Where does Innovation live?

This is a question that has been challenging me for a number of years now. In most organizations I have seen, both R&D and Marketing/Product Management believe that they own the innovation process for the company. And, they frequently both behave as though they do, and run along in their own independent directions, often at odds with each other.

Just to clarify here, I am talking about the innovation process, not the sources of great ideas – ideas can (and should) come from all parts of the organization, and beyond. I am talking about the process by which the generation, collection, evaluation, and potential implementation of ideas is made purposeful, continuous, and sustainable, as opposed to serendipitous and accidental.

The problem I see is that neither Marketing nor R&D by themselves knows enough to own the process entirely. Marketing is (quite rightly) focused outwards – customers, prospects, markets, analysts. This allows them to analyse all of this information and decide where our products should go. My problem is that I do not believe that this, in itself, is enough. It is pretty good for incremental, evolutionary development on reasonably mature product. However, I do not believe that this process of data collection and analysis will lead to revolutionary, transformational product ideas or enhancements.

On the other hand, R&D is (again, quite rightly) focused on technology, or how to get things done, and on better ways to get things done. This allows them to come up with cool new solutions to problems. Unfortunately, on its own, it also frequently leads to cool new solutions which nobody wants (or at least, not enough to pay for). However, without this “technology push”, how do we know the art of the possible, and how can we introduce transformation product improvements into our business?

Add to this mix the distrust between Marketing and R&D found in many organizations, and it is a wonder innovation happens at all. And the fact is that although innovation does happen within this structure, it is frequently accidental. It would be nice to be able to make this process more predictable and purposeful (I will write another day on my thoughts around whether it makes sense to make innovation predictable).

I am rapidly coming to believe that the only way to really get control of this process is to break down the barrier between Marketing and R&D, and create a truly collaborative process for innovation. How to do this is still a mystery to me, though I have some ideas. I would be very interested in hearing other’s ideas and experiences in this area.

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