Innovation – Why Context is King

Innovation - Why Context is King Dr. Bettina von Stamm is the Founder and Catalyst of the Innovation Leadership Forum and a leading expert on innovation management and innovation leadership. For nearly two decades she has been researching, writing, speaking, teaching, and advising on innovation for senior-level decision makers.

Recently, I had the chance to chat with Bettina about innovation and leadership. What follows are excerpts from the conversation. For the complete interview, visit Imaginatik’s blog: (Part One) (Part Two).

How Context Matters for Innovation

Imaginatik: You’re a believer in the importance of context. Can you tell us more about how context affects innovation?

Bettina: Innovation is not a rote activity; it is messy and involves change and uncertainty. What works under one set of circumstances does not necessarily work in a different set. So creating the best actions and processes is highly context-dependent. In my framework I present context like an onion. At the center is the organization itself, and its own operational context. The next layer is the relationships between the company and its business contacts – suppliers, partners, customers. Beyond that you have the marketplace as a whole. Each of these layers affects the way a company should think about and approach innovation.

What Kind of Leadership is Needed?

Imaginatik: What’s the right way for senior leaders to drive innovation?

Bettina: First of all, there is no one specific stumbling block. That’s one of the biggest challenges of innovation. In order to create a sustainably innovative organization – rather than an organization that creates the occasional innovation success – a whole range of factors need to be addressed, that is why it is so difficult.  However, the leadership issue is the most critical one, all else can flow from there.

One of my favorite examples of strong innovation leadership is from Whirlpool. In the late 1990s, CEO David Whitwam walked into the office and declared: I want innovation from everyone, everywhere. But instead of merely proclaiming innovation as important, he literally changed the fabric of the company. He pulled managers out of operations and trained them for a sustained period on innovation. He provided ring-fenced budgets for innovation projects. And much more. This is the level of dedication and commitment that makes the difference.

One of the most challenging moments in sustaining innovation performance and conditions for innovation is when a new CEO takes over.

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Don’t miss an article (4,250+) – Subscribe to our RSS feed or Innovation Excellence Weekly newsletter (sample). Townsend is Senior Director, Strategic Marketing at Imaginatik. He is passionate about ideation, innovation, organizational transformation, and building great teams and companies. Imaginatik improves today’s innovation giants, and creates tomorrow’s innovation leaders. Through the right mix of best-practice advice, program management expertise, and an award-winning software platform, we help our clients reach their full innovation potential.

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