Ask most people for an example of brilliant innovation and the answer is more than likely to be the iPhone or iPad, and rightfully so. But innovation isn’t just about the latest product to rock our universe. As high wow factor technologies like in-memory computing and enterprise mobility become the norm, it’s clear the business challenge is much more than finding budget for them. To innovate with impact, companies need to focus on what I call the innovation long tail. This long tail consists of all the strategic planning, intelligent decisions, and heartfelt behaviors of everyone in the company to achieve one goal: innovation.
Businesses are increasingly focused on innovation management. Jackie Fenn, VP & Gartner Fellow says, “I’m actually spending more time on innovation management than I ever have before. That reflects a growing trend within companies to look much more deliberately at how they innovate along with the technology itself.”
Makes sense to me. It’s no revelation that producing breakthrough products is hard work. These days, getting the budget to purchase them can also be a monumental task. But figuring out who to buy innovative products from, and writing the check is only the surface view. Just as important are the blood, sweat and tears that go into figuring out the what, why, where, when and how. What kinds of innovations are needed? Why do we need them? Where do we expect them to lead us? When should we take action—or not? How will we measure success? It’s an ongoing process, part fact-finding, part evaluation, and always revelatory.
Getting the answers to these kinds of questions requires a commitment to innovation that extends far beyond project-based product implementations. The genuinely innovative business never stops asking questions. As good as we are, how can we be better? What hasn’t been thought of—by our customers or our competition? Where can we find the best partners to help us clear the next hurdle? The essence of innovation is having the people and structures in place to make sure it works for the company and its customers.
Understandably these activities behind the scenes don’t get as much attention as flashy product launches or patent lawsuits. Yet without the long tail, innovation sparks and dies fast. It’s a Herculean team effort. Companies like Apple, Google, and my own, SAP, create working environments to help smaller teams come up with brilliant ideas. Many of those ideas have morphed into technology solutions that have changed the world already. Innovation works when it extends into every aspect of the company, and is embodied in what every person does across the organization. The long tail may be quite a handful but if you can grasp it, innovation is sure to follow.