Inward focus on innovation.

team-member-1-2 Inward focus on innovation.
Phillip Kopp, CEO, Conectric Networks, LLC

There are a few adages we’ve come to embrace out of Silicon Valley’s permanent displacement on the business world at large. “If you’re not innovating, your dying” and its variants is one that comes to top of mind and seems to keep us entrenched in this ever-faster centrifuge of information.

As hard as it shouldn’t be, why not take a second to stop, think and question why we are all doing this and how it fits in with the ultimate goals or objectives of our roles and organizations? In the context of Silicon Valley, the answer may be more literal than obvious. Of course, it should sound obvious that global tech companies are charged to innovate, push the limits, create and improve the way things are not only done today, but also into the future. Even established offerings need to continuously take risks. The reality is that competitors are working in parallel and will certainly launch the next market disruptor faster than their peers who aren’t running at full gas.

If innovation is such a fundamental part of the business core, why then is its very existence so fragile within even the most technically advanced organizations?And what is it about innovation that places it far lower down the budget than R&D efforts? I’ve recently observed several cases working with product, sales and marketing executives in medium sized software and technology companies struggling to find budgets for their innovation projects.

What I discovered may be quite an interesting opportunity. Case by case, it has become apparent that customers are driving product managers to deliver on their marketing promises, many of which require true innovation beyond the status quo. When looking internally, the additional resources needed to support new (or risky) projects were not available. Teams are already stretched handling existing customer needs, supporting the current product release that was planned last cycle. The justification of new resources to handle innovation projectscannot beapproved by C-suite unless there are hard orders. But how to get orders without even a real demo?“We just don’t know if they will buy your idea, and worse, what if it makes them second guess the order they just put in with us?” The realization dawned on me that many companies are not investing in themselves, they are only investing in their customer book. How are product managers supposed to innovate, take risks… if they are not given the freedom to devote engineering cycles and a concerted budget line?

It’s seems we yet again run into the proverbial chicken and egg. How can the product manager prove their idea to management, while feeding sales with “vaporware” products which don’t really exist? What is more surprising is that this term is not solely the domain of pre-funded start-ups, but actually a normal part of the middle market product development cycle. How many great (and profitable) opportunities never see the light of day because there simply isn’t a dedicated innovation resource available to work on new demonstrations?

As leaders, executives and managers of technology driven organizations we need to consider that there is not always a linear path to the bottom line predicated on re-upping bigger maintenance contracts or the expansion of our current customer license to include a custom feature. Just like the portfolio economics leveraged by successful investment funds, gleaning fantastic results from within our organizations should be possible by allowing a discretionary allowance for risk taking. In other words, innovation. Is it too much to ask that a small team of resources be available to fill the more aggressive product demo’s that our customers don’t yet know are possible or better yet, could fulfill their aggressive marketing propaganda? We research the innovations of the market each as a part of our responsibility, budget and bring them into our organizations with the goal of staying ahead. I question whether more companies shouldn’t be looking internally and giving more freedom to their product owners to explore aggressive presentations that drive customers to land solidly on their marketing promises and wow consumers with what they deserve.