Are you sure to innovate successfully?

Have you ever read what companies say about themselves on their websites? If you have never done this, try choosing three or four companies and go to the “about us” or “who we are” sections. What do these explanations have in common? Apart from the fact that they are all leaders in their industry, all companies present themselves as being highly innovative. All these companies say that they strongly believe in innovating products and services (and any other possible innovation!) and continually apply innovation.

Now try to think of how many of these companies’ innovations come readily to mind. What truly significant innovations have they developed? Can’t think of any? So the truth most likely is that they have not actually developed any significant innovation.

They have probably continued to improve their products and services incrementally, but have not been able to generate innovations that have a high-impact on the market.

Why do most companies fail to truly innovate, in spite of the good intentions and the desire to be innovative?

There are many and diverse commonly expressed reasons: lack of resources, lack of creativity, excessive risk, etc. From my experience, however, all these reasons, if rigorously analysed in detail, have two common roots:

  • A lack of leadership
  • The lack of a system to continuously and sustainably generate innovation

Innovation projects fail due to a lack of leadership

The presence of a strong leader, able to create a shared vision for the future and to hold a steady course in times of difficulty, able to shield the team from the external pressures that inevitably characterise innovation projects – especially those with a higher degree of innovation – is crucial to ensure that everyone shares the strength and commitment needed to overcome difficulties and risks typically associated with high-impact innovations.

Otherwise, even the best talent or time dedicated to innovation will yield fewer results, or rather, the results will be more like small incremental innovations rather than high-impact innovations capable of revolutionising entire markets by creating new areas. Leaders, with their vision, build the arena in which the power of ideas can be unleashed and transformed into action.

Let’s take the example of Kodak. Kodak developed and patented the first digital camera. Yet its leaders didn’t see the value in this. In 2012, Kodak was declared bankrupt.

Innovation projects fail due to the lack of leadership and an innovation system.

What aspects should be considered in order to increase the likelihood of generating high-impact innovation? What are the mistakes to avoid in order to maximise resource productivity while minimising waste? How best to capitalise on the resources available outside of your company?

Knowing how to answer these questions is what differentiates companies that improve products and services incrementally and those that systematically generate high-impact innovations.

Knowing how to constantly create focused and differentiated impact proposals that allow us to be seen as unique in the market;

understanding how to test impact proposals quickly in order to gather useful feedback for improving them; building a monitoring system for innovative activities that will not penalise the riskiest projects, but that will stimulate people’s entrepreneurial spirit are some of the key ingredients to creating an innovation system that is truly capable of continuously generating high-impact innovations.

Companies such as Amazon – with its innovative e-commerce services – or top-notch Italian companies such as Artemide and Alessi – with products such as Tizio, Metaformosi and Family Follows Fiction – have demonstrated how it is possible to continuously generate innovations that can bring a competitive advantage that can be sustained over time.

The bad news is that working on leadership and processes requires commitment, effort and time.

The good news is that leaders and processes can be cultivated and developed and that businesses can benefit greatly from the experiences of those who have completed this journey before them.

Examples? Cromology – Italy’s leading paint company, who we have had the pleasure of working with – has proven that working on an innovation system and developing people can have tremendous results:  such as 10 new high impact projects in just six months.

This result was made possible thanks to the strong leadership of Cromology Italia’s top management and CEO.

Rather than just looking for product innovation ideas – with the risk of being crowded out by high-impact innovations, innovations in product, business model or even the customer experience of their direct competitors or other sectors – Cromology Italia decided to invest in developing an innovation system that goes beyond an individual’s creativity and generates innovative, high-impact ideas on a continuous basis.

 The Managing Director, Massimiliano Bianchi, says: “We are seeing astonishing improvements throughout the innovation process, from idea generation to market launch.”

Becoming innovators (and not just saying that you are)  is, therefore, possible. Even in mature and consolidated sectors, enormous results can be achieved.

Are you ready to take this route?


Article by:

Gabriele Colombo

Innovation Master Lenovys

Lenovys Innovation Master. Gabriele has devoted and developed his skills, especially in the field of innovation, according to the logic of design-driven innovation by applying these concepts in the research and development departments of multinational companies. He has been responsible for defining, planning and implementing research and consulting programs related to the world of innovation and continuous improvement; he also brings this experience to his role as a lecturer of project management and innovation management at the Politecnico di Milano's School of Management.

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