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Most businesses consider themselves innovative, but their company culture and results suggest otherwise. Here are some insights that might help move the needle.

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Credit: Romolo Tavani via Adobe Stock

Credit: Romolo Tavani via Adobe Stock

Innovation never sleeps. It evolves, it accelerates, it takes different forms. In fact, organizations that want to unleash innovation are wise to discover what stifles it so they can remove the constraints.

For example, innovation historically resided in research and development (R&D) departments, but now organizational leaders are more inclined to behave as through innovation can come from anywhere. In fact, some organizations believe in democratizing innovation so much that they encourage experimentation, host competitions and may even provide financial incentives.

According to Jeff Wong, global chief innovation officer at multinational professional services network EY, CEOs are realizing they can’t rely on a traditional innovation team when the context of company’s competition has changed. For example, retail banks used to compete against each other by stealing each other’s accounts, but the same tactic won’t work when the new competition is cryptocurrencies or a social network that offers stored value or investment alternatives.

“I think, pre-pandemic, that everybody understood that they were seeing the early signals of competing against a new competitor and at some point, they would be here,” said Wong. “What I’m hearing from CEOs and boards is a realization that a lot of new competitors have appeared so the pathways to innovation have changed. [Traditionally], they were just trying to compete better against existing competitors. Now they also have to compete against a new set of competitors.”

Five years ago, EY didn’t have an innovation function. In the first four years, that group added more than $1 billion in revenue. In the beginning, the group started to build project, by project, then it had more projects, an AI team, a blockchain team and a data team (the CDO and CAO report to Wong).

“Three and a half years ago I started an AI team, but we’ve had to radically scale it, so we now have AI teams that sit in other parts of the organization. They all feed off the core team that sits in innovation, but we had skill well beyond just this interesting thing that sits in innovation,” said Wong. “Now it has to be a technology we use and infuse in all parts of our organization whether it’s directly in the service side or our technology teams.”

Now, there are also three separate innovation investment areas that include an incubator, investments focused on near-term growth areas, and disruptive innovations that could be something entirely new or something that’s applied to an industry or type of business for the first time.

“I think the difficulty that most people find in their evolution is that each of these parts requires something a little different — a different set of objectives, a little different structure to manage it, [slightly] different criteria to understand what a good or bad investment for that particular part of innovation,” said Wong.

Of course, lots of companies are innovating and they all have their own “secret sauce.” Following are some other insights that can help move the innovation needle.

Lisa Morgan is a freelance writer who covers big data and BI for InformationWeek. She has contributed articles, reports, and other types of content to various publications and sites ranging from SD Times to the Economist Intelligent Unit. Frequent areas of coverage include … View Full Bio

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