The Innovation Matrix

by Tim Kastelle

Here’s a sketch that I came up with last week that helps explain how organizations get better at innovation:

Tim Kastelle Innovation Matrix

This is a bit of a distillation of observations over time. I thought of it because I think that a lot of people that are trying to improve innovation within an organization think that they can go from the bottom left (No Innovation Capability) to the top right (Google-Like Innovator) in one jump, simply by introducing some sort of innovation program. I think that this is impossible – that you actually have to make the trip in a number of steps, and that there are many different paths that you can take.

The table has two increasing dimensions. Across the horizontal axis there is increasing commitment to innovation. This can include things like talking about how innovation is important, including it as a core value, putting in systems to support and improve innovation, and explicitly earmarking time, money and other resources to innovation. This is measuring innovation inputs.

Going up the vertical axis shows an increase in innovation competence – mainly the ability to generate and successfully execute new ideas. This measures innovation outputs.

Here is a brief description of each box:

  1. No Innovation Capability: these firms don’t innovate. This isn’t necessarily bad – there’s no value judgment being made. They can be successful if they have strong positions in stable industries, or they can be average performers or struggling in other circumstances. I think we can probably all think of examples for this category.
  2. Thinking About Innovation: firms in this category are starting to talk about the importance of innovation. They might add it to their list of core values, or have a CEO that is starting to talk it up. Regardless of this increase in awareness and commitment, they are still not very good at it. This is often the first step that organizations take in trying to improve innovation.
  3. All Talk, No Action: is a self-explanatory category. They are talking the talk, with official innovation programs, commitment of time and resources, etc. But they’re still lousy at actually executing ideas. They may have an excessive focus on ideation, a bad selection process, or just not be very good at executing.
  4. Unintentional Innovators: My suspicion is that there are firms in both this category and also Unconscious Stars (there have to be for this matrix to be useful and/or make sense). These would be firms that innovate under some other name – so they might be really good at process innovations through a continuous improvement or lean program. They are able to execute ideas reasonably well, but they don’t have any structure in place to support it, nor do they think that they’re innovative.
  5. Average at Everything: these firms have some structure in place to support innovation, and they are getting better at doing it. Several firms that I work with have gotten to this level after moving first to Talking About Innovation.
  6. Potential Stars: are good at innovating, and they are putting more resources into getting better at it. They have top-level commitment to innovation, good processes in place, and dedicated resources for innovation. They are reasonably good at executing new ideas and have the potential to become extremely good.
  7. Unconscious Stars: These firms share characteristics with Unintentional Innovators – but they are really good at executing new ideas. Again, these will be mostly incremental improvements, but they’re highly skilled at generating and executing these kinds of ideas. You could have service firms in this category, where they might not require much structure or resources to execute ideas, so they don’t really think of it as innovating.
  8. Effortless Innovators: are firms that think about managing innovation, and they are very good at it. They aren’t sinking huge amounts of resources into the process, but they are consciously trying to innovate.
  9. Google-like Innovators: Another self-explanatory category. In these firms innovation is deeply embedded in the culture – everything is oriented around innovation. Think Google, Apple, 3M, Procter & Gamble etc.

How to use this:

Here are some things that I think we can do with this:

  • Use it to make a better picture of how firms improve at innovation: Many of the people in my classes are in firms towards the bottom left, and many of the examples that we use to illustrate points are from firms in the top right (Google, P&G, 3M, etc.). This might be too big a conceptual jump. Not every firm can get to the top right, and neither should every firm aim to. It is more productive to think of this as an incremental process of steps, rather than one big jump.
  • Track the evolution of firms: we can learn about how to best manage innovation by tracking how firms progress through this matrix. For example, one firm I work with started with No Innovation Capability, then started talking about it and moved to Thinking About Innovation, and now that they are getting better at it they are Average at Everything.
  • Realize that there are multiple targets to shoot at: Like I said, not every organization can be Google. Thinking about innovation with this matrix, you can see that all of the categories in the top row are excellent at innovation. However, the farther you go to the right, the more resources you have to commit to build and maintain this level of excellence. There are many situations where you can try to be an excellent innovator with a more bottom-up, less resource-intensive system in place.
  • Think About the Best Path to Follow: Almost everyone starts by increasing commitment. The danger with this is that you can end up in the All Talk, No Action category. I wonder if we should be figuring out ways to improve capability rather than commitment. Or is this even possible? It’s an interesting question, and you can certainly make a strong argument in favor of increasing capability before you increase how much you talk about innovating.

