The Virtuous Cycle to Innovation

Strategy MattersINNOVATION IS A TEAM sport. Rather than expect someone with an ah-ha moment to transform a company into the next Apple Computer, it takes a team of employees, business partners, competitors, and, especially, the customers to come together and create value in what gets developed. Even Steve Jobs had a team of bright people who were plugged into the consumers’ mindset and enabled by a framework to guide innovation with corporate support.

innovation-strategy-with-two-human-brains-working-together-as-a-business-teamI want to share an insightful article from a Chief Innovation Officer’s point of view on what it takes to be successful at creating new opportunities. Authored by Brian Kelly, it describes how the CINO’s primary role, as the company’s overseer of innovation, is to create and manage a self-sustaining framework of roles & processes—a framework that can connect sources of new ideas to customer desires. In essence, it is by engaging an inclusive set of participants to an operating framework that a company can significantly improve its ability to innovate, as measured by an increase in new product launches that resonate with customers and generate revenue. Clearly this ability to innovate far exceeds the capability of a handful of people working in isolation. In response, it is the CINO’s mission to change how organizations approach innovation. Highlights of this approach include:

• The essential need to tap into the creative minds of many. As noted above, the means to ideate in creative and relevant thought comes from a diverse source of participants, i.e., employees, customers, business partners, and, at times, competitors. Critical that the team can dig deep to get into the customer mind on value creation—let’s not forget that it’s the customer who ultimately decides whether the product is worth buying.

• While understanding customer needs is a critical first step, it is important to FOCUS on a particular desire(s) to enable value creation. Convergent thinking is needed at this point to concentrate on specific problems worth solving. Brainstorming techniques are often used to select the best ideas worth developing based on customer need. Innovation efforts need to align to the company’s growth strategy to justify R&D investment and executive sponsorship.

• Ideas need to be evaluated and managed through an enterprise-wide framework of processes, roles, and tools. Ideas need to be visible, tied to customer needs (problems), and deemed valuable in order to advance to the next step. Clearly not all ideas are good, and not all good ideas will be advanced. There needs to be a mechanism by which a pipeline of exceptionally good ideas get developed and ultimately launched.

• Innovation needs to make the “cash register” ring; it needs to excite the customer enough to buy the product and tell others how good it is. This last point ties back to the beginning, where customers need to be involved early in the innovation process. One cannot design a solution without fully understanding what the customer values. (I am amazed at how some companies attempt to design solutions in isolation with little to no customer involvement.)

While transforming an organization into an innovation powerhouse is a formidable task, plenty of lessons learned, best practices, and relevant theory on innovation are available to begin the journey. Just as important as coming up with great ideas is the ability to manage them through a self-sustaining framework of processes and decision making. It takes continuous focus and discipline in order to evaluate, refine, and ultimately launch valuable products into the marketplace to wow the customer. This ability to innovate goes by another name: Competitive advantage.


Dr. Robert Bornhofen
Dr. Robert Bornhofen
Dr. Robert Bornhofen is a scholar-practitioner with over 25 years of experience. As a scholar, he currently teaches strategy at Cornell University and the University of Maryland Global Campus. As a practitioner, his corporate career includes a variety of leadership roles at Fortune 500 companies IBM, Delta Air Lines, & Citibank. Dr. Bornhofen earned his Doctorate degree at the University of Maryland, a Master of Science degree from Colorado State University, and a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Minnesota. As a conference speaker, Dr. Bornhofen presents at various industry forums. His current focus is on innovation within the water utility sector. As a researcher and author, Dr. Bornhofen published over 20 papers on topics related to innovation strategy. Passionate about change, Dr. Bornhofen embraces the creative spirit that goes into problem-solving, where smart people come together to transform great ideas into extraordinary outcomes. His articles reflect this passion and desire for continuous learning.

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  1. Me pareció muy interesante este tema del círculo virtuoso de la innovación, enfocando, desde mi percepción, el crear un ambiente adecuado y sostenible para esa innovación hacia los clientes. Sin embargo, en muchas de las empresas este círculo virtuoso no se da o no se permite, sencillamente porque a “sus clientes internos” no se les permite un cliima organizacional adecuado, y como efecto, se repite en los clientes externos. de tal manera que mi acotación es iniciar este círculo virtuoso de la innovación hacia adentro, limpiar primero “la casa”, la empresa, para luego invitar a los clientes externos en ese círculo que promueve nuevas ideas en bien de todos, creando un ambiente adecuado interno para proyectarse hacia los clientes, en un buen servicio, fidelización, apoyándoles en momentos críticos y aplaudiendo en momentos de bonanza.
    Julio Alburez