Thursday, 28 June 2012

Cutting to the Chase

Recently I had a discussion about innovation with a recently appointed leader of a multi billion-pound business unit.  As the conversation kicked off she revealed - ‘I know innovation is important, probably my number one priority but to be honest I don't yet have a strong point of view about how it should work in this business’.  Great I thought – this is going to be a really fascinating discussion.  Unfortunately I started to lose the plot as she then hit me with a series of options – should she pursue an aggressive breakthrough innovation strategy or stick to the knitting, should she throw innovation open to everyone, should she measure the pipeline value of new ideas…

These were all great questions but they reminded me of how many moving parts there are to the innovation engine or ‘ecosystem’.  It’s easy to get lost in the complexity of many interdependent issues.  Fortunately I was schooled in the Ken Morrison way of solving problems – ‘If in doubt, have a cup of tea’.  (Ken is a famous UK supermarket-supremo and I’m not kidding my Mum really did use a tea break as a solution for just about everything!).  So in this case we had a metaphorical cup of tea and I cut to the chase - ‘Give me a number, just an approximate number, what is innovation really worth to you, what’s the revenue over the next 3 years you need innovation to deliver?’  She had a think and reported that even if her team made the acquisitions they were planning and even if they worked their socks off – there was still a £300m revenue gap.  She didn't believe in back-loading the plan so she needed about £100m revenue from innovation within the year.

This wasn’t new news but it was the first time that she had put a hard number to the concept of innovation.  As the penny dropped we were able to really focus the conversation on the portfolio of projects and probes needed to deliver.  The raw reality of ‘how much’ is incredibly powerful and often overlooked.  So if you find yourself having one of those complex innovation conversations then stop and cut to the chase – ‘How much innovation do you really need’.

 (Trivia question: Where does the phrase ‘cut to the chase’ come from? – Answer – US movie studios in the 1940’s.  Enough romance / dialogue / plot – lets cut to the action / end / chase.)