No innovation without aspiration

Which companies do you think have a clear aspiration? Why do companies exist, what is their purpose apart from servicing their customers and making a profit? Gary Hamel, co-founder of Strategos talks in his recently published book “What matters now” about how management’s  Hamel book cover goal to maximize shareholder wealth is not enough.  “groundbreaking ideas are born in the gap between aspirations and resources” is often heard when Gary presents about innovation and this holds true for individuals as well as organizations.

Too often there doesn’t seem to be a “north star” to guide innovation initiatives and the focus is primarily on filling a pipeline with good quality ideas. When there is no “north star” to guide people they will naturally focus on the current business operations. Ideas will then largely be about improving what’s already out there.

There are a few organizations that do make it clear why they exist and what their ambition is.

Take GE for example, often heard from GE’s management is “We’re working to be part of the solution in solving some of the world’s toughest problems.” which translates into their ecomagination and more recently launched healthymagination initiatives. This reflects an ambition that people can easily relate to and get out of bed for to generate ideas.

GE advert

Why is this important? Having a clear aspiration that goes beyond “our goal is to be number 1 or 2 in the markets we serve” makes it a lot easier to aim innovation challenges, develop new perspectives and ultimately bring opportunities to market. Ideas propagating through your innovation process can be more easily reviewed (using more appropriate criteria) if they are part of a bigger domain and if this domain aligns with the organisation’s aspiration. Confused? Here are a few simple steps:

  1. Define innovation challenges that underpin your aspiration
  2. Develop new perspectives by understanding unmet needs, challenging current beliefs and assessing your core competencies
  3. Use the perspectives as stimulation to generate ideas
  4. Synthesise these ideas in bigger themes, domains or platforms
  5. Pick individual ideas and experiment to learn as much as possible before launching them into the marketplace

As always the devil is in the detail, in this case execution of the various steps. Here are a few tips to help you on your way:

  1. Always review ideas in the context of a domain, the bigger picture
  2. Innovate at the level of the business model, not just features and functions
  3. Learn a lot by investing a little before launching the final proposition

Does your company have a clear aspiration that stretches the imagination and stimulates innovation?

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