Innovation and Execution

Clark Quinn makes a great point about the fact that innovation and execution are interlinked and organizations miss the point by focusing on these separately. In Clark’s words:

I’ve been thinking quite a bit recently about how to improve organizational performance. It’s part of thinking broader about how technology can be used to support performance, but then you have to have a picture of organizational learning as a whole. As I look at organizations, many are focused on excellence in execution, and quite a few have recognized that the competitive advantage comes from continual innovation. What I’m not seeing enough of is recognizing that the two are intimately linked. They’ll focus on innovation in engineering, and execution in customer service, but not connect the two across the organization.

For example, I’m seeing organizations supporting execution with training, and supporting innovation with knowledge management or eCommunity. I’ll see training groups supporting execution, and management invoking innovation exercises, but management not worrying about training, and training not worrying about innovation.

What I have experienced is that usually if execution excellence is achieved, it is easier to focus on innovation. And innovation is required to gain competitive advantage as well as achieve execution excellence. Personally I have found hard to innovate to gain competitive advantage (let’s create a new product offerings) when my nose is to the grind attempting to achieve execution excellence (let’s get the projects out of the door successfully, meet the quarter numbers etc.). I do need to innovate and find new ways to ensure that operations are executed flawlessly.

Innovation to achieve execution excellence depends a lot on the culture of the organization. While there are many methods to provide channels for people to innovate or try out new things, ultimately the culture of encouraging new ideas, openness and trust between teams and developing base skills are critical for innovating for execution excellence.

Innovating for competitive advantage can be achieved through organizational structures. It is important to have teams focusing on incubating new ideas, products etc. And as Nicola shares in Clark’s post comments, it is a great idea to involve customers in building new products. There also needs to be method of transferring new products to production line/operations.