Linking Innovation to Strategy, part 4

I’ve been talking recently about tools that you can use to link innovation to your organisation’s strategy. Jeffery Phillips explains the relationship between the two quite nicely in his post Do You Need An Innovation Strategy?

So, the takeaway is this: innovation is an ENABLER to corporate strategy, and what innovation needs to succeed is clarity about what is important to the business and what risks and scope are offered by the management team for any innovation to succeed.

And that is exactly why I keep returning to this topic – innovation must be linked to strategy. I also think that innovation can influence emergent strategies, but this can only happen if the two are linked up in the first place. John and I ran into an interesting case a while ago during an innovation review. We interviewed fourteen high-level managers within the firm, including two C-levels, and the people that have official responsibility for strategy and innovation within the organisation. All of the people that we interviewed have some official connection with the implementation of innovation there. As part of the review, we compiled trasncripts of all of the interviews, and ran them through Leximancer. Leximancer is a great text-analysis tool that analyses the language of the words in the text and creates a concept map for the document. The concept map shows which ideas are related based on how frequently they appear close to each other in the document.

Here are the results of all fourteen of the interviews – this map strips out most of the sub-categories in order to make it easier to see the major relationships:

What jumps out at you? The thing that jumped out at us is that strategy doesn’t even show up on the concept map! And we asked tons of leading questions to try to get people to make the connection – but they just didn’t.

This is an organisation that has Innovation as one of their core values. They are trying to actually walk the walk now with innovation, but it’s clear from this analysis that they can’t even talk the talk yet. Here is an excerpt of the interview with person in charge of strategy:

Manager: Yes, so – but I must admit I haven’t been really close to the innovation stuff.
John: I was wondering to what extent you could see innovation playing a role in delivering strategy. How would that work?
Manager: Yes, but I haven’t thought through that.
John: Okay.
Manager: No I haven’t thought through that, so I think yes there is a – [us] saying we will be an innovative company, what is the… (starts mumbling – can’t be transcribed)

All of the other tools that I have talked about for linking innovation to strategy (Part 1, Part 2, Part3) are useless if innovation and strategy aren’t linked in your head. The first step that we have to take to link innovation to strategy is to believe that has to be a link between them. If there isn’t, you can’t become more innovative successfully.

Student and teacher of innovation - University of Queensland Business School - links to academic papers, twitter, and so on can be found here.

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