I recently had the distinct pleasure of moderating a panel discussion on innovation at Forrester’s Forum For CIOs, where I was able to share the stage with Lawrence Lee, Sr. Director of Strategy, PARC, a Xerox company, and Jim Stikeleather,  Chief Innovation Officer, Dell Services. We had the opportunity to discuss the business imperatives for innovation, how to look at inventions and translate them into business value, and how to build the narrative that tells a compelling story around these innovations.

While the discussion gave me fodder for a suite of future blog posts, I just want to highlight a few things that came out of our talk to get you thinking a bit more about how to make your innovation program more effective.

  • Innovation is about turning invention into business value. The innovation process takes these inventions (whether internally or externally generated) and answers the questions to decide whether there is a business opportunity hiding within or to decide quickly (and cheaply) not to pursue that opportunity because of some learned facts.
  • Innovation requires both discrete funding and discrete staff. To think out of the box, we need to have both the funding and people whose metrics and goals are around innovation. As we generally want our best and brightest involved in our innovation programs, we also need to protect them from being called back to deal with the crisis du jour.
  • Innovation is about challenging assumptions. Jim Stikeleather mentioned that he has each person on his innovation team read at least one science fiction novel each year. A good science fiction writer will start with a world where one (or more) basic assumptions are challenged and the work from there to see what happens. A good innovator will, likewise, challenge at least one basic assumption about how a product, market, or consumer behaves and then work out from there.
  • Innovation requires a different model of risk. We’ve worked so hard to remove risk from most of our technology decisions. Innovation requires that we re-inject a level of risk back in to the process. With innovation, we haven’t done it before and we don’t know what will happen — that’s why we’re looking at it. Lawrence Lee brought up that there are two ways to manage this risk — being agile in our incubation model, quickly testing the innovation and improving it iteratively; and looking at the innovation portfolio — where risk is managed across a suite of innovation investments that address different business goals.
  • Innovation is about building the narrative — rather than the NPV. Selling innovation to management and to our business colleagues requires the ability to tell a good story — what we might be able to do if we had certain capabilities — rather than trying to predict a hard ROI that is too easily challenged. Our conversations around our innovation investments should start with "Imagine if we could…." This will spark the discussion that needs to take place as we challenge the assumptions and explore the possibilities.  

Our conversations delved into these and other topics — each of which I’ll address in future blog posts. However, I would be remiss if I didn’t also point you to both Lawrence Lee’s blog and Jim Stikeleather’s blog, where they talk about their experiences in innovation. Jim also recently published a series of posts on the Harvard Business Review website on the CIO/CEO relationship, which I highly recommend.

From my point of view, the best news is that I get to do this again! I’m moderating another panel on making innovation work at Forrester’s Forum For CIOs EMEA (#ForrForum), where I’ll be joined by innovation leaders from BT and BBVA, who will share their experiences. Please join me there for what is sure to be an equally informative discussion.