Innovation in Turbulent Times
Innovation is a messy process—hard to measure and hard to manage. Most people recognize it only when it generates a surge in growth. When revenues and earnings decline during a recession, executives often conclude that their innovation efforts just aren’t worth it. Better to focus on the tried and true than to waste money on untested ideas. The contrary view, of course, is that innovation is both a vaccine against market slowdowns and an elixir that rejuvenates growth.
In talking with executives about innovation, no industry has gone further than fashion, as they incorporate both-brain partnerships in its organizational model.
They have refined an organizational model that ensures a constant stream of innovation whatever the state of the economy. Of course it makes no sense for other kinds of companies to copy the fashion template exactly. But Procter & Gamble, Pixar, and BMW are among those that have borrowed heavily from fashion’s approach and enjoyed remarkable results.
Conventional companies look at innovation differently, and wrongly. Without creative people in top positions, they typically focus on innovations that can be divided and conquered rather than those that must be integrated and harmonized. They break their innovations into smaller and smaller components and then pass them from function to function to be optimized in sequence. The logic is simple: Improving the most important pieces of the most important processes will create the best results. But breakthrough innovation doesn’t work that way.
What is required to harness this kind of creativity and apply it to the needs of a business? Creative people can’t do it alone: They’re likely to fall in love with an idea and never know when to quit. But conventional businesspeople can’t do it alone either; they rarely even know where to start. And a true both-brain individual—a Leonardo da Vinci, say, who is equally adept at artistic and analytic pursuits—is exceedingly rare. So innovation requires teamwork. They structure the business so that the partners can run it effectively, and they ensure that each is clear about what decisions are his or hers to make. These companies have also learned to foster right brain–left-brain collaboration at every level, and so continue to attract the kind of talent on which their survival depends.
Any executive with half a brain knows that innovation is essential to success. The problem is that it takes both halves of a brain to make it happen—the imaginative, holistic right brain and the rational, analytic left-brain.