Starting Idea Doesn’t Determine Innovation Success

Over the past week I set out to quantify the relative impact of three factors: 1) Starting Idea, 2) Innovation Capability and 3) Leadership Engagement when it comes to financial success with innovation.   I reviewed hard data and interviewed expert innovators within complex organizations.  There was near universal agreement on the relative importance of the three factors.  

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The STARTING IDEA Is Nearly Irrelevant (10%):  As one expert said, “if you have a clear mission and cycles of learning you will can adapt and pivot any idea to make it work.”  This view is supported by research that found 85% of the time when a Harvard Business School graduate was successful with a start up their business was very different from what was laid out in their original business plan. 

LEADERSHIP ENGAGEMENT is Critical for Success (50%):   As military forces the world over have learned without a clear commanders intent - that lays out the what and why behind the strategic mission success is at best a 50% odds.  Think about it.  With leadership engaged the innovation project goes from a “nice to do” to a “very important” priority.  

For leadership to become engaged they need to have true understanding and empathy for the customer and their problem, the promise the innovation offers and the technology that enables the promise.  This means seeing, feeling, touching and experiencing - not simply reading and passing judgement on innovation recommendations at Stage Gate review meetings. 

Leadership Engagement is a primary reason why small companies have a 10X greater success with innovations versus large companies (50% success versus 5%).  

INNOVATION CULTURE is a Leadership Energy Multiplier (40%):  With massive input of energy it’s possible for a Leader to drive an innovation by herself despite having a culture that is actively or passively resistant to change.   When employees embrace curiosity and experimentation then cycles of learning transform starting ideas into strategic wins.   When employees are enabled through education, systems and tools then they become an energy source for change independent of the leader. 

As used here, culture is another name for system of interactions between employees.  As Dr. Deming found, 94% of problems are due to the system, 6% are caused by employees. 

Those are my thoughts - I’d love to hear yours.   Feel free to comment on the blog site,, Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter.

INNOVATION COLLEG October 2 to 6:  I am one of the teachers at the next Innovation Engineering Innovation College.  It’s a one week accelerated start through the 6 college courses that make up the innovation Engineering body of knowledge.  It’s intense, it’s fun and very rewarding.   After class one night we’ll even pull out some of our Double Gold Medal Bourbon products that we make as part of our Brain Brew Craft Spirits company.