Your Organizational Innovation Questions Answered 

A Q&A with Dr. Adam J. Bock 

In a recent webinar, Dr. Adam J. Bock discussed how to make innovation your competitive advantage. Dr. Bock offered great insight into why organizational innovation often fails and how to help set up a successful innovation system. 

The webinar sparked great questions around the topic of innovation. While he wasn’t able to address all the questions during the webinar, Dr. Bock did take time to answer the remaining questions in this blog. 

Innovation is when you figure out the unsolved problems experienced by your stakeholders and then your team uses a creative approach to find solutions for them. 

Dr. adam j. bock

Q: Are organizations aligning lean process improvement and innovation movements? 

A: Absolutely, but with mixed results. Aligning lean process improvement with innovation can be a powerful way to make operations more efficient. There are some obvious areas of alignment and some important pitfalls to keep in mind.  

A prototyping approach to process innovation can quickly generate critical information about bottlenecks and mis-aligned resources. But some implementations of lean are intended to focus on consistent, incremental improvement. A committed innovation effort will (almost) always generate some ideas that don’t work, even if you learn a lot from the effort. So, it is important to make sure that a team combining systemic innovation with lean process recognizes how failure generates learning and the value that can bring to process improvement. 

Q: Seems like appropriate questions to ask at budgeting time are, “What is our expense budget, and what personnel will be involved?” Anything else to ask? 

A: Great point! There will always be a challenge with innovation and budgeting because they operate from entirely different assumptions. Budgeting is based on the idea that we can effectively predict resource allocation requirements based on past experience.  

A true innovation system says the opposite: there’s no way to know exactly where, when, or how a key innovation will emerge. A centralized innovation budget is valuable when organizations have limited prior success and experience with innovation systems. That tends to protect the innovation effort from politics.  

The challenge is that it will be seen as a cost center, and it may be difficult to match that against value gained, especially because innovation outcomes often stretch beyond annual budgets. A good benchmark will be industry average (since innovation effort varies radically by industry), but companies that become really good at innovation will eventually distribute innovation across the organization and build it into budgeting based on local and functional requirements.   

Q: What are your thoughts on innovation versus invention? 

A: I love this question. Innovation and invention are often confused, but they are not the same at all. This is something I talk about in many of my programs and the entrepreneurship courses I teach at the University of Wisconsin.  

Invention is just something new. Innovation is new value creation for stakeholders. Inventing is asking your team to come up with new ideas and hoping something turns out to be valuable. In other words, you generate solutions and then look for a problem. Innovation is when you figure out the unsolved problems experienced by your stakeholders and then your team uses a creative approach to find solutions for them. 

Get more advice from Dr. Bock by watching the webinar recording.  

Adam is an award-winning academic, serial entrepreneur, and experienced strategy consultant. He has co-authored three books on business models and entrepreneurship. Adam holds bachelors’ degrees in Aeronautical Engineering and Quantitative Economics from Stanford University, and MBA from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and a Ph.D. in Innovation and Entrepreneurship from Imperial College London.