Getting an idea on the road

Getting an idea on the road

Understanding the correlation between innovation and execution is not an easy task for most organizations. Vijay Govindarajan and Chris Trimble, authors of the popular management book 10 Rules for Strategic Innovators, seek to explore this link, including how a dedicated team can help bridge the gap, in their new book The Other Side of Innovation. Mint spoke to Govindarajan on the duo’s latest work and his inspiration. Edited excerpts:

What is the basic premise of the book?

The book deals with “innovation execution", which is quite different from “day-to-day execution". To successfully execute innovation, three things are needed. First, you must establish a Dedicated Team to pursue the innovation. Second, the Dedicated Team, while separate, must partner with the Core Business to leverage some of the assets and capabilities of the established business. Third, innovation is an experiment with unknown outcomes. So the innovation leader must be evaluated on testing assumptions, not on bottom line financial results.

What prompted you to write this book?

Most companies struggle at innovation. When I researched them, what I found was striking. They didn’t lack for ideas, but what they lacked was execution capability. Hence, I wrote the book, The Other Side of Innovation: Solving the Execution Challenge.

Who does the book primarily target?

The book is targeted primarily at leaders who manage innovation. But the book must be read by every employee in an organization, since everyone has role in making innovation happen.

While writing the book, what has your personal journey been like?

I have worked with over 25% of Fortune 500 companies over the years. In that journey, there are recurring themes. Innovation is a No. 1 strategic priority. But companies do not know how to do it.

How was the concept of ‘The Other Side of Innovation’ derived?

Innovation has two parts. One side of innovation is coming up with a creative idea. Companies tend to overemphasize this part. The other side of innovation is execution. Companies are clueless about the other side. That is what our book is all about.

How does the book take off from your previous book ‘10 Rules for Strategic Innovators’?

10 Rules... is about one type of innovation—the high-risk, high-payoff innovation. But such innovations are only infrequently tried by companies. More often, companies undertake innovations of other types--process improvements, new product introductions, new distribution approaches, etc. We wanted to write a book that can develop principles to execute any innovation project. The result: The Other Side of Innovation book.

Did the economic slowdown and the economic climate thereafter have any role to play in the way you wrote and approached the book?

Certainly, after the economic recession, resources are tight. To that extent innovation becomes more challenging. However, the fundamental reason for the execution challenge has not been affected by the recession. The critical reason is that day-to-day operations and innovation are always in conflict. That conflict does not go away whether the economy is doing well or poorly.

What is the concept behind reverse innovation?

Historically multinationals innovated in rich countries and sold those products in poor countries. Reverse innovation is doing just the opposite. We wrote about reverse innovation in our October 2009 Harvard Business Review article “How GE Is Disrupting Itself".

What are the executive challenges in day-to-day working and how can they be resolved?

Day-to-day operations are routine and predictable whereas innovation is non-routine and unpredictable. Hence, the conflict between day-to-day operations and innovation.

Between the idea and execution stage, a lot is lost. What can be done to ensure that ideas transcend beyond the meeting stage?

The biggest challenge for companies is not being able to come up with good ideas, but it is about how to convert ideas into impact. There are simple common sense principles that can avoid the traps in execution. We have spelt them out in our book.