Friday, March 25, 2011

What's the Big Idea?

Who amongst us works in an innovative position? I would hope all of us! In fact, however, when I ask that question of the executives I work with, normally only about 1/3 think of themselves as "innovators." That's really too bad! Why shouldn't everyone dream of what they could do better, and then have the license to pursue those dreams?

I recently had the chance to work with 30 or so mostly Marketing executives at a European-based, globally-well-known, fast moving consumer goods company, and I asked them "What have been the big ideas over the past decade that have either changed your industry, or the work that you do?" The responses that I received were quite surprising, and I think promising as well.

From the six teams we had assembled for this discussion, we received nine "big idea" nominations. What was so interesting was that they were all different, and represented interesting innovations across the business. Not surprisingly, since this is a product-selling organization, four of the idea nominations were about product changes [each different, in an industry that traditionally stereotypes itself as being "non-innovative"!], but two were about the reinvention of a global supply chain, one was about moving from local to global brands, another was about the rise of Corporate Social Responsiblity as a way of thinking within the industry, and the final one was an apparent industry-wide desire to engender "transformational leadership."

It was, admittedly, a very small and casual sample. Despite this, I was very happy, and quite surprised, to see these results! What they said to me was that: 1. even in a "slow-moving" industry, there are lots of big changes; 2. these big changes -- innovations! -- actually take place in nearly every part of the business: R&D, Supply-Chain, Marketing, HR, and even within the very definition of what it means to be a "leader"; and 3. these innovations, no matter where they occur, are recognized and appreciated by executives across the business. My interpretation is that perhaps sometimes even we, who are steeped in innovation interests, fail to recognize that innovation is alive and well in many parts of a business and that it is often more visible than we suspect.

The accompanying image is of Le Cirque Invisible, and features Victoria Chaplin and Jean-Baptiste Thierrée.

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