As I’ve written before, the portfolio is the pivotal tool for innovation. It provides the link to corporate strategy; ensures the desired balance across different innovation horizons; enables and communicates priorities; and with the appropriate communication it reports progress towards innovation goals. It is this final point that I would now like to explore.
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A question often asked when considering the fit of innovation within corporate strategy is whether you want to be a leader or a follower. Some examples are fairly clear. Most research-driven pharmaceutical companies want to launch the first medicine in its class and to maintain leadership with ongoing clinical support. At the other end of the spectrum it would be highly unusual for a retailer to introduce the first entrant to a new category as a private label.
Tate & Lyle is a large B2B company focused on speciality food ingredients. They have placed a large emphasis on innovation as a key source of future growth, with a pivotal role for open innovation (OI) and complementary roles for OI partnerships and venture capital initiatives. I had the chance recently to interview Dr John Stewart, Director of Open Innovation, to learn more about their integrated program.
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Many words and expressions are clearly relative, such as “larger” or “smaller”. These are easy adjectives as they often invite the word “than” after them. Other words are more subtly relative, like innovation; not grammatically but inherently.
A journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step, as the saying goes. The same is true for innovation. Yet much of the writing on innovation is about leaps, major technological breakthroughs that transform or disrupt markets. Isn’t it all about Apple and Edison? I would argue it isn’t. The bulk of progress and associated hard work on innovation is focused on incremental innovation, the small steps that over time take products and services to new levels. No Nobel prizes, but it’s not all about the glory.