Moving Forward with Innovation by Looking Back


Most organizations have their unfortunate history of major initiatives thrust on them by well-meaning executives: total quality, six sigma, employee engagement, knowledge management and other management fads. While all can have their value, the reality of a sudden change in direction - "something completely different" - is a huge leap that often fails to pan out. To succeed with innovation, an organization must build on what has gone on in the past, including:

  • original innovation legacy
  • past innovation history
  • recent innovation results

By gaining an understanding of these elements, organizations can develop an innovation program that builds on the past - and thus doesn't feel completely different at all. You are invited to assess your organization's innovation capability and receive a customizable innovation report comparing your responses to others.

Innovation Legacy

Many organizations were founded on the basis of disrupting an industry with an exciting new product, service or business model. At that point of first innovation, the organization took on the existing establishment - and won. But fast forward a few dozen years, and what do you see? Do the stories of those early days still permeate the culture, reminding everyone of the organization's innovation legacy? At Hewlett-Packard they do; their HP legacy is captured in a video, a virtual museum, and even in the preservation of the now-famous "HP Garage" where it all began.

To tap into your own organization's innovation legacy, collect answers to the following questions:

  • How did we get started?
  • What was going on with our industry at the time?
  • What did we do that was different?
  • How did we challenge the status quo? Did we simply burst on the scene in a big way, or did we persevere over time?

Innovation History

Most organizations maintain at least a low-level innovation, including new products, services, delivery mechanisms, systems, support, technologies, processes, partnerships, etc. Finding this history and raising it to the organization's conscience can create the spark that is needed to reignite innovation today.

To tap into your organization's innovation history, collect answers to the following questions:

  • When have we successfully innovated?
  • What triggered the need for innovation at that time?
  • How did we do it?
  • Who was involved?
  • What did we accomplish? What did we learn?

Innovation Results

Quantifying innovation's current contribution to a range of organizational results can point out where we stand with regard to markets and competitors. Identifying current results helps quantify innovation's role in the organization's value proposition.

To leverage your organization's innovation results, collect answers to the following questions:

  • What top-line results have we attained with regard to new markets penetrated, new customers acquired or new businesses created?
  • Where has innovation contributed to the bottom-line, such as costs reduced or risks avoided?
  • What other objectives are we achieving, such as social consciousness, public relations or employee engagement?

What is the purpose of this little side-trip into the organization's past, when all we care about is setting a new course for the future? Unlike the Monty Python crew who could simply segue, "And now for something completely different", your organization's best chance of success lies in extending its innovation legacy, history and recent results into the future. Compile the answers you receive into a short "case study" of innovation and provide it to your leaders for use in their communication. You may be pleasantly surprised to find that innovation isn't going to be all that different after all. Maybe more like "And now for even more of the same."

Copyright © Andy Beaulieu

Andy Beaulieu has developed a new Innovation Portfolio Tracking Tool. The tool is currently in Beta. We will announce news of the release of Innovation Portfolio Tracker in our monthly Business Performance eNews. If you would like to be informed of the release, subscribe to eNews.

About the Author
Andy Beaulieu

Andy Beaulieu has over 20 years of performance improvement experience as both an internal specialist in global organizations and as an external consultant. Based in Washington DC, USA, his services span the spectrum of technical and interpersonal interventions. In his various roles, Andy has consulted to management, helped groups form and succeed, developed leaders, managed change initiatives, and reengineered business processes. His work has seen him develop and implement large-scale tools and systems to improve organizational effectiveness in well-known organizations across a variety of industries. Andy has also authored nine book chapters published by Jossey-Bass and McGraw-Hill, as well as other articles and government reports. To find out about Andy's program for high potential future leaders on fast-cycle innovation projects or other ways that he can help you, contact us at

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