Improving Returns on your Innovation Investment

I highly value the studies that are undertaken by the larger consulting firms. They have the C-level access and geographical reach to give us some critical insights into the progress of innovation.

Improving Returns on your Innovation InvestmentRecently Arthur D Little provided their latest innovation excellence study, its 8th Global Innovation Excellence Study, into what companies can do to achieve a better return on their investment in innovation management. The report can be downloaded or viewed here and outlines in their opinion what really works in terms of managing the innovation process.

They offer some good pointers and understanding of what differentiates top innovators within and across industries. It also suggests that it provides new insights into what companies can do to achieve a better return on their investment in innovation management. I think it does fall a little short on a depth to support and validate these claims in my opinion, but it does still provides sound insight.

They specifically attempt to focus on understanding what differentiates top innovators from other companies in different industries. Drawing on over 650 responses, the study sheds new light on the basic key question: what innovation management techniques are most important in achieving a better return on innovation investment? The results they suggest are important for any company that wishes to stay competitive.

Overall the report highlights six key insights:

1. There is strong evidence that excellence in innovation management based on Arthur D. Little’s model leads to higher innovation performance.

It is such a pity they lead off with this ‘claim’ adopting their best practices helps to achieve innovation success. I would strongly argue adopting any good, coherent framework will contribute to improving performance, providing you give this the dedicated focus, resources and top management commitment. I think they have put the “cart before the horse” by leading with this.

2. Top quartile innovation performers obtain on average 13% points more profit from new products and services than average performers, and 30% shorter time-to-break-even, although the gap is narrowing.

They argue the gap in best and worst performers has narrowed in recent years and past under-performers can and do catch up and maintaining a lead in innovation performance is getting harder. I’d have liked to have this observation explained or validated some more.

3. Innovation performance achieved has decreased on average since 2010, yet satisfaction with this level of performance has nearly doubled

This is the really interesting point for me.

Comparing 2010 and 2012 results, they found a significant overall decrease of up to 25% in innovation performance across a range of industries and suggest this may be driven by the tough market conditions of recent years which have forced companies to focus on short term performance, as well as issues specific to certain industries.

In contrast, they found that overall satisfaction with innovation performance increased significantly from 25% to 42%, although the majority of respondents are still dissatisfied. They conclude on this point that this might also reflect recognition that innovation success is getting harder to achieve.

4. There is a clear correlation between capability in innovation measurement and innovation success, yet less than 20% of companies believe they have a good innovation measurement capability.

What they found as more surprising is that less than 20% of companies believe they are better than average in innovation measurement capabilities and indicates the level of dissatisfaction with their efforts to measure innovation performance.

They offer the view this underlines both the inherent difficulty of effective measurement of innovation, and the significant potential for companies to improve their capabilities in this area.

5. Certain innovation management practices have a particularly strong impact on innovation performance

Top innovation performers invest relatively more in radical improvements to products, services and business models, as opposed to incremental improvements. They suggest there are four basic practices but the key, for me, is the one of mobilizing the whole organization to develop new ideas. I would argue mobilization across all that innovation covers is critical, not just new ideas but ideas to commercialization.

6. Top innovators do much better in adopting best practices in accelerating growth

The study found that top innovators are better at identifying unmet needs, fostering an entrepreneurial culture and leveraging existing key competencies.

Another really important point for me that is often understated.

They pick up on it is the organizations ability to overcome important internal challenges such as getting top-management support, enabling fast decision-making and establishing productive cross-functional relationships that gives them innovation leadership.

The conclusion of the study

The study concludes with the two important insights: there is a strong correlation between adoption of new business growth practices and achieving innovation success and top innovators are more effective at dealing with internal barriers.

I think the study gives encouragement that having a focused, disciplined approach to innovation does make a difference. By tackling the internal barriers successfully will change innovation performance. It is not a ground breaking study but it does offer some helpful focal points to improve organizations performance.

The real disappointments that for me this report does bring out?

I still feel disappointed they started off with promoting their own model as blatantly as the reference point to success. I am not a lover of equally generalizing around “best practice”. I’m of the school arguing for “emerging practice or novel practice”.

I also wonder if they have not fallen into this old trap of perhaps practice leader’s self-justification for this study, hard as it might seem as a comment. This tends to be for me the older consulting practice approach of self-promotion that I believe actually constrains your perceived value to clients. Today a more detached view seems to offer greater consulting judgement even in best practice observations.

I quote from www.sourceforconsulting.com in a recent article: “Consulting firms need to re-think their approach to thought leadership from scratch.  Less money should be frittered away by people writing whatever they want and more invested in centrally coordinated thought leadership.  Some seriously innovative thinking needs to go into developing a game-changing approach to content or publication

I would apply this observation also to this Arthur D Little study. To quote again from the above www.sourceforconsulting.com article “Research is a good example: liberally distributing the results of an expensive survey in your publications used to be a differentiator but even the smallest firms do this now; primary research has to be either very clever or very big to stand out”

The report certainly contributes into our innovation understanding

I think the Arthur D Little innovation practice does make a really sound contribution to innovation practices without doubt. I think they can do a whole lot more actually.  I really do think translating their observations from benchmarking and best practice observations can be significantly lifted up in being real value differentiators by extending their existing toolkit at www.adl.com/InnovationExcellence into something more dynamic as a “must go to” source but will they?

There is a real leading innovation practice space to fill and this goes way beyond existing approaches made by the bigger consultancy firms or the ones exclusively focusing on innovation. A large diverse innovation practice can fill this space but it needs so much more.

Will anyone step up to the plate I wonder, it needs it.

image credit: innovation-futures.org

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2 Responses to Improving Returns on your Innovation Investment

  1. Pingback: Innovation Excellence | Improving Returns on yo...

  2. Frank Mattes says:

    Hi Paul,

    sharp and down-to-the-point. As usually, this is Paul Hobcraft at its best. Actually I was so disappointed by the reference framework that ADL uses. It is so Old School, so mechanistic, so linear. It does not by any means refelct the collaborative and networked gestalt of today’s innovation managemnet in leading firms.

    Big question, though: Is this the way that CEOs understand innovation?

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