By: Harun Asad
Often individuals and organizations tend to get stuck in the mode of talking about innovation and/or trying to understand innovation. The only way to really know innovation is to do innovation, and learn from your mistakes along the way. In this article Harun Asad suggests preparing an Innovation Mission Statement as an initial, action-oriented way to get out of the rhetoric trap.
So why Create an Innovation Mission Statement? Before we get to the ‘how’, let me briefly discuss the ‘why’.
Your initial reaction might be something like ‘Oh no! Not another mission statement exercise.’ But bear with me and read on for two minutes more and I think you’ll discover that an Innovation Mission Statement can be liberating and help make hard tradeoff decisions in complex situations.
Personally, I’m always amazed how often I hear talented, seasoned executives and managers seemingly struggling with questions like the following:
- What does innovation even mean?
- Do we need to be more innovative? Why?
- What results are we going to get from innovation?
- We’d like to be more innovative but how do we do that?
I say ‘seemingly struggling’ because in my opinion this kind of rhetoric is a trap and a barrier to innovation disguised as a thoughtful, contemplative approach to innovation.
There are more than 40,000 books on innovation, and new ones coming out every day. Innovation is around us everywhere – in new technologies, new media, new business processes, new business models, new products and services, and so on. There are dozens of innovation rankings, including more stats than you probably care to know. The innovation habits, processes and outcomes from numerous leading companies are in the news constantly. Spend a week with your favorite business journal or newspaper (digital or print) trying to identify a story about innovation and I can almost guarantee you will find at least one.
…how can anyone honestly question the legitimate need for ongoing innovation?
In addition, studies and real-world examples abound demonstrating the positive business returns (hard and soft) that result from innovation – not that innovation doesn’t have its fair share of failure but that’s the nature of the beast. What’s more, putting research and case studies aside, isn’t it kind of obvious that the 21st century demands innovation? With constant and rapid technological advancement in every industry, globalization of the workforce, the explosion of information and data, and other big business trends, how can anyone honestly question the legitimate need for ongoing innovation?
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Innovation is an Action
Before you sit down to start preparing your Innovation Mission Statement, the first thing to do is change your mindset about innovation. Simply stated, innovation is an action. In my experience, innovation is most successful when it manifests from experimentation, willingness to fail, an emphasis on continuous learning, and a willingness to act in the face of uncertain outcomes. Schlesinger, Kiefer, and Brown capture this notion brilliantly in their recent book Just Start: Take Action, Embrace Uncertainty, Create the Future (Harvard Business Press, 2012). This is also why many leading business schools house innovation and entrepreneurship together—typically called an Innovation and Entrepreneurship Institute. Or perhaps you may like the metaphor ‘Innovation is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.’
Related to taking action, a useful approach to get out of the rhetoric trap is to start by preparing an Innovation Mission Statement. This can help to avoid getting stuck or straying too far from your core purpose. In a couple of dedicated, focused hours it can be done simply and effectively, and establish a liberating, galvanizing sense of purpose for how to steer your innovation efforts, which in turn will ensure the best possible outcomes. Not because the outcomes might blow the socks off your boss or your competition but because they will be grounded in what’s most important to you and your business, and what’s realistically achievable and aligned with your business.
Topics to consider for your innovation mission statement
As you might guess there is no right or wrong answer here. If you’ve ever read Stephen Covey’s work on writing personal mission statements you’ll know what I’m talking about.
However, here are a few things that might be worth considering as you prepare to craft your Innovation Mission Statement:
- What does innovation mean to me/us (don’t search for the textbook answer)
- How do we innovate today and what’s good or bad about it
- Where are there clear and present opportunities to be more innovative
- What are some known new market, audience or business opportunities we are not exploiting
- How innovative are your competitors and what makes you think so
- Does my team or organization enable (or stifle) innovation
- What can I or should I do to advance innovation (in whatever way you define innovation)
- Any other critical questions you might want to insert
You may notice several of the questions I surfaced at the outset of this article are popping up here again. The difference is the Innovation Mission Statement forces clarity and action compared to just have another discussion that often leads nowhere.
