Avoid Complacency: How to Manage Innovation

Last Updated Aug 27, 2007 5:54 PM EDT

idea.jpgAccording to Business Week, "good enough" products are actually good for business because "a marketplace that's not hung up on fail-safe standards is open to risk and innovation, and drives down prices." But if the past is any indication, complacency can destroy a company. For example, IBM was so smug about dominating the propietary software market that it missed the shift to open-source solutions.

Everywhere you look there are suggestions for avoiding complacency. (Microsoft Research offers 9 traps to avoid, Grand Slam Results, a management training firm, presents 8 questions to ask, and author Todd Satterson wrote a book on the topic: More Space; Nine Antidotes to Complacency in Business.) But let's face it: companies often don't realize they're becoming complacent; it's more a consequence of success. Perhaps instead of fighting complacency, a better route is to focus on managing innovation.

On his blog, Andrew Hargadon, former product designer at Apple Computers, spoke to the challenges inherent in being simultaneously innovative and efficient:

The big challenge in managing innovation lies, I would suggest, not in building up two very strong skills in innovation and in operations, but rather in building the bridge between them -- of developing the people and processes that facilitate the routinization of novelty. Of turning good ideas into practical processes that the larger organization can value, adopt, implement, and manage.

Forget 3Mâ€"think about Toyota. They are leaders in manufacturing efficiencies and also at exploring the new frontiers of innovation automobiles. How have they managed the tension? Read any number of books on them (but the original Machine that Changed the World remains the best read) and you find that they are extremely effective at recognizing those ideas that can be routinized and doing so before their competition. Sometimes decades before. Consider the Prius. Ford and GM had many of the same technologies lying around R&D, but having the ideas is not the same as converting them into manufacturing routines, processes, supply chains, and ultimately customers. That's execution.
What new ideas can your company routinize now to stay ahead of the curve?

(Grasp The Idea Image by Jon Bradley Photography)