Friday, May 23, 2008

Top challenges and non-challenges in Innovation management

This month’s k-community meeting was hosted by Firstsource last Wednesday. K-community is an informal network of people in Bangalore interested in knowledge management. There were 2 presentations: One by Tharun from Firstsource and the other by Prof. Rishikesh Krishnan from IIMB. Tharun presented the tool Firstsource is using for logging and tracking ideas. Prof. Krishnan presented “Balancing Innovation & Efficiency”. There were representatives from various organizations like Capgemini, TCS, Wipro, Honeywell, Robert Bosch, Accenture etc.

During the networking session as well as during the presentations, people articulated their views on what they find challenging and not-so-challenging in managing innovation at their organization. Here is my take-away:


  • Innovation management tool: All organizations use some tool or the other for idea management. Some of them are made inhouse (like Firstsource, Wipro) and some of them are pay-as-you-use kind-of tools. In general, I felt that nobody was saying tool is a limiting factor.

  • Idea generation: People narrated their experiences in idea generation. Some organizations gathered 500 ideas through ideation workshops, while some other large organizations (like Wipro) got several thousand ideas when the initiative was launched.

  • Structure: I felt that putting a structure around innovation management (i.e. having a small separate team and identifying innovation champions within business units etc.) is something many organizations have put in place.


  • Idea selection: People mentioned 2 specific challenges in idea selection phase. One is having a robust criterion such that organization does not loose out on good ideas as well as it does not end up working on too many not-so-value-creating ideas. The other is to be able to connect ideas with other ideas in the organization or connecting ideas to other experts who can help expand on the ideas. Ideas, by their nature, are many times cross-functional (running across multiple businesses or sometimes they are related to non-businesses). A representative from Wipro mentioned how an idea which was logged by an engineer from Wipro’s Kochi office related to robotics (which was not a practice in Wipro) finanally helped Wipro start a robotics practice.

  • Getting semi-radical and radical ideas: The second challenge people mentioned is: How do we balance our innovation portfolio with appropriate mix of incremental and radical innovation opportunities? Currently 80% to 99% of ideas are incremental in nature and people felt not enough of radical innovation is happening in their organizations.

  • Sustainability of the innovation engine: Most people I talked to felt that sustaining the innovation engine is very difficult. Or perhaps, it is inherently cyclic in nature (sometimes it is running well, other times it is not). For most people, doing something innovative means doing extra and there is no incentive to do that extra bit. Structure and idea management tool takes you only so far.

  • Connecting KM with Innovation management: In most organizations, knowledge management and innovation efforts run parallel and rarely cross. Conventional wisdom says that knowledge creation and harvesting can’t be that separate. Prof. Krishnan commented something to this effect “Any movement (like CMM, KM) which Indian IT industry takes on seriously is finally reduced to fantastic processes without much soul in them”.

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