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No innovation without a decent execution

Last week, we concluded that entrepreneurship and innovation are intrinsically related, but our diagnosis has shown that practice and theory differ a lot. A unilateral execution is often the problem.

Secondary activity
Mostly, the top of the company is full of good will, but the execution leaves much to be desired. The management is absorbed by the daily bureaucracy to such an extent that innovation is often only considered as a secondary activity. I would even call it the ‘Friday-afternoon-four- o’clock-innovation’. Moreover, the same happens with the available budgets for innovation.

Therefore, it is useful - and even necessary - to make a distinction between ‘exploring’ and ‘exploiting’ within the company.

Exploring means ‘Do New!’. Create new products, services, methods… and bring them on the market as soon and efficiently as possible. It is about experimenting and getting the chance to do so, as well as developing new skills (‘trial & error’). Flexible processes are a breeding ground for innovators. It is about wanting to be the first, no matter how.

First come, first served! Philips and Douwe Egberts were fully aware of this when they introduced their Senseo on the market in February 2001. During the first four years after this introduction, more than fifteen millions of coffee drinkers have been convinced by the userfriendlyness of coffee pads and the gain of time made possible by water supply under pressure. The sensational layer of foam did the rest…

Exploiting means ‘Do Better!’. Improve those things which are already available within the organization or at your competitor’s. Everything can be improved! This exercise is a continuous process. Strict processes and controls are crucial at this stage. Being the best is ok, but staying the best is much more difficult!

Douwe Egberts tried to protect its lucrative invention, but the European Patent Office paved the way for its competitors. At the end of 2007, the Ahold Coffee Company introduced its own coffee pad device on the market: the ‘puC’. Similar systems are Tassimo by Kraft Foods, Nespresso by Nestlé and Dolce Gusto by Nescafé. Senseo has won a battle, but will it also win the war?

Aurea mediocritas
Indeed, it is a matter of combinations. Exploring and exploiting are protagonists. These two tasks require a totally different pattern of thinking and acting. I don’t teach you anything new by telling that it is difficult to combine both visions successfully. It is a matter of continuously weighing the pros and cons. ‘Aurea mediocritas’, you know.

That is why I would like to break a lance for the cross-functional teams, which could fully focus on exploring, away from the daily rush. Give them a separate, ‘secured’ place in the operational and financial planning.

I would definitely advise this approach for vital projects, because in the end, there’s nothing like a good cup of coffee!


By Herman van Herterijck

"my ambition is to put the importance of pragmatic and continuous self-coaching on the agenda of current business leaders"

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