Every new year I create a series of personal and professional resolutions. Sure, many fade into (foggy) memory, but this year I was determined to once again focus on building out my professional network. So I’ve been getting out there and having some great conversations with smart leaders, who are connected to innovation development from different career levels, competencies, geographies and industry sectors.

I am based in Australia these days, so much of my conversations have been local, but I’ve also been connecting with global leaders to balance out my thinking.

In response I’m seeing a rapidly shifting environment, which creates an existential threat to innovation professionals, but also opportunity. I’ve got to be honest; I’m surprised by the pace and impact of these shifts, but am bullish on the ability of my colleagues to respond effectively.

So I’ve shared some of my very personal observations, and would be interested in your thoughts:

Innovation is viewed as increasingly important by business executives…

In a recent KPMG survey / report we saw that throughout the pandemic, innovation remained a top priority for business leaders. Interestingly, the higher career level within an organisation, the more value and impact was seen (past / current) and expected (future). This has been backed by my recent conversations with business executives. To a fault, they have all seen innovation as the main way for their organisations to navigate their new environments.

… But the innovation message and impact is being overtaken by new players

Leaders from outside the direct innovation professional field, such as Digital, Strategy, Product, even M&A, are successfully tailoring an innovative agenda for executives’ needs. The focus on quick wins with easy, low-cost implementation are being sold to executives as effective ways to create innovative growth and impact. This challenges traditional innovation leaders, who offer a more balanced pipeline of innovative ideas that can take longer to launch, which may test executive sponsors’ support over time.

Business executives want to focus on incremental innovation, quickly executed, with short-term financial impact…

Once again, in the survey / report and through conversations, executives are consistently focused on driving core business growth with incremental solution / product enhancements. Most conversations with innovation leaders recognise this shift, but their strategy / processes are often built around more disruptive new solutions / products or cultural drivers. I’m not sure if I agree with the incremental push, but it’s what sponsors / the marketplace is demanding from innovation right now.

…But business executives are also focused on new opportunity areas, which innovation leaders aren’t driving?

I often talk to innovation leaders about the importance of shifting the tools and resources to support the latest areas of interest for business executives and sponsors. There are no shortage of new focus areas including circular economy, ESG investing / positioning, digitisation / digital transformation, regulatory changes, business transformation initiatives, etc. All of these are clear opportunities for innovation leaders to lead (at best) or support (at minimum), but often there is no involvement by innovation leaders. Innovation isn’t a stand-alone function; it’s there to support (and in some respects control) new growth and impact areas for an organisation. Why aren’t we more at the table on these essential topics?

Shockingly high innovation professionals turnover

In 2018 I quickly built a professional network, in planning for a move from NYC to Sydney. Going back to that original list, which holds 200+ contacts, I’d guess that ~95% of people are out of their roles, with ~80% no longer at their original companies. I might be wrong, but I assume this turnover points to failure at achieving objectives and resulting loss of executive sponsorship / support. I’m unsure if these shockingly high numbers is unique to Australia, but the overall trend of turnover seems to be globally consistent.

Corporate venturing is the latest innovation fad, and I’m not sure if it will work (longer-term)

Innovation goes through fads. A few years ago it was incubators / accelerators; before that it was Design Thinking / Human Centred Design capability development. Corporate venturing is clearly the new focus of innovation and business leaders. I’ve got to admit that I’ve always had reservations with this approach, as it discounts employee value, quality deal-flow access can be a challenge to secure, leveraged impact from the core organisation can be tough to execute and these programs need specialist skills to run successfully. But virtually every company I speak with has these programs in place, often in early stages. Let’s see where it all ends up?

Digital and innovation are merging

Business executives’ attention is clearly on digital transformation, often at the expense of innovation professionals. In response, digital transformation / digitisation leaders are often becoming the default owners of an innovation agenda, which at best downgrades innovation efforts, or takes them out completely. A related point is that it’s easy for a digital leader to talk about an innovation agenda, but harder for an innovation leader to talk about a digital agenda. It’s a real problem for many innovation leaders that we need to address on personal training and skills levels.

Innovation is becoming more standardised

Over the past 10+ years the application of specific innovative activities have become more standardised and consistent in impact. This is supported by some of the international standards (ISO 56002, IAOIP, etc.) being more actively applied. This is a good real positive for the competency, but does mean that innovation consultants (me) need to position ourselves around more complex, bleeding edge activities and outcomes.

As mentioned earlier, this is very much a personal list and I’d love to hear your constructive thoughts on key changes that you are seeing within corporate innovation development?

In my next article, I’ll outline some steps that I see legacy innovation leaders and practitioners can take to drive impact and take back the ownership of innovation development across an organisation.


About the Author

Anthony Ferrier is a well-regarded executive, entrepreneur, advisor and thought leader on corporate innovation. He has worked with organisations in the US, Europe, Asia and Australia to develop effective innovation strategies that guide organizational change and build cultures that encourage the development of new products and solutions. Anthony has worked with organizations such as Transport for NSW (Australia), Department of Defence (Australia), Bristol-Myers Squibb (US), Fidelity Investments (US), Pfizer (US), Volkswagen (Sweden), Ergo Insurance (Germany), etc.. He currently leads innovation and commercialisation efforts at Swinburne University, and previously led The BNY Mellon global innovation program, as well as co-founding two successful tech-driven consultancies. He has a Master of Commerce (University of Sydney) and Bachelor of Economics (University of Newcastle).

Featured image via Unsplash.