“There is a lot of change coming. Management needs to be ambitious.”

In a recent webinar, Stefan Lindegaard, widely recognized innovation expert and author, walked us through what he regularly sees in the corporate trenches as real-world obstacles to innovation. Working with a global, cross-industry client base of companies that is actively trying to innovate reveals consistent stumbling blocks and ways to produce better innovation outcomes.

Here are some of the key insights he shared about innovation:

1.     Focus and attention must be put on the back end of innovation, on building an execution strategy and process. With the growing number of proven idea-generation tools and processes readily available to companies of all sizes, the front end of innovation—the idea generation stage—is increasingly becoming the easy part of innovation. Even if a company struggles internally for ideas, it is easy to go outside the firm for new ideas using open innovation tools and innovation networks. Webinar sponsor Hype Innovation and their innovation management software and services were given as an example of the kind of support services available. The key challenge is in the execution of those ideas into new products, services and business models. More of an execution mind-set is needed, not just a creative mind-set.

2.     The lack of clarity on innovation purpose (strategy) becomes a much bigger problem with execution than at the front end. When language is fuzzy or vague it can be dangerous, even crippling, to an organization or any organized effort. The term “innovation” no longer matters as it is used too often by too many people to mean many different things. “You need to speak the same language if you want both internal and external stakeholders on board,” he said.

Stefan said successful innovation efforts start with a clear agreement on what innovation means at the firm and how it fits the specific situation you are challenged with at your company. He gave a number of examples of written innovation statements developed by companies that are seriously pursuing innovation efforts. (Go to webinar replay for examples.) Stefan pointed out that innovation language is such an important step to successful innovation that in his free e-book, 7 Steps to Open Innovation, his first step is focused on language. He feels there are two key questions that have to be asked and tied into the firm’s strategic purpose:

1.     What is your motivation for pursuing innovation?

2.     Why is innovation relevant to your company, its present situation and its vision and mission? 

3.     People first, processes next, then ideas. Many start their innovation efforts around idea generation. Innovation, though, is such a human-based process, relying on deep collaboration and diverse perspectives and talents. Stefan has seen companies  achieve success when they recognize this human dynamic and develop systems to identify people's strengths in three key areas: discovery, incubation and acceleration stages of an innovation process. The goal is to create specific groups of employees, called "people pools," that can get the right people working on the right ideas at the right time.

4.     Urgent need for corporate transformation. Firms of all sizes need to stop talking about innovation and just start executing. With a great deal of change coming—three key words for businesses to focus on are “faster,” “connected” and “transparent”—management needs to be ambitious in dealing with these changes in their business environment. Innovation is learned by doing and systematically getting better at it.