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Corporate entrepreneurship efforts tend to focus on process, since innovation often (usually) requires a lot of trial and error and serendipity. On the outside, it often looks chaotic. Innovation is positively correlated with environmental uncertainty (surprise, surprise). Organizational structure plays a key role: When ideas are generated in a centralized, autocratic system of control, they are more likely to be screened out. An informal, decentralized structure is more likely to generate innovations. The presence of norms which encourage or impede innovation rounds out the set of possible causes. On page 646, if you read that far without falling asleep (as I did), is a listing of the comparatively modest hypotheses of the authors. After analyzing their data, using regression and factor analysis, they concluded that corporate environments with innovation-supporting norms, operating in uncertain environments were the most likely sites for the generation of successful innovations. If you can understand this, you can skip the ponderous “academic-speak” of the authors and the factor analysis.
**Video: Innovation at Proctor and Gamble
This video consists of an interview with P&G CEO, A.G. Lafley, who just wrote a book on innovation. The fundamental premise is that innovation can be an everyday practice inside a company. P&G should know: They are one of the most innovative and adaptive consumer products companies that have ever existed. For them, innovation isn’t just about new technology. Rather, they see it from the customer’s point of view, which includes the usage experience, the shopping experience, and the “brand,” in addition to the functional benefits (to the customer) of their products. Their thinking is comprehensive, and includes all elements of the product’s production and distribution, in the interests of giving the customer the best value for the lowest feasible price. “The customer is the boss” is a slogan there. If you really think about it, this is what happens “above” the top management role. in the MBO model. The objectives of a company are determined by the customers’ needs and preferences. The job of top management is to know what these are and to build the company’s products, processes, and strategies around them. Anything else is either a direct support for these products, processes and strategies, or else it is waste and shouldn’t be done. They always engage the customer at the “front end.” As soon as they have a prototype, they find consumers to assist in the final configuration of the product. This is the theme of Lafley’s book and this video, in which a number of good ideas are presented.
What is the “innovation review process”? All the key players are always present for this. The heads of R&D, Marketing, the business unit leaders, and the CEO are all there. They identify the two or three issues which, if they can’t get them right, will result in the decision to shut the project down. This is different from the more common approach: Most people do the easy stuff first, saving the hard questions for later. He prefers to tackle the “killer” issues first, for efficiency reasons.
The moderator asked, “Can I make innovation a daily practice in my corner of the organization even if top management isn’t involved?” At P&G you can, as long as you are customer focused. Then you have to have a strategy: A few key decisions such as where you will “play,” where you won’t play. Then you need to show that you are really in touch with the customer. If the CEO isn’t engaged, and taking ultimate responsibility for the innovation, innovation will either not occur or else it will be hindered. The organization needs to be “open.”
What keeps the people involved motivated for the (sometimes) several years it takes to launch a new product is the ongoing dialogue with the customers. Lafley used the phrase “create a new customer” in his closing remarks. A customer is a “creation” of a business—as Drucker has argued.
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