This week, we convened innovation heads from places like Chubb Insurance, Estee Lauder and Macmillan and mixed them with a world-renowned innovation expert (Professor George Day from Wharton) and one of the leaders of GE’s Crotonville leadership training center (Bob Cancalosi). Over four hours, they teased apart our shared challenge: how to unlock innovativeness, entrepreneurship, and growth trapped inside organizations.
While the conversation generated more questions than answers, one key became clear – if you want your organization to grow through internal innovation, you need discipline.
We are not talking about the rigorous, centralized processes, the funnels of ideas and sequences of filters, that corporate innovation groups apply in an attempt to manufacture growth ideas. We are talking about the kind of discipline great musicians and artists practice. The individual who can explore aimlessly on one end and yet be rigorously selective on the other, ensuring each piece qualifies as a masterpiece. We are talking about Beethoven obsessing over exactly which notes to allow onto his score and Shakespeare ruthlessly removing every extraneous word from his prose.
Having lots of ideas leads to spreading yourself too thin, as the Lego Group found painfully true in 2005. Its revenue went from flat to declining, even though it was building an impressive lineup of new businesses – LEGO-branded clothing, education centers, amusement parks, video games – and even though it had tripled its number of stores. More innovation does not lead to more growth.
Unless your idea engine is also matched with a disciplined selection process that enables you to de-root the weeds to give light to the more precious species, your innovation engine will not bear fruit.
In 2005, the Lego Group changed its approach. It applied discipline to its innovation capacity. It maintained, perhaps even turned up, its idea-generation capability but directed it with a clear growth strategy, fueled it with resources, and cultivated it with a rigorous selection process.
The result? Revenue quintupled in eight years, to more than 25b Danish krone in 2013 from just 5b in 2005.
You too can introduce such discipline, the discipline of great artists. You just need to ask three questions of your ideas:
- Is it real?
- Will we win?
- Is it worth it?