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Innovation nowadays: a Cost or an Agility challenge?

April 20, 2009

Note: this post was originally published on Early Strategies blog

Business Week just released last week it’s 2009 Most innovative companies list, with the unavoidable trendy question “Is Innovation Too Costly in Hard Times ?”.

Is it the right thing to ask? When a company innovates, or when it adopts innovation, it develops its agility and ability to adapt the market. Hence, it grows its odds to sustain the business and get out of the recession in better shape than if it just focuses on cutting costs.

There’s more clue in Fortune Europe last week’s interview of Carole Browner, Obama’s climate crusader. She says major companies tell her, regarding pushing a comprehensive energy package (carbon law and innovation pressure): “Please, now is exactly the time. Don’t wait until we are halfway or two-third the way through recovery.”

Crisis does not prevent the market to change, it accelerates it. Hence companies have to make sure they think ahead of the market, innovate and address new sectors. Burying the corporate head in the sand and waiting till better times is probably not right – as said in a grounding concept of change management: “equilibrium is precursor to death” (from the Theory of Complexity).

Companies quoted in the Busin

ess Week’s 2009, in Fast Company and in other lists, go different directions to tame innovation:

  • Redesign by introducing new technologies/adopting innovation – among them Sony, Walt Disney, Autodesk, Royal Dutch, JP Morgan Chase
  • Launching Green products – all automotive (eventually …), but also 3M, Timberland
    Innovation acquisition – among them J&J, Cisco, Telefonica, AT&T, News Corp.
  • Betting on open innovation and new partners – among them RIM, Vodafone

Of course there are also those used to wow the market– Apple, Target, Virgin, Samsung, Verizon, Coca-cola, Google, Amazon – and those with traditional moves, such as redesigning for operational efficiency, targeting low cost products, adapting to changing customer needs. The important points are that 1/many say they have increased their R&D: Nestlé, Samsung, P&G, HP …. and that 2/many are adopting innovation in their daily operations and processes.

So, is innovation a cost or an agility challenge ?

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