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How good at innovation are you really?

By Robin Bolton

For the Deseret News

Published: Monday, June 6 2011 6:02 p.m. MDT

If the number is lower than you'd like, you're probably confusing creativity with innovation. To make the shift, start by creating a common language (and expectation) that innovation is something new that makes money. Intuit founder Scott Cook tells teams working on disruptive innovation not to do volume forecasts because in new ventures these numbers are fundamentally unknowable. "Instead," he says "we have teams focus on how deep is the customer problem that's unserved and how good is our solution at solving it? If those two are strong, then we have a reasonable shot at a good business."

Can you describe the process you use for prioritizing, evaluating, and commercializing innovations and how that process is different from the one you use for the day-to-day business?

If not, set clear priorities for the type of innovations your organization will support and a process that will take them from lab to market. For example, A.G. Lafley laid out a clear mandate as CEO of Procter & Gamble: each business's portfolio would need to contain 60–70 percent sustaining, 10–30 percent disruptive, and the balance commercial innovations.

When new ideas are proposed, are the loudest voices those of devil's advocates pointing out why it won't work or that it's been tried before? Do people get permission only to pursue new ideas in their "spare" time?

If so, organizational antibodies are at work. Rather than being devil's advocates, senior leaders should be engaged as problem-solvers committed to helping ideas work – even if they didn't work in the past.

We can't be like the children of Lake Wobegon – all of us above average. But with some soul searching and some very hard work, companies can raise the average rate of successful innovation.

Robyn Bolton is a principal at Boston-based consulting firm Innosight, where she specializes in consumer packaged goods and consumer healthcare.

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