Plan think time
Make sure you carve out some dedicated alone time to really think about this. For example, maybe on a long plane ride. Or, while you’re doing some routine chores around the house. Or, when you’re walking the dog. Something along these lines.
The next step is to think about what’s really important to you and/or your team. For example, I recently read about a CEO who launched a ‘Failure Wall’ in his organization because the main thing he wanted to focus on was getting people to be more willing to experiment. For A.G. Lafley, former CEO of P&G, a key thing he was focused on was getting new ideas from outside the company—this ultimately led to P&G’s Open Innovation programs and culture but Lafley didn’t start out by defining it as ‘Open Innovation.’ For an executive I recently spoke with at a well-known energy company, his main purpose related to innovation is to inspire his work force to be more intellectually curious. He feels strongly this will lead to more new business opportunities bubbling up.
As you think about your core purpose for innovation, you may also wish to think beyond your organizational walls and/or beyond P&L. For example, perhaps doing something socially valuable or cause-related is really where you want to focus your innovation efforts. Or perhaps it’s about gaining new knowledge that will ultimately spur better creative problem solving. And, it certainly can be the case that your Innovation Mission Statement may encapsulate many of these dimensions, it’s up to you, allow yourself to think freely at first, you can edit and fine tune later.
One other point. If you’re an executive or team leader, you may want to have your team do this exercise individually and then convene to collectively compare notes, consolidate and prioritize to land on a single point of view or Team Innovation Mission Statement.
Preparing your innovation mission statement
Now you want to put some structure to your Statement. But here again there are no rights or wrongs. My only suggestion is to keep it simple and not too long. As I alluded to above, we’re aiming for actionability. With that in mind, here’s my personal Innovation Statement just to give you an idea of what this thing might look like. I would expect yours to look and feel very different.
My Personal Innovation Mission Statement
- Be a passionate advocate for innovation
- Be a lifelong student of innovation
- Create new, relevant and timely knowledge related to innovation
- Demonstrate the practice of innovation
- Help people and organizations succeed with innovation
As you can tell from this simple Innovation Mission Statement, I not only have a clear line of sight into what my innovation goals and objectives might be, I also have set important boundaries and guideposts. What’s more, I can hold myself — and ask others to hold me — accountable for sticking to this mission. It creates a powerful, simple and effective sense of purpose that will yield meaningful outcomes.
Keep in mind your Innovation Mission Statement does not have to be a certain length or even written as statements. It could be a single statement. It could be visually illustrated to demonstrate advancing from a current state of affairs to a future state of affairs. Here again, give yourself the freedom to ‘draw outside the lines.’
…while goals and objectives are likely to change fairly regularly, your Innovation Mission Statement should not.
The great thing about an Innovation Mission Statement compared to innovation goals and objectives is that, while goals and objectives are likely to change fairly regularly, your Innovation Mission Statement should not. It will keep you centered and focused on what’s really important to you when it comes to innovation.
Here are some key things you’ll want to do to complete your Innovation Mission Statement:
- Stop the rhetoric
- Start taking action
- Carve out some dedicated time to craft your Innovation Mission Statement
- Take your Innovation Mission Statement seriously, follow it
- Encourage (or demand) your team to do this too
By Harun Asad
About The Author
Harun Asad is currently employed with ConEdison Solutions, a leading energy services company based in New York. Previously, he was an Adjunct Professor at NYU-Poly, Chief Strategy & Innovation Officer for Lodestar, a b2b consulting firm, and held a number of other corporate positions in strategy, marketing, and innovation. He holds an MBA, a BS in Marketing and is completing an MS in Information Management. He can be reached via Email at [email protected] or on Linkedin and Twitter.