The main point with The Innovation Matrix is that improving your innovation performance is a journey of many steps, not simply one big leap. The matrix is designed to help us think about this more accurately, and to be more successful at improving our innovation performance.


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Tim KastelleTim Kastelle is a Lecturer in Innovation Management in the University of Queensland Business School. He blogs about innovation at the Innovation Leadership Network.

No comments

  1. Having spent 20 years implementing change, much in product development, I can position every client and employer on your matrix so it certainly works from that point of view. And it also provides a sense of trajectory which is key for organization who might think they are brilliant at innovation – they can see where they might be able to squeeze more benefits. I have used similar tools to get this effect (eg around competition and product positioning) but the scrutiny on innovation is very timely.

    I struggle with the term “effortless” mostly because it is not technically “without effort” rather they are very competent and therefore it feels easy. I think of this box as “unconscious competence” and the Google box as “conscious, deliberate, iterative excellence” (more than conscious competence rather an ongoing commitment to push the boundaries of known competence to generate increasingly more powerful results faster).

    And, yes, I agree it is not appropriate strategy for every company to strive for the top right quadrant however what I like about plotting a company (and its competitors) on your matrix is the “a ha” (“omg”) around why we are starting to lag or starting to accelerate compared to the rest of our market. Very big insights available here. In fact the discussion alone typically yields more informed conversations within the leadership team.

    While our practice focuses increasingly on how to implement change faster and more effectively, we believe that the application in the realm of innovation is critical. Our recent white paper “Call to Action: Power Innovation bandwidth with the 9 pistons of Change Management engine” is available here https://www.symphini.com/doc/Call%20to%20Action%20to%20Power%20Innovation%20with%20the%209%20pistons%20of%20CM%20engine%20v10.pdf.

    This is important work – I will tweet it and would be interested in following your development of this model.

    Gail Severini
    CEO
    Symphini Change Management Inc
    http://www.symphini.com

  2. I came up with a similar chart not too long ago.
    https://s.mohdi.com/successchart
    Your chart is interesting.

  3. This is a very well drawn out matrix; especially considering the maturity scale reaching from unconscious to conscious innovation. The simplicity of the language also will help organizations through an introspection of where they are and where they might want to go.

    Best regards,
    Subbu Iyer

  4. This is an interesting decomposition. I would suggest changing the top right corner from “Google-like Innovators” to something like “Consistently innovative” or something similar.

    Not that I have anything against Google, but with products like Buzz and Wave, it’s hard to identify Google as the top of the competence axis.

    Saeed

  5. Thank you Tim for your post. I like it.
    Back to basics, I understand it like a “You want vs. You can” matrix. And I understand that if an organization really “wants”, then will dedicate resources to “can”, and they will finally be able to “do” (the “do” is the description of the contents of every box).

    twitter/ricard_bou

  6. It is a clear way to map where we are, now it is the how to make the trip in a number of steps and measure the commitment to innovation and the increase in innovation competence.
    I also liked the 3D Change Management Framework by Symphini Change Management Inc. shared by CEO Gail Severini, bringing Capability Dimensions and Execution Channels together with Performance. Quite a challenge!

  7. Hi Tim,

    I think you made a very consistent matrix, and I can recognize a lot of organizations fitting in each square. Good work!

    As a challenge, I would like to ask you, if you don’t mind

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