The Role of Innovation

May 1, 2009
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The DeSai Group is an “innovation execution” consulting firm that helps clients to build sustainable innovation capabilities for continuous growth. Its goal is to create organizations that add value to customers and investors using innovation. Passionate about how organizations can grow, change, build capabilities, learn, remove boundaries, and harvest the available potential of human hearts and minds, DeSai strives to help organizations become “living organizations.”



Q: In what ways is innovation a game?

A: Innovation is a game because it requires knowledge and skill to compete and win in ever-changing markets. Every business needs to play this game to avoid becoming obsolete or even extinct.

In addition, the game involves global competition, the energy crisis, economic system failure, poverty, population expansion, and many other mega trends that are here to stay. All of these are converging upon every business sector simultaneously. Hence, running a business the same old way will only guarantee that its products become commodities - where price matters more than innovation. Every business must find a way to meet every challenge directly or indirectly, with a focus on winning the innovation game. This means that businesses must learn to experiment, fail, learn from failure, and try something else - until they develop new business acumen to sustain and grow.

What's more, the rules of the innovation game have changed, primarily because of two major forces: the information revolution and globalization. Evidence shows how these two major trends are shifting consumers’ buying patterns, local and regional economies, access to education, environmental issues, and the pace of life for everyone. This has created a more urgent need to invent new ways of doing business and to do it faster than ever. The average company lifespan is shortening and more businesses are failing faster because of these two major trends.

Innovation is generated by being creative; creativity comes from people. Hence, to play this game correctly and compete in this new age, CEOs must find a way to tap into the hearts and minds of employees, customers, suppliers, and partners. Our latest research shows that the most critical new competencies that companies must develop and manage will be discovery, creativity, influence, implementation, and mindful action. These skills cannot be outsourced and will play an increasingly important role when creating and keeping customers for life.

Q: What are some myths associated with innovation?

A: Most people think of innovation as inventions or breakthrough products like the iPhone, hybrid cars, green computers, auto GPS, etc.; this is not true. Another myth is the belief that innovation is only for large companies. The idea that innovation is too risky, eccentric and time consuming to achieve is a myth as well. Some think innovation is only for R&D areas or for high-tech companies and consumer-product industries. Others believe that innovation is too costly and that it takes too long to identify areas in need of innovation.

All of these ideas (and many more) are unfounded. Every organization - for profit or not, large or small, in every function and at every level - can greatly benefit from innovation. The key is to understand it, define it for your respective business and point all innovation efforts toward one of three value-generation business outcomes: to grow revenue, to grow profits, or to grow market reputation.

Q: What are some critical trends individuals and organizations need to know to weather the current economic storm?

A: There are several trends. For instance, the future of employment does not look good for traditional jobs or regular activities performed in exchange for payment, including computer programmers, bank tellers, customer phone representatives, certain types of nurses and lawyers, and doctors. Those jobs, according to our research, will be either enhanced or eliminated within the next 5-10 years because of two major trends: information automation and globalization.

Another trend is that most businesses today are designed to create profits, not new jobs. This is a critical point that is often forgotten. It means that businesses will do whatever is necessary to make a profit. For example, they will automate every job task and overlook the passion behind the job - which is the human element.

The only solution to the challenge of making a profit vs. maintaining valuable employment positions is for individuals to re-innovate themselves. This can be achieved by applying more human skills to existing jobs or developing new skills that cannot be automated or outsourced.

In our applied research, we have discovered that, for most organizations considering automation, the answer is the same. In order to survive, organizations must rethink how to attract, retain and grow talent pools with skills that cannot be automated - discovery, creativity, influence, resilience, implementation, and mindful action. These are some examples of competencies that we believe will be in greater demand in the future. At DeSai, we call these the new “Hyper Skills” needed in every future position.

To effectively compete, businesses will have to focus on the importance of their employees’ talents. Millions of new jobs will be created not by organizations, but by creative and innovative people themselves. Those who can figure out how to re-invent their own jobs to keep them from being automated or outsourced will greatly benefit. The time when employers only designed new job positions are about to be eliminated, with more opportunities for those who can create their own job roles and activities to help their organizations.

Finally, I believe that a large percentage of workers will need to seek employment outside of the corporate umbrella in the future. Individuals who can directly or indirectly generate income and profits outside of the organization will see the most success in this new, entrepreneurial society.

Q: You say innovation is a critical driver of growth. Isn't all growth done by innovation?

A: Most businesses are designed simply to make a profit. In our more than 25 years of experience, we’ve seen that senior executives seem to pay more attention to the bottom line (profits) and ROI metrics than to top-line (sales/revenue) growth. Top-line growth is much harder to achieve than bottom line. Most incentives and compensation plans are primarily tied to the bottom line and stock value. I believe this is one of the primary causes of our financial system failure.

Motivation for top-line growth with innovation rarely exists in the business world. Innovation, by definition, requires allocation for “mindful failure” (planned projects for purpose of trial, error and learning), experimentation, and courage to withstand financial performance pressures. When there is no incentive to grow by innovation, only those real leaders with the highest moral integrity are willing to do it. Here lies the irony of our current economic situation.

Q: How can innovation help discover what your customers (internal and external) really want?

A: Innovation has very specific management processes. It can be organized and managed like every other organizational capability. At our firm, we have created training programs, courses, tools and methods to teach our clients how to be more creative and strategic for future growth.

One of our tools is designed to discover everyone’s own Innovation StyleTM (e.g., what stimulates creative thinking and how people approach problem solving). By understanding this human side of innovation, it is possible to identify a client’s deeper intent (beyond their needs). Once everyone learns how to bring out the best 360

About the DeSai Group

DeSai is an innovation execution consulting firm that helps clients build sustainable innovation capabilities for continuous growth.

For more information, contact DeSai Group, 199 Oakwood Ave. West, Hartford, CT 06119; phone (860) 233-0011; or visit www.desai.com.


SIDEBAR: DeSai Group's Four Service Domains

  1. Innovation. The ability to offer new products and services with speed and agility.
  2. Execution. The ability to flawlessly deliver on the business promise with discipline, rigor, accuracy and commitment.
  3. Leadership. The ability to create history for where there is none, moving beyond a management and bottom-line mindset to a strategic and long-term, future-thinking mindset.
  4. Learning. To develop and grow by harvesting the highest potential of all employees through creativity and engagement.


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