Five Innovation Lessons

I’m delighted to have been invited to present a masterclass and some leadership coaching sessions to innovation leaders at Innovation Mauritius on 26 October. Mauritius’ economy is diverse, with significant activity in agriculture, tourism, telecoms and financial services, as a result of a forward-looking Government and an international focus. The conference brings together World innovators, industry practitioners, business leaders, policy makers, engaged citizens and academics to discuss and share knowledge on the opportunities and challenges associated with the new global marketplace. In preparation for the event here are five musings on innovation:

1. VUCA environments demand continuous innovation for sustainable advantage
In the industrial age, it was possible to erect barriers to entry in the way that Professor Michael Porter described in his book “Competitive Strategy”, for example, in a shipyard, where expensive machinery and highly trained individuals make it difficult to appropriate the various competences and capabilities to compete. In the information age, many company’s assets reduce to a bunch of laptops, some IP, a brand and the people themselves. Barriers to entry are correspondingly lower and sustainability requires constant improvement just to stay still.

2. Innovation = Creativity + Idea Development + Meticulous Execution
Creativity is plentiful. Innovation less so. Far too many companies I’ve consulted with think that their first idea is market ready. Whilst this can be the case, much more often the skill of idea development matters to ensure the idea fits in with unfulfilled desire, customer utility and so on. Aside from this, meticulous execution is often necessary to carry a fragile idea into a harsh business world, where new product innovation failure rates are high. Tom Peters says it simply “Strategy is Execution” – he is right.

3. Innovation is not just about novelty
The word innovation has been devalued by its use throughout society as an approximation for the word ‘new’. I discuss three levels of innovation in “Leading Innovation, Creativity and Enterprise”:

  1. Strategic – This includes building and changing a brand, developing the company’s competence base or unique position, restructuring an enterprise / industry so that it maintains sustainable competitive advantage. 
  2. Product / Service – This is the exploitation of novel ideas to deliver something of value to the market place, or the reconfiguration of an existing product or service so that it is more in tune with market needs or wants. Classic examples include the 3M Post- it Note (1977), Papyrus (4000 BC), the Fender Stratocaster (1954), the analogue computer (150 BC) the Bic pen (1950), the abacus (500 BC), the Macintosh (1984). 
  3. Process – This is basically a new way to do old things. It is often about incremental or radical change management internally within an enterprise and is often visible through lean programes and their ilk. I note frequently that first order improvement is often done well in enterprises, but second order improvement (what Peter Senge called double loop learning) is done much less well.
4. Innovative Enterprises align People, Passions and Purpose
Companies which care about innovation develop a culture and climate where innovation becomes part of business as usual. It’s what Professor Daniel Pink talks about when he mentions the collocation of passion and purpose. Examples include Innocent Drinks, Virgin and Johnson and Johnson. I’ll be discussing Virgin and Sir Richard Branson’s approach to creating a culture of innovation in Mauritius.

5. Innovation disrupts
Innovation often disrupts marketplaces in the way that Dr Clayton Christian-sen described in his book “The Innovator’s Dilemma”. More particularly innovation may well disrupt existing ways of doing things internally, which can produce resistance and therefore limit the probability and velocity of innovation diffusion into the marketplace. Kodak is a classic example of this – so much so that Kodak failed to embrace the digital camera technology they invented to their ultimate demise.


  1. By Shyam roy


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