Innovate to Implement!
Creating value through new products is not enough. Capturing the value requires equal attention on the innovation process. Focusing on creativity and neglecting execution along the value chain is a costly mistake.
It’s all about creating and capturing value
Innovation is about new products (or services) that create value for an organization as much as it is about capturing this value. While there seems to be no shortage of ideas and even products, what differentiates successful companies from others is that they are able to capture the value of what they created.
Capturing value is a process that complements the product by looking at all aspects of the value chain seeking ways to maximize influence and revenue streams. Thus, capturing the value has to be well thought out and built it into the solution – rather than addressing it in an after-thought.
A new product may bring competitive advantage but this is temporary and will last only as long as the competition needs to catch up. To sustain, an organization needs to develop agility and differentiating capabilities to sharpen the competitive edge continuously and reliably in a fast-paced, competitive, and ever-changing environment (see also “‘Complexity’ is the 2015 challenge! – Are leaders prepared for ‘glocal’?”), while reaping the fruit of their work.
Capturing value –or- Who owns the customer?
The aim of capturing value is to ‘own the customer’, i.e. a customer who is willing to pay a premium or accept shortcomings in some areas in order to buy or use the product (or service). Only then does a company own the customer and the competition remains locked out.
Apple, for example, has perfected this customer ownership: Its loyal customer base values the customer experience with Apple products and identifies with the Apple branding. They purchase every new gadget at a premium with little regard to the actual technical specifications or product offerings from other manufacturers. (See section “Fuzzy values? – Here are some how-to examples” in my previous blog “How to become the strategic innovation leader? (part 2 of 3)”)
Apple effectively controls all aspects of the value chain and generates revenues from different streams from hardware, apps, software, and content, for example. Just to give you an idea, here is an overview on some of the revenue streams Apple has created along the value chain (from Bertrand Issard’s Blog):
As a bottom-line, products create the value that needs to be captured just as much. Hence, it is important to focus also on the process that ensures value is captured throughout the value chain.
– So how does this relate to innovation?
Innovating the value chain
Innovating the value chain to capture value requires thinking far and wide beyond the product considering all aspects relating to the:
- Business model – what is the revenue model? What partnerships add value without sacrificing too much control?
- Processes – what are the core processes of the organization? What are value-adding enabling processes?
- Offering – what do you offer the customer? – For example, a product concept (think: iTunes, App store), quality/cost/performance optimization (Intel or AMD chips), a product system (Google), or a supply chain (Fedex or UPS)
- Delivery – how do you deliver your product or service? – For example, are you forming alliances with partners to complement the in value chain in areas outside your own organization’s competency or field of business? If so, make sure you have a well thought-out marketing strategy with win/win profit sharing that creates incentives for stable and lasting partnerships.
Examples here are the coffee distribution approaches of Nespresso or Keurig’s (single cup coffee brewing), the focus on customer experience of Harley-Davidson (motorcycles), or the brand communication of Red Bull (energy drink).
Two parts of one whole
The innovation process consists of two parts, the invention and the implementation part. Typically, the invention revolves around creativity and ideation that tends to get more publicity and attention than the implementation, which requires focus, discipline, and persistence to execute.
The creativity has the ‘Wow!’ factor – no question about it. Brain-storming of sorts and creativity techniques can be quite fun, social, and engaging. Nonetheless, new ideas are cheap and come by the dozen. That is, perhaps, why innovation literature and models seem to focus (and sell better) on the creative front-end; not so much on the back-end (execution). Yet, it is flawless execution where the rubber hits the road and the value is captured.
Even worse when the innovation process starts out with generating ideas around a specific solution for a new product or service without exploring alternative approaches and then trying to find an application and market for the product. The more mature way to start is with a focus on the problem and then develop and narrow down solutions to find the one(s) that best meet(s) the underlying needs of that problem.
Focusing on the problem first and understanding it thoroughly leads to better results, i.e. develop a product (invent) to sell it (implement).
The point here is that both parts are equally important and require to same amount of attention for an innovation project to succeed. Invention without implementation does not help; neither does implementing something immature that and doesn’t work.
This is what an innovation process looks like if you break it up (left to right) into the two parts, invention and implementation, and the process steps:
A new product alone is not enough
New product development (NPD), for example, draws from both parts, typically in a series of steps with cycles between them: Ideation, Initiation, Incubation, and finally preparing the Industrialization ‑ but this is not where the implementation process ends.
It requires a few more process steps to make the solution work in the real-life production environment and deliver results reliable and consistently. A clean hand-over introduces and integrates the change into routine operations, i.e. the production environment and processes of the organization, for example. Failing here means failing the innovation project.
Unfortunately, innovation leaders on the front-end tend to be crushed or steamrolled in a rigid and back-end-heavy organization in a clash of creativity (front-end) and execution (back-end).
It requires discipline, persuasiveness, and persistence to push forward and overcome the obstacles that emerge from a production environment optimized for efficiency when innovative change knocks at their door and disrupts the rhythm of a fine-tuned process flow. It also requires courageous leadership and an intrapreneurial spirit to do what is right for the company overall and necessary for future success.
In a nutshell
What innovation comes down to is the creative part of collaboration to come up with a new product as well as the implementation that captures the value throughout the value chain with the goal to ‘own the customer’ through differentiation. Focusing on the creativity and neglecting the implementation and execution is a costly mistake that lets even the best idea fall short of its market potential.