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The Innovation Value Chain

The Idea in Brief

Beware conventional wisdom about how to boost
your innovation capacity. Every company has unique
innovation challenges. So another firm's best innovation
practice could become your worst nightmare.

One firm—convinced that intensive idea generation
would revive its ailing innovation efforts—established
formal brainstorming sessions. But the company, already
skilled at surfacing ideas, was inept at evaluating
them—so ideas languished. Brainstorming only overloaded
an already broken innovation process.

How to avoid a similar fate? Hansen and
Birkinshaw recommend viewing innovation as a value chain
comprising three phases: idea generation, conversion,
and diffusion. Six linking tasks are performed across
those phases: internal, external, and cross-unit
collaboration; idea selection and development; and
spread of developed ideas. Any weak link can break your
innovation efforts, so focus on pinpointing and
strengthening your deficiencies.

Tailor your innovation practices to your
company's needs, and you unleash a stream of profitable
products, services, and businesses.

The Idea in Practice

To strengthen your innovation value chain:

Pinpoint Your Weakest Links

For each phase in the innovation value chain, identify your company's weakest skills.



This link

Is weak if

Idea generation

Collaboration within units

People within units can't generate good ideas on
their own.

Collaboration across units

People collaborating across units don't produce
good ideas.

Collaboration with outside parties

Your company doesn't source enough good ideas
from customers, competitors, inventors, and other external parties.

Idea conversion

Screening and funding of new ideas

Your screening and funding criteria are so strict that
they shut down most ideas, or so loose that your company overflows with
projects that don't fit your strategy.

Developing ideas into viable products, services, or

Ideas selected for further development languish in parts
of your organization that are too busy doing other things or that don't
see their potential.

Idea diffusion

Spreading developed ideas within and outside the company

Developed ideas don't get buy-in from customers,
internal constituencies, distribution channels, or desirable geographic

Strengthen Your Weakest Links

Your capacity to innovate is only as good as the
weakest link in your innovation value chain. The
table shows how to
select practices that strengthen your weakest


If your company has difficulty

Consider these practices


Generating ideas

Build external networks

At Procter & Gamble, in-house product developers
translate customer needs into technology briefs describing problems needing
resolution. Briefs go to technology scouts, suppliers, research labs, and
retailers worldwide to elicit solutions.

Build cross-unit networks

P&G has communities of practice, each comprising
volunteers from different parts of the organization and built around an area
of expertise. The teams solve specific problems and participate in monthly
technology summits with representatives from P&G's business

Converting ideas

Provide cross-unit funding

Shell Oil's GameChanger unit funds development
of radical ideas, operating across major divisions with a $40 million annual
seed-funding budget. Forty percent of projects in Shell's
xploration and production sectors started as GameChanger projects.

Create safe havens

A technology firm established a separate, autonomous
business unit to develop new ideas supporting the company's
strategy. Successful venture managers earned hefty bonuses. Numerous ventures
became viable businesses with combined annual revenues of 100 million.

Diffusing ideas

Designate "idea evangelists"

Sara Lee's Sanex shower products encountered
resistance from several country managers. A division president won them over
by repeatedly visiting them and hosting them at headquarters. Sanex
eventually was introduced in 29 countries.

Copyright 2007 Harvard Business School Publishing Corporation. All rights reserved.

Further Reading


Innovation: The Classic Traps

Harvard Business Review

November 2006

by Rosabeth Moss Kanter

Relying too much on other companies' best
innovation practices isn't the only innovation
pitfall you need to consider. Kanter identifies
additional common mistakes that fall into four
categories: 1) Strategy mistakes, including
rejecting opportunities that at first glance seem
too small and assuming that only new products
count—not new services or improved processes; 2)
Process mistakes, such as strangling innovation with
the same tight planning, budgeting, and reviews
applied to existing businesses; 3) Structure
mistakes; for instance, isolating fledgling and
established enterprises in separate silos; and 4)
Skills mistakes, including allowing innovators to
rotate out of teams so quickly that team chemistry
doesn't have an opportunity to gel.

The Process Audit

Harvard Business Review

April 2007

by Michael Hammer

Hansen and Birkinshaw present innovation as a
key business process. And like all business
processes, it can be transformed to improve quality,
speed, and profitability. In this article, Hammer
presents a model that can be applied to enhance your
innovation process. Using the model, you diagnose
the strength of your innovation "process enablers,"
which include people who know how to carry out
innovation as well as information systems supporting
innovation. The model also helps you assess your
"enterprise capabilities," factors that cultivate an
environment where high-performance processes can
flourish. Enterprise capabilities include values of
teamwork and personal accountability as well as
process-redesign skills. The stronger your process
enablers and enterprise capabilities, the higher
performing your innovation process. Hammer's model
helps you pinpoint the enablers and enterprise
capabilities you need to improve and strengthen
innovation in your firm.

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