The predictions many of us made about innovation becoming the next big thing appear to be coming to pass – even more rapidly than expected. Think back to a year ago when the global economy was in the tank, and a hunker down mood dominated most organizations. Then consider these indicators:
- Attendance at the $2895 per person Front End of Innovation Conference in Boston in June was so over-enrolled that sponsors were forced to change hotels to accommodate the unexpectedly large crowd.
- Convergence 2004, which will be held in Minneapolis September 26-29, has already surpassed last year’s numbers, and conference producer Elizabeth Kamper tells us that she expects record turnout.
- Most of the innovation consultants that have been spoken to, say that they are busier than ever.
- Germany has declared 2004 to be The Year of Innovation.
Of course these disparate indicators do not necessarily make a trend. But interest in jumpstarting top-line revenue growth via innovation initiatives does appear to be on the upswing. Leading the pack are chemical companies, refining companies, food companies and all manner of manufacturers. Beset by lower-cost competitors from China, they must innovate costs out while innovating in new value-adding services, business models and customer loyalty inducing strategies, while at the same time continuing to move first in introducing product improvements.
Robert Tucker says that he has been surprised at the number of manufacturing trade associations that have invited me to assist their members in increasing their IQ – innovation quotient by presenting sessions at their annual meetings. More recently service firms, including banks like Washington Mutual, insurance companies like SunLife and Progressive, and even retailers like Radio Shack, have begun to get serious about systematic innovation, rather than being content with piecemeal, ad hoc efforts confined in traditional functions like new product development.
So the news is good for the Innovation Movement as we approach our field’s version of “old home week” Convergence 2004 in Minneapolis, September 26-29. Today there is a small but growing cadre of vanguard companies whose innovation work brings tangible results quarter in and quarter out. They now approach innovation as a discipline, while continuing to cultivate a culture that supports prudent risk-taking. They constantly involve their customers in new and exciting ways to suss out their unarticulated needs, and how they continue to tweak their front-end processes to keep ahead of ever-changing customer demands.
Because of the learning and the sharing in our field, we may be getting better at our craft. Companies just jumping in don’t have to make the same damn-fool mistakes others have made. If only their leaders are willing to read and study and learn before launching blindly. And only if we keep sharing candidly what’s going on behind the moats that companies build around them.