Incrementalism

Wrapping up the week with one last questions that we did not get to during the recent Innovation Leader webinar titled Seven Chronic Problems for Innovation Leaders to Address. This one is about organizing to avoid incrementalism. I was asked the following question via email:

By incrementalism you mean adjacent innovation versus transformational, right? To avoid rampant incrementalism, should companies have two separate teams with unique areas of focus?

I believe that the answer is yes and no. If your innovation strategy calls for rapid growth, then you are likely to need successful breakthroughs to deliver that growth. In most organizations this is going to require a dedicated team with a charter to create something new. That is difficult to do within a company that prides itself on efficient operations. Creating some degree of separation from the core will give the team the freedom it needs without the constraints and pressures of the day to day business.

At the same time, breakthrough innovation should fall within the scope of responsibility of the business leader and the dedicated innovation team should take advantage of all of the resources it has at its disposal to successfully execute the initiative. You must also be careful when setting up a dedicated team that you do not alienate those important colleagues that are not a part of the team. The words you choose to describe the work of the team will impact how the members are perceived.

The other dimension here is phase of development. I like the idea of a dedicated front-end team, but it must stay very close to the business and individuals should be able to follow a concept all the way through to market. That keeps resources dedicated to the front-end while allowing individuals to move.

Organizational issues would take a month or more of posts to cover fully. Being mindful of the impact of structure is a good start.