Sustainable Innovation

Last week Tim and I were at the launch of the inaugural “Brisbane Innovation Scorecard”. It was a really nice event with 200 people in the room for lunch with many high-profile speakers. I have been involved with the project since March and its amazing to see something go from a small concept to such a major event. You can get a digital copy of the report here.

There were several interesting results from the survey including:
* Customers and suppliers are major sources of innovation for all types of firms
* New and improved goods were highly correlated with international sales
* Open innovators, those using external sources of innovation, were more likely to have combinations of innovation in goods, services, manufacturing processes, and logistics and distribution methods. They were also more likely to be selling into international markets.
* Most innovators do not use formal methods of IP protection. Secrecy agreements are reported to be the most common method to protect innovations.

The strongest thread of evidence from the survey data was that open innovation was linked strongly to innovation performance. We still need to track these data over time but to get a clearer picture of how open innovation drives growth but it does fit with other international evidence about the importance of collaborative innovation.

The highlight of the scorecard launch were the awards for business leaders in product, process and service innovation. These awards received a fair degree of media coverage on television and the newspapers. The ABC did a nice short story that you can watch here.

While its always nice to get coverage like this, it was just a little bit frustrating too because we didn’t manage to get the main message from the study across. The focus was on companies and their inventions- not how they were leading innovation. We had many examples of companies that had come up with a neat invention but in very few cases could we see how there were processes in place to sustain the innovation process over time.

When I talk about sustainable innovation, I don’t mean it in the environmental sense. I’m actually thinking of how ingrained the innovation process is in the DNA of the business. Inventions that are responses to a crisis or the result of one person’s dedication are probably a one-off. Great businesses grow through consistently trying out new ideas from inside and outside the company, trialing the ideas and then scaling up the ones that work. It’s an onging process, rather than a one-off event, as one of the prize winners puts it:

So innovation not only becomes an essential part of the way we do business but hopefully will generate the nest series of innovations. The great part of these innovation projects isn’t just the outcome, it’s the learning that everyone is involved in.
Tom Maguire- GM Corporate Affairs and Innovation, Teys Brothers.

And there is a similar theme with GHD, the winner of the services innovation award:

We know that our people are clever and creative. Our innovation program offers a platform for people to collaborate on ideas, and provides a transparent, formal process through which their innovation can be recognized.
Jeremy Stone- Group Manager Innovation, GHD.

Leading innovation isn’t just about being heroic, it’s also about managing a process of idea generation, selection and diffusion. In the long run, embedding the process so it’s not dependent on particular individuals will sustain the creation of valuable innovations.

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