Are you innovating or are you waiting to die?

Ross Maher

Ross Maher is the director of Build21c, an innovation project planning and research company that helps companies innovate. His specialities include project definition and set up, and he believes the best innovation occurs through a conversation with customers, suppliers and other stakeholders. Learn more at

It’s been 15 years since the ground breaking “The Innovator's Dilemma” was released and warned established businesses that start-ups would challenge even the biggest companies, and nearly a decade since the follow up book “The Innovator’s Solution” was released to the mantra Innovate or Die

So then why are only 39% of Australian businesses innovating? And why is that figure declining (43.8% in 2009/10 compared to 39.1% in 2010/11)?

If you are a business owner, business leader, manager or just someone who cares about the work they are doing, stop and ask yourself: are we innovating or are we just waiting to die? If you don’t want to wait for death, then developing an innovation strategy is your first step. It will save you money, time, energy and effort; and the best part is, it doesn’t have to be difficult. Strategy should never be complicated.

Start with four simple questions;

  1. Do we want to maintain our current market position or expand it?
  2. Do we want to be a leader or a follower of the market?
  3. What is our timeline for innovation?
  4. Are we better ‘makers’ or ‘sellers’?

Your answers to these will provide you with the basic components of your strategy that will provide all your customers, stakeholders and staff the ability to understand what is happening. To use my own company Build21c as an example, our answers to those questions are:

  1. We want to expand our market position
  2. We want to lead the market
  3. We have a 2-3 year timeline for innovation
  4. We are makers not just sellers

Based on this information, we know that as makers that want to lead the market and expand, we need to be making something that is very different, and with a 2-3 year horizon, research will be a key business activity.

So what is our innovation strategy?

Build relationships in new markets with leading companies and stakeholders. Research and understand what they are doing now, and what they would like to be doing in the future. Develop key pieces of IP that make innovation easier. Collaborate with market leaders and stakeholders to deliver market leading innovation services.

Implementing the strategy is about turning the strategy into a plan. This is a more detailed process, but that doesn’t mean it is more complicated or difficult. In fact, if you complicated it, you are almost destined to commit your organisation to death. At this step in the process, the key skill is being able to objectively assess the capability of your business to implement the strategy. You have to play ‘Devil’s Advocate’ to work out what you can and can’t do, and it can be easier use external resources to facilitate this outcome.

The great thing is, regardless of the outcome, you will have a plan. For example, if you said you wanted to lead the market but were not investing in research, then your plan would include building a research capability. Likewise, if you said you wanted to be ‘makers’, but weren’t developing your own IP, then your plan would include building a development capability.

Obviously there are many more parts to the development of your innovation strategy, but it is important to keep it simple. Below is a simple mind map with some of these other parts to guide you through the initial process of developing your innovation strategy.

Tags: innovation, strategy, planning

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