In a world of constant change, technology breakthroughs, and globalization, company strategies need constant redefinition. This is the advice of Vijay Govindarajan, known as “VG” and the author of The Three Box Solution, speaking to the audience of the Front End of Innovation Conference last week in Boston. VG said executives need to avoid the addiction of past successes and, instead, practice non-linear thinking. Companies can be continually innovative and sustain ongoing competitive advantage, if their executives become observant of the “lead signals” of non-linear changes. Executives must put into place the new business models and strategies necessary to compete in the future. Moreover, companies need to learn the distinctive skills required for future markets, technologies, clients, demographics, regulations, and competitors.

Too many companies, VG observed, have strategic planning systems that focus only on linear extensions of their current business models, products, and services. Their strategic planning processes are often short range. Instead, their strategic planning systems should focus on the business world of 2025.

In this environment, VG declared “Strategy is leadership! Strategy is innovation!”

InnovationOne sponsored the “Leadership, Culture and Team” Track at the FEI Conference.

VG’s keynote speaker remarks were a perfect opening for the Leadership, Culture and Team Track at the FEI Conference, sponsored by InnovationOne.  Here are highlights from 9 other innovation experts.

Innovation can be inspired, measured, benchmarked and managed even in a world of constant change.

After 15 years of quantitative research by InnovationOne founder Brooke Dobni, PhD, we can unequivocally say that innovation can be inspired, measured, benchmarked and managed. When executives enthusiastically embrace innovation, provide a strategic intent for innovation, invest in it, develop the ecosystem and measures to support cultures of open innovation, and align the organization to commercialize their new innovation, they ignite the innovation of their employees, customers, and external partners. Says Brooke, “They create a sustainable competitive advantage in their domains and improved financial performance.” Organizations can achieve this even in a world of constant change and redefinition.

Monsanto’s Non-Linear Transition

Stephen Padgette, VP of R&D Investment Strategy at Monsanto, described how the executive leadership of this 100+ year-old, chemical company listened to non-linear signals outside of its industry and plotted a strategy to become a seed producer for the world, as well as a biotech company. This required a change in culture and a penchant for “making big bets.” Monsanto learned to build relationships with new technology companies and has made significant technology acquisitions along its journey. Monsanto’s current emphasis is on customer focus, learning customer expectations, getting outside-of-the-company’s boundaries, and learning to trust the “law of big data.” It is on the verge of marrying agriculture with the world of big data technology.

The Culture Wars

During the panel discussion on “The Culture Wars: How Can Leaders Create an Environment to Make a Difference” panel members provided interesting insights on the need of frequent, fast failure for innovation:

  • Scott Steinberg, author of Make Change Work for You, said “The willingness to embrace change is the single-most important factor in whether or not an organization will have innovative success. I’m now going to bring up some F-Bombs, failure and fear. There are big mistakes and little mistakes. How do we treat and encourage learning from little mistakes?”
  • Lin Sun of Proctor and Gamble said, “Culture change doesn’t happen overnight, it requires leadership behaviors to demonstrate values and culture. Money isn’t the issue. Often the strategic intent doesn’t exist. If you have 1 minute in R & D to spend on a project, spend 59 seconds to define it, and 1 second on execution. Most of Gillette’s major innovations come from their skunkworks, passionate dedication, frequent and fast failure.”


Pfizer’s “Dare to Try”

John Klick described the methodology of Pfizer’s “Dare to Try” rapid ideation process and how it creates “passionistas.” The trick is to invite employees to be innovative with “out-of-the-box” thinking and then give them the tools, mentoring and recognition to be successful.

Getting Unstuck

Mike Maddox, of Maddox Douglas, and co-author of the books Flirting with the Uninterested and Free the Idea Monkey, provided insights on the predictable patterns that stall innovation teams and the reliable ways to unstick teams and accelerate innovation.  According to Mike, many people and their organizations get so entrenched with their previous experience, that they totally fail to see the solution to a problem when it is in a different context. Mike described his concept of a “Pyramid of Innovation,” which is similar to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs pyramid model. Mike’s Innovation Model has “Potential” at the base, working up to “Permission,” then to “Pipeline to Portfolio,” and finally to “Profit.”  Mike suggested that organizations need to move from the traditional ROI model for evaluating and approving new innovation to a “Justification of Investment” (JOI) model. With JOI, the financial selection-criteria are less stringent, allowing more good ideas to go forward.

Listening to Mozart can teach us about innovation and team work!                     

Three staff members from Ithaca College used music to demonstrate how teamwork impacts the important innovation competencies of creativity, risk taking, adaptability and teamwork. The quartet demonstrated with their music how role clarity, empathy, and trust within the quartet allows the musicians to adapt and improvise Mozart’s music.

Do you believe strategy is leadership? Strategy is innovation? What has worked for you? Join the discussion!

Victor Assad is a Managing Partner of InnovationOne and the CEO of Victor Assad, Strategic Human Resources Consulting. He consults on innovation, talent management, leadership development, accelerating change and other strategic initiatives. Learn more about the InnovationOne Health Index and our workshops at