Innovation without Execution is Worthless

[caption id="attachment_181" align="alignright" width="298" caption=""I'll be happy to give you innovative thinking. What are the guidelines?""]"I'll be happy to give you innovative thinking. What are the guidelines?"[/caption]

When I was at HP a small group of the former SPI Dynamics team had the opportunity to speak with Ann Livermore and share our thoughts and experiences on life inside HP. The conversation was free flowing and unstructured and we spent way too much time complaining about how hard life was inside HP but it was a good conversation nevertheless. During the conversation the topic of innovation came up to which I said something to the effect that HP was spending an enormous amount of time and energy trying to foster innovation programs but very little to fund execution and remove overhead on daily tasks which lead me to state the simple truth: Innovation without execution is worthless.

All these companies focused on Innovation have it all wrong.

You know that old adage that says hire smart people and then get out of their way? When you enable execution, you are getting out of their way.

Several friends of mine go to work every day inside these "innovative" companies only to regularly spend 8 hours of their day on conference calls where no decisions are made and the time in between responding to e-mails. You know the feeling, we have all been there, you look and feel busy and you are rushing about but you never seem to get anything done.

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The only way to truly foster innovation is to aggressively eliminate these barriers to execution everywhere you find them and continuously invest in optimizing your companies work flows (much in the same way that a good coder constantly re-factors their code). Otherwise no matter how many smart people you hire, you are failing to get out of their way and will not make the most of your smart people investment. Optimizing work flows so they stay out of the way can be a collective task that can be done by all in small companies but in large companies I propose that the task be handled by well funded teams that exist to do nothing but optimize processes and help the company get out of the way of their smart people. That team has to be empowered too, they can't get stonewalled by the processes they are trying to eliminate or streamline.

So the next time you are asked to do something innovative or are trying to analyze the innovation potential of a project or company ask this simple question: Is there an equal investment in execution? Because without it chances are you will fail and your smart people will not be innovating, they will be just barely treading water, looking for the next ticket out of there.