The Biggest Hurdle to Innovation? Implementation.

by | Tuesday, April 16th, 2013

The biggest hurdle to innovation? Implementation. While you may or may not agree, it’s one of RE:INVENTION’s core beliefs. We’ve even been contemplating licensing or building an enterprise management platform to track innovation implementation and performance metrics. While discussing the potential platform with a fellow CONNECT San Diego Entrepreneur in Residence, I was surprised to hear him scoff at the idea. “Innovation doesn’t need a metrics/management platform,” he said. “Innovation is about idea generation. It happens in a room, between people. Innovation isn’t something you can manage.


Innovation consultants typically focus on the FUZZY FRONT END OF INNOVATION (“idea generation and innovation thinking“). Wrangling ideas can admittedly be tough, yet companies like Spigit and Brightidea have created software to assist with ideation projects. Empirically, though, most companies fail at the BACK END OF INNOVATION (“bringing ideas to life, the execution/implementation of ideas, also known as commercialization“). As a sad result, the world is littered with great ideas, poorly executed.

People, products/services, process, technology, and physical infrastructure are all critical moving parts that need to be planned, allocated, and leveraged during implementation. This makes implementation particularly hard — and the pressure to execute flawlessly in today’s world is increasing.

Research points to the challenges of execution/commercialization: 70% of CEOs who fail do so not because of bad strategy, but because of bad execution.¹ For every seven new product ideas