Get out of the comfort zone

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The Independent Online
INNOVATION has become a mantra in business, writes Roger Trapp, but while some organisations apparently find it as straightforward as breathing, others are struggling to define both what it means and what it requires.

In the first issue of its new journal Executive Agenda, the management consultancy AT Kearney sets out to help the laggards bridge the gap with the leaders. As the title of the article "Pushing Your Company Out of Its Comfort Zone" suggests, this entails challenging assumptions and adopting an enterprise-wide approach. But consultants Robert Pethick and John Ciacchella do point to six "breakthrough innovative guidelines" to speed up the process.

q Catalyse creativity. Companies could organise the innovation process so they seek "white-space" opportunities outside the borders of current markets, or in new business systems. These come from prospective customer needs and new technologies working together.

q Enrich the idea-generation process through customer and supplier intimacy. Develop advanced information from suppliers for competitive advantage, and understand the needs of the most valued customer segments.

q Protect ideas from perceived barriers. Ban from the corporate lexicon such cliches as "it hasn't been done before" or "the regu-latory process takes too long".

q Balance the strategic and tactical considerations of portfolio management. Portfolio management has three priorities: economic impact, strategic fit and planning.

q Synchronise programme management. Develop engineering work cells that deliver factory-like efficiencies to maximise throughput, and integrate work and information flow into an enterprise-wide IT system.

q Focus and measure technology management. This is a separate element of the "innovation machine" that facilitates such activities as the development of common components and the building of core competencies.

However, the AT Kearney team warns that it is counterproductive to fix one part of the model at a time: "A good analogy would be the danger if you were to replace one of a car's four bald retreads with a high-performance, steel-belted radial tyre, and then accelerate."