Innovation is a little like the lid to a basket of snakes. Underneath the buzzword there seems to be a swirling mass of options and opportunities, twisting and turning around themselves with venomous fangs of costs and barriers. Knowing just how to handle them and indeed become an innovation charmer, is a daunting challenge.
When we look to academic research the challenge is to be able to get a firm grasp on the terminology such as radical innovation, incremental innovation, administrative innovation and technical innovation. Identifying types of innovation suited for your organisation and building a robust case with appropriate guidelines becomes a task not unlike trying to catch the tail of one of the aforementioned slithering friends.
In this context, I quite like the definition offered by Damanpour back in 1991: “Innovation is the means of changing an organisation – whether as a response to changes in its internal or external environment or as a pre-emptive action taken to influence an environment like this view as it helps us to understand the primary importance of internal and external influence to become results orientated when talking about innovation.
Building on this approach, we should examine the effect of structural inertia seen in large established corporates. Or if you allow me to adapt the metaphor: how thick skinned are you to the positive effect of innovation?
Sapprasert explored this in 2008 – “Age and size have distinct impacts on the odds that the firm goes about reorganization and on the effects from doing it. Older and larger firms are found to be more inclined to make an attempt on organizational change; while, concerning the outcome, their smaller counterparts benefit more from such an attempt. The results further demonstrate that different types of organizational change do foster firm’s performance where even greater effects can be led by persistency in organizational innovation as well as complementarity between organizational and technological innovation. In addition, it is evident that past economic performance and innovation cost influence the firm’s decision on organizational innovation.”
As is clear from Sapprasert’s research, it is not a case of large firms not innovating but that the effect is far less dramatic as the implementation process lacks the flexibility and agility of smaller firms. Persistency or a culture of continual innovation is critical to the ability to change in more mature organisations.
The key take-outs from these two authors can be summarised in one sentence: be flexible, keep on your toes and continue learning in order to become an innovation charmer for your organisation. You can do this by having successive rounds of identifying and articulating the areas for change and challenges, and by inviting some of those smaller, more agile organisations in to your space. Once they’re working with you, they will influence your company from within – just make sure you set up structures and offerings allowing them to be the change agents.