Innovation Strategy: Reclaiming the Future

JJ Hadley

“Innovation strategy” is one of those compound business buzzwords that has been so overused that the eyes of many people whose careers depend on it glaze over when it pops up. Everyone talks about it, so it quickly is drained of any specificity or usefulness.

Needless to say, that’s unfortunate, because every company’s success depends on anticipating the future relationship their customers will want, and that relationship will always be based on the innovation strategy the company has employed to get them there.

I’d like to take a shot at reclaiming the underlying idea by drilling down to its rather simple essence. For now, it’s simply worth pointing out that there is in fact something called “innovation” in business, it has to do with successfully developing some new approach, and it’s required in an evolving world. By “successfully,” we’re acknowledging that the “coolness” of an approach to its inventors isn’t sufficient, but that it has to have value to end-users as well.

As for “strategy” the other over-used term, at its core, we’re talking about a way to arrive at innovation that’s more likely to make it successful in the market.

Bring the two together, and we have a surprisingly simple idea – “innovation strategy” is a means to reach or maintain business success with a new approach in the market.

Now that we’ve reclaimed “innovation strategy” by returning it to its essence, we can take on a more useful question, namely, what is the most effective way in which to develop such a strategy? I’d like to begin to answer that by paraphrasing a valued former colleague of ours, Darrel Rhea, who played a major role in bringing the ideas behind “design thinking” to the business world. Darrel has pointed out that there are three ways to innovate – through technology, business model, and/or customer insight.

In writings that follow, I’ll take up each of these methods, but, I’ll tip my hand a bit by arguing that innovating through customer insight is the method most likely to lead to success.

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