Jill Lepore's recent critique of Clayton Christensen's long-established innovation gospel, 'The Innovator's Dilemma', in which she dismissed the concept as a dangerous, unpredictable and unprofitable 'novelty' sparked fierce debate about the validity of innovation in modern business.
Lepore's derision reflects the wider trend of businesses failing to recognise the critical commercial benefits of innovation and creativity. Brushing innovation aside as a fad, a nice to have, or window dressing for 'harder' bottomline priorities, undermines the strategic role of innovation in shaping business models and driving organisations towards topline growth.
In post-recession Britain, growth, rather than recovery, is the topic du jour in most boardrooms. But where is this future revenue coming from? Research from strategic innovation consultancy ?What If! recently found that three-quarters of UK business leaders believe their organisation is reliant on fading revenue streams, and more than a third don't know where a significant proportion of their earnings will come from in the next year, let alone in the medium term. The need for strategic innovation in these businesses is painfully clear.
Yet CMOs complain that recession belt tightening has left them with caretaker boards, “a sea of blues” - analytical, data-focused types, unlikely to foster the vision and culture required to reap the benefits of strategic innovation.
Who better than marketing then to bring diverse new thinking to the party and champion a more innovative approach across the whole organisation? Marketing is often viewed as the ghetto for creativity in a business, but it has a unique opportunity to step out of the functional box, own the customer and push innovation to the top of the boardroom agenda.
Ironically, it could be argued that B2B brands have most to gain from a leap of creative imagination, yet it is here that the currency of innovation is most undervalued.
Marketers have a key role to play in guiding innovation all the way through the organisation, at strategy, business model, product and service level. With a stronger focus on the customer, iterative testing of new propositions and quick and responsive marketing, CMOs can begin to work towards not just improving the sullied reputation of innovation but actively promoting it as their firm's most critical growth lever.
Despite what the critics say, innovation is far from fluffy. Yes, it can be unpredictable and even unprofitable if not wielded strategically but it is by no means a novelty. As boards shift their focus from efficiency to growth, innovation is a more hard-edged business issue than ever and it is up to marketers to stand up and fight in its corner.
Originally published in B2B Marketing, September 2014