana!).

Separate spaces are created for these special innovation teams. Members are encourages to ‘drop in’ whenever they feel creative. Markers of every color are supplied along with storyboard frames. Create! create! create! is the mantra but very rarely do we know what to do with all those ideas.

In fact, ideas are dime a dozen unless they can be monetized. And it’s the execution that makes this happen.

Execution must be fundamental to your innovation strategy. It has to central to the organization’s culture; so much so that it drives the behavior of managers at all levels. In the end, no innovation strategy can be planned without taking into account the organization’s ability to execute it. Because without execution, ideas stay as ideas, and innovation is stopped dead in its tracks.

Here’s the takeaway: The key to successful innovation is not idea generation; ideas are dime a dozen. No, the key to innovation success is in the execution of turning the myriad ideas generated into an industry-changing outcome.


Follow @innovate on twitter

Don’t miss a post (2,350+) – Subscribe to our RSS feed and join our Innovation Excellence group!


Patrick LeflerPatrick Lefler is the founder of The Spruance Group – a management consultancy that helps growing companies grow faster. He is a former Marine Corps officer; a graduate of both Annapolis and The Wharton School, and has over twenty years of industry expertise.

No comments

  1. Patrick: I get your point. Makes sense. And I understand the repulsion you are feeling in response to the “creativity movement.” Every good thing, these days, seems to get exaggerated, hyped, and abused. That being said, I think you overstate your case a bit. Innovation requires Executive AND Creativity — especially creativity about execution which is often, in most organizations absurdly bureaucratic, unimaginative, and ineffective. Execution and creativity do not need to be mutually exclusive. They are not an either/or proposition. Both are required, for sure.

  2. Excellent point – and one that needed to be said. With this rampant focus on crowdsourcing happening, everybody has a say but nobody’s doing anything. It reminds me of college group projects. Everything was done diplomatically, but until someone stepped in took control – nothing got done.

    Also, brainstorming sessions are normally nothing but a waste of time, again someone has to step in and direct. Somewhere between crowdsourcing and a dictatorship is the solution. But hasn’t that always been the case. Maybe a level of creativity/brainstorming on top of an implementation platform designed to be flexible according the project? Just a thought.

  3. Patrick: thanks for your post. Thoughtful points thoughtfully made. IMO, one of the keys to successfully monetizing new ideas thru execution is instrumenting the effort with real-time market feedback on sales productivity. My bias: the faster firms can detect their success in establishing a differentiated value that gets buyers to commit time + effort in the sales process, the faster those same firms will figure out their fastest path to the monetized gold. Trust this adds some value. – John

  4. Wow Patrick,

    “A dime a dozen”, thats 10cents for 12, no wonder you aren’t happy with the product.

    If you like execution and the safety of regulation then read ISO 9001:2008 Section 7.1 CONTROL PRODUCT REALIZATION PLANNING and build an inclusive atmosphere in enterprise to allow creativity to enlighten the manufacturing process or get happy in watching your competition producing goods and services that customers want and desire.

  5. Well said. Although I’m into that business, offering the training of creativity techniques, I second that – the most creative and original idea is just an idea, it needs action and structure to become an innovation.

    However, I am a dedicated believer in creativity techniques. Three reasons … it is a good way to train creative troublehooting, prolific teamwork leads to “collateral benefits” and most of all you look at a challenge from many different points of view, analysing it, looking for the “fittest” way to cope with it.

    And that is tough work. Not a mere “PR” gag. Just my 2 cents, Elke

  6. Agree that without execution ideas are useless, but disagree with the premise that ideas are a dime a dozen.

    If Idea Generation was so easy and great ideas were so obvious (which they aren’t) we could forget about that and focus on execution. Why are big companies paying big dollars for these innovation teams to create? Because someone must do this work. And because breakthrough ideas require a great deal of work to come up with.

    I take your main point really, but you do those who are fighting for more time and space to do ideation a major dis-service by downplaying the importance of good ideas.

    It’s not Innovation Requires Execution NOT Creativity, it’s Innovation requires Creativity AND Execution.

    Best wishes!

  7. Mary Katherine Strupe

    Gregg- I couldn’t agree with you more. While execution is a very important aspect of innovation strategy, creativity is still an important piece of the puzzle.

    Creativity provides you the fundamental idea on which to execute and, down the road, to innovate. When we think about the innovation of products and services, what we are really doing is innovating, or renewing, the original creativity of the product or service. We evolve the fundamental idea to maintain it’s luster, allure and profitability.

    I shared with Patrick (on the Spruance Group Blog) an interesting article I found that really speaks to the relationship of innovation and creativity. You may be interested in giving it a quick read yourself: https://execed.mgt.ncsu.edu/innovation-that-melts-in-your-mouth/.

  8. I agree with an exception. Execution of ideas isn’t the main problem either

    Firstly I totally agree that the world is full of idea and that the trick is to implement them. However, you need to execute the right ideas. Simply implementing an idea doesn’t guarantee commercial success. You need to implement great ideas that are relevant.

    So you need good creative ideas to feed the innovation pipeline. If the creative input is under par then so is the output. Good creativity is all about finding the right ideas. Then when you implement them you have gold!!!

  9. Without ideas we have nothing to innovate with. Without execution the ideas simply burn up without creating any useful work. Idea people must put the ideas to work. Ideas are the nuclear rods and innovation is the rest of the power-plant – the structure, the process, the boiler (go Boilermakers), the generator, the transmission lines, etc. Ideas themselves are a bit toxic. They get everyone excited (in positive and negative ways) and if not properly managed they can create chaos and mayhem. Good ideas gone bad – through lack of proper execution, poorly developed ideas can contaminate an otherwise fruitful line of business for a company. A failed project in a market or technology area gives opponents ammunition to evacuate the area for 10,000

  10. It is important for business leaders to recognize that an innovation process is circular in nature, not linear. One part of the process is not better or worse than any other part, they work together in a holistic, systematic way. The act of creating and taking something new to market is a messy, human process.

    – Frame the problem/opportunity
    – Understand the user, influencer, chooser, buyer, and external issues
    – Discover needs and new opportunity areas
    – Develop new solution concepts, build, test, verify
    – Apply decision criteria to the range of potential solutions
    – Go to market with the chosen solution
    – Rinse and repeat

    This whole process is a very complex set of human interactions. It would be great to see discussions about ways to make each of these process components more effective for an organization.

  11. Ideas are not the end of the need for creativity

    creative thinking is needed from the conception to the implementation and delivery of a product and service and beyond once the product is in the hands of the customer.

    getting an idea from the R&D or the factory floor through the many levels of management of an organization requires a great deal of creativity too.

    Xerox had the ideas but it was Apple and Microsoft who used them and implemented them not Xerox.

    The ideas for digital watches originated in Switzerland but it was Intel and Seiko before any Swiss company did.

    Why didn’t Kodak develop digital cameras?

    Creativity is need from the front and rear doors to the top floors but often middle to upper management kills them because they do not fit their 90 day plan

Leave a Reply