Many consider innovation to be the holy grail of entrepreneurial success. Investors and entrepreneurs alike dedicate resources and dollars only to come up short and frustrated. Consistently capitalizing on ingenuity and disruption can be almost impossibly challenging.
Kevin Fallon, CEO of Pivotal Innovation, believes that many executives are simply approaching innovation the wrong way. Fallon, a member of YPO, has been at the center of innovation as a COO with two publicly traded corporations and a successful entrepreneur. A Wharton grad, his 30 years of business experience beginning at General Electric and RCA, and subsequent founding of five technology ventures has allowed him to identify and model replicable processes for corporate innovation.
Fallon's track record demonstrates how his innovative approach leads to exponential growth. As CEO at Pelion Systems, Fallon increased revenue by 700 percent in one year through acquisition and organic growth. As President of MX Logic, Fallon increased revenue by 900 percent in fifteen months, before selling to McAfee for $170 million in 2009. As COO of TAVA, Fallon created a new business line that increased shareholder value by 350 percent in 2½ years while increasing the market cap from $36 million to $198 million.
Fallon claims that there is significant room even for the top innovators to increase performance. He believes automation can help so he has now automated the innovation process into a SaaS platform so that companies can run innovation as a discipline, just like sales or operations Fallon insists however that to optimize the process and maximize success, leaders must break free from the popular innovation ideas promoted by many experts, academics, and the media. Here are 7 common innovation myths that Fallon believes it's time to bust:
1. New ideas are the hard part.
Fallon tells a story about his recent meeting with a Fortune 500 executive: "This person said, 'Don't talk to me about ideas! Our problem is we have too many ideas; we just can't execute on all of them.' I totally agree!" The time and energy limitations of your people create much bigger constraints than the need for new ideas. Great innovators create process that includes discovery, invention, and transformation into new business value. They create goals with higher order purpose and clarity, which helps their people more efficiently and appropriately expend time and effort on the most important things.
2. You gotta fail fast and fail often.
Innovating well means that you should be fine with failing fast and often. "That's a myth perpetuated by mainstream Silicon Valley and fosters shallow thinking," says Fallon. What matters most is that all experimentation should work towards a higher order goal--not just throw things against the proverbial wall. The two most important influencing factors of success in innovation are how one sets each goal and how one manages experimentation. That's what provides learning and develops knowledge value.
3. Avoid the competitive crowd, look for "blue ocean" markets.
Fallon acknowledges that some markets are more challenging than others. But there's an abundance of examples where companies in highly competitive markets dominate by innovating on multiple dimensions that have nothing to do with the core products. Fallon points to this example; "Think about Apple. When they entered the digital audio business in November 2001, there were over 50 companies selling MP3 players in the US. The last thing the world needed was another MP3 player. Or, was it?" More than anyone else in the market, Apple understood value from the user experience perspective, perceived the gaps in service, and saw the technological trends that could close those gaps. Its software vertically integrated the music store, selection and player. From a core product perspective, it solved the piracy, size and storage challenges. There's plenty of opportunities in crowded markets for a company with laser focus and the means to execute efficiently.
4. We need to learn from academics like Michael Porter of Harvard.
"Porter is back in first place on the Thinkers 50 list? Really?" Fallon sighs. "He may have caused more damage to US business than anyone else in history." Porter's Five Forces model (rivalry, entrants, substitutes, buyers and suppliers) remains popular in strategic planning circles, and Fallon believes this is a mistake, as it "focuses on a zero sum game of extracting from the industry structure and competitive rivalry. This is a warfare metaphor and the antithesis of innovation." Fallon encourages leaders to cast aside academic rhetoric and focus on getting inside the hearts, minds and souls of their customers. Understand value from customers' perspectives and package value accordingly.
5. You must do your SWOT.
SWOT (Strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) came from some strong Stanford research in the 1960s and 1970s using data from many top companies. Unfortunately, many contemporary companies apply it out of context. "It was once about setting objectives, and then modifying those based on whether a SWOT analysis showed it a favorable or unfavorable outcome. It's now used in framing strategy. This dilutes executive energy from focusing on delivering value to customers."
Mediocre innovators see the world in a constrained way, which influences them to lean too heavily on classic strategic planning approaches like SWOT analysis. Fallon argues, "Innovation is about bringing a desired future state to you now. Great innovators view the world from a future state of ideality and innovate towards it. Thomas Edison, the greatest innovator of all time, didn't use SWOT analysis. He began with a higher order goal and experimented faster and better than his competitors. He even had a policy of not knowing what his competition was doing."
6. Enterprise-level companies need to re-discover their entrepreneurial roots.
According to the Kauffman Foundation's report "We Have Met the Enemy ... and He is Us," most venture capital firms have lost money for over a decade, "They haven't significantly outperformed the public market since the late 1990s, and, since 1997, less cash has been returned to investors than has been invested in VC." If most entrepreneurial ventures end in financial failure, then the buzz isn't warranted, according to Fallon. "The failure rate in the entrepreneurial community is immense in comparison to the innovation failure rate in larger companies. Chief executives may extract greater learning and higher value from examining established innovative company practices than following the noisy entrepreneurial pack. Remember, it took a lot of energy to elevate out of this troubled asset class into a financially viable business. Studying successful innovators provides a better track to accelerate your innovation performance."
7. Look to Google as the role model for innovation.
"Does Google deserve the spotlight?," Fallon asks, "I don't think so. With failures like Google Barge and Google Glass, one must ask, what is Google's return on innovation." Yes, Google is big--one of the biggest--but there are many metrics for measuring return on innovation. Fallon encourages leaders to look at newer metrics, such as the New Product Vitality Index (NPVI), which measures revenue from new products launched into the market over the past 5 years. Many companies, including DuPont, Striker and 3M measure this and have goals in the 30% area. "As an example, 3M is working on thousands of innovation initiatives that include 30 new product platforms. Their performance is in the 35% range, with goals of increasing it to 40%. Compare that to Google. Their NPVI is 1%. They invest 15% in R&D compared to 3M's 6%. The lesson? 3M practices systematic innovation and Google doesn't know what to do with the hordes of cash thrown off from its advertising revenue."
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