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Innovation is not a trendy word

Every entrepreneur likes to hear the word ‘innovation’. Every policymaker keeps talking about it. Whether relevant or not, it is being considered as the best solution to tackle the problems in the wealthy Western countries. However, thinking in terms of innovation is no ‘deus ex machina’, but rather a continuous process intrinsically related to successful entrepreneurship.

Magic word
Innovation is trendy. The economic crisis deeply affects most segments of society, the automobile industry is at its last gap and the BRIC countries are eagerly waiting to seize their opportunities. Still, Europe will survive through innovation, its magic word. Flanders can even count on its Minister for Innovation: Ingrid Lieten!

Innovating projects look sexy and powerful. Everyone wants green jobs and green energy. Everyone wants to work for a company investing in the future. However, innovation is no magic concept solving all problems. Investments in the future will only become valuable if they are part of a continuous process.

‘Eat your children’
Entrepreneurship implies innovation. Both concepts are intrinsically related and innovation should be integrated in all companies’ strategic and operational plans. Obvious, isn’t it? But why is the turnover growth often so extremely low? Why have giants such as IBM smoothly been beaten by niche players such as Sony Computing?

Intrinsic innovation is the big difference between these both competitors. IBM missed the boat when the first PCs were introduced to the market. This giant didn’t innovate while Sony always managed to launch new products within a maximum interval of six months.

At the time, it was ‘not done’ for young IBM managers to launch new PCs and to get involved in the debate. All means were focused on the ‘next generation mainframe’. The Sony managers in Tokyo on the other hand, had ‘to eat their own children’! Quick consecutive innovations prevented their competitors from making copies in time. What a huge difference in mentality!

At the Harvard Business School, I was lucky to get to know David A. Garvin, John P. Kotter and Clayton M. Christensen. They have executed many field studies about innovative decisiveness. I summarize their studies into four main statements:
  1. Many companies don’t manage to execute their ideas because they are not focused.
  2. The more companies are growing older and expanding, the more they are losing their pioneer spirit. New ideas are often perceived as factors disturbing the comfortable routine.
  3. When managers have to achieve their annual results under high pressure, they often prefer short-term solutions, leaving no budget for innovation.
  4. Budgets for innovation are often spread over too many projects. Here also, we can state that ‘less is more’.
We also pointed out some difficulties. In the following contributions, we will elaborate this item and I will try to propose some possible solutions, based on my experience as an entrepreneur. After all, we have to admit that innovation is one of those beautiful words that are being used too much and misused too often.


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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