Don’t Follow Your Dreams, Follow Your Effort

We repeatedly see survey results that say that CEOs think that innovation is a top priority for their firm. And yet, these same surveys also say that most CEOs are unhappy with their innovation efforts.

Why is this so?

Here’s an example – a report from a couple years ago in McKinsey Quarterly. They surveyed over 1500 C-level executives. 15% of them said that innovation was the top priority for driving growth in their firm, and over 70% listed innovation as one of the top three priorities.

But what are firms doing about it? The report says:

But the way companies manage and govern innovation doesn’t reflect that importance. For instance, although executives say corporate performance is most likely to be affected by breakthrough innovations, they also say their companies generally focus on innovation in areas such as product or service development. Only 36 percent of top managers—and just over a quarter of other executives—say innovation is part of everything the organization does. Further, although more than a third of top managers (those at the senior vice president level and above) say innovation is part of the leadership team’s agenda, an equal number say their companies govern innovation in an ad hoc way.

There are a couple of key points there. First, note that there is a disconnect between the number of CEOs that say that innovation is part of everything their firm does, and the number of lower ranking executives that say this. Second, it appears as though for many firms innovation is on the agenda, but there is no process in place to support getting better at innovation.

Mark Cuban recently answered reader questions on the Freakanomics blog, and he had this to say to someone who asked if he should follow his dream and try to get involved in major league sports:

Never follow your dreams. Follow your effort. It’s not about what you can dream of. That’s easy. It’s about whether or not it’s important enough to you to do the work to be ready to be successful in that business.

I would say that a lot of these executives are dreaming about being more innovative. And why not? Innovation does drive growth. But they’re not putting in the effort.

This is a big part of why I worked out The Innovation Matrix:

Executives talking about the importance of innovation is one of the first steps towards increasing your innovation commitment. It’s great that CEOs want their firms to innovate more. But that’s just a dream.

To improve your innovation, don’t dream about it. Increase your innovation efforts. Get better at actually executing ideas.

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

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

4 thoughts on “Don’t Follow Your Dreams, Follow Your Effort

  1. Hello,
    These surveys make me wonder… what do the executives consider as innovation in each of these questions? In my previous job as R&D Manager, we were constantly working on improvements to our products, which would lead to more business — so we were constantly working on innovations. But none of the products we developped in 8 years of inovation was a “disruptive innovation”, and most were directly based on customer questions — ad hoc innovations, if you will… So our priority was on innovation, but people working for me were probably thought they were “just” working on the existing products and quality improvement… I have yet to see this type of survey that asks to rank the business’ focus on disruptive or radical innovation… Very few will rank highly, imho.
    Thanks for your wonderful blog, btw, I learn something every time I read your writings.

    • Thanks for the comment and the feedback Bert!

      I agree that most of these surveys don’t pick up the differences between the different types if innovation. The ones that sometimes do are those based on the Community Innovation Survey. That’s what John used for the two Brisbane Innovation Surveys, and it allows you to investigate innovation in a slightly more sophisticated manner.

      But in the main, you’re correct, and it’s definitely an issue.

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