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The Ever-Evolving Balancing Act: Sustaining Innovation vs. Strategic Vision

In the realm of business strategy, the conversation often orbits around the balancing act between sustaining innovation, crucial for the present stability of any organization, and the imperative pursuit of strategic innovation to shape a promising future.

Our recent webinar featured Nazeer Bhore (General Manager, Technology Scouting & Venturing at ExxonMobil), Doug White (former New Business Director at Dow Chemicals) and Mark Donavon (Head of Digital & AI Strategy & Ecosystem Development at Nestlé Purina)  who shared their invaluable insights into the delicate equilibrium required for organizational success in today’s ever-evolving landscape

Sustaining Innovation and Strategic Vision: A Delicate Interplay

  • Nazeer Bhore stressed the crucial importance of sustaining innovation, portraying it as the lifeblood of any organization. Every business encounters the threat of commoditization emphasizing the essentiality of perpetual evolution and adaptation. His insights painted a stark reality: in a rapidly changing world, stagnation is not an option.
  • Doug White shed light on the symbiotic relationship between sustaining innovation and the cultivation of capabilities. He advocated not just for maintaining a competitive edge but also for exploring adjacencies. His viewpoint resonates as a call for consistent progress and a “need to look at adjacencies, these areas that are either new in the market space, maybe new in the technology space or are basically becoming disruptive because of discontinuities in the market.”
  • Mark Donavon added depth to the discourse, underlining the urgent need for intentional commitment to strategic innovation. He reflected on the need to move beyond established norms, highlighting the imminent risks of disruption and disintermediation, particularly for large, entrenched companies in this tumultuous environment.

Unpacking Key Challenges and Approaches in Strategic Innovation

  • Empathy-driven Innovation emerged as a focal point,  highlighting the importance of understanding and solving customer problems, cautioning against creating internal value without addressing external needs.
  • Learning as a Cornerstone: Metrics should be based on learning, steering away from novelty hype and profitability emphasis in new spaces. This aligns with the idea that innovation isn’t merely about ideation but about practicality and sustainable growth.
  • Strategic Planning and External Engagement highlight the role of domain expertise, warning against premature specificity, and highlighting the value of external perspectives for impactful strategic innovation.

“We just need to actively make sure that this kind of interaction, is [sustained], purposeful and intentional.” – Nazeer Bhore

Navigating Strategic Opportunities: Expanding Horizons

  • Diverse perspectives: Organizing potential sources of innovation (strategic shifts, technological initiatives, community insights, and external engagements) emphasizes the significance of merging diverse outlooks, aligning with the idea that innovation often springs from unexpected connections.
  • External  Engagement: Doug White emphasized the transformative potential in partnerships and that they often “found some of the best collaborations …  with other corporate venture groups that aren’t complementary to [them] in the value chain.”

Spotting Champions and Balancing Customer Demands with Technological Possibilities

  • Champion Selection Framework: Identifying internal champions can be a challenge but techniques to spot and support these key figures within the organization exist. Aligning champions based on the depth of transformation an opportunity presents, acknowledges the pivotal role these figures play in driving strategic innovation.

“When pursuing new Strategic innovations, I’ve learned that it’s so important to internalize the emotions – the frustrations, tears, joys and desires – of our target customers pain points by talking with them directly. This opposed to how we often approach Sustaining innovation where we rely on our agency partners to deal more directly with target customers and then share those insights back to us through reports and presentations.” – Mark Donavon

  • Balancing Customer and Tech Demands: Reconciling customer demands with technological possibilities is a perpetual challenge. This is why acknowledging the ongoing learning curve is inherent in this balancing act. Fostering a collaborative environment between customer-driven ideation and tech-driven innovation highlights the need to leverage the strengths of both ends to uncover synergistic opportunities.

Safeguarding Innovation and Embracing Transformative Shifts

  • Resource Allocation Challenges: Safeguarding promising innovation projects from being sidelined during early budget cycles when short-term sustenance often trumps strategic disruptive bets is often a challenge. Maintaining a core team dedicated to these projects is crucial, showcasing the critical role they play in continuously learning and mitigating risks. Continuously showcasing progress, emphasizing metrics that highlight the reduction of risks and the de-risking of new opportunities, ensures that the long-term potential remains evident to stakeholders despite short-term resource allocation challenges.
  • Decarbonization Initiatives and Technological Evolution: As explained by Nazeer Bhore, societal shifts, consumer expectations for businesses and technological advancements are what are driving decarbonization.
  • Iterative Assessment and AI’s Impact: Reassessment in technological innovation is highly significant, systematically revisiting past assessments, and critically analyzing advancements in critical issues identified previously. This iterative process helps in distinguishing between the fear of missing out and legitimate progress in various technological domains, facilitating informed decisions rooted in internal assessments rather than external hype.
  • AI’s Transformative Potential: Acknowledging the profound impact of AI on industries and workflows, continuous learning and skill development across organizational functions is essential. Companies need to embrace these advancements to remain competitive in an evolving landscape.

“Today in the generative AI space … if we don’t figure this out and understand the answers to those questions we very likely can find ourselves at a competitive disadvantage as we go into the future.” – Mark Donavon

Conclusion

This webinar emphasized how important it is for companies to balance sustaining and strategic innovation while being supported by experienced individuals and organizations. To succeed in today’s innovation world, companies should embrace empathy, active engagement, different viewpoints, and collaborations. They serve as a guide, helping businesses navigate the complexities of innovation. This ensures that innovation matches the real needs and feelings of users while helping companies grow and adapt for the future.

Learn how we can support your strategic innovation needs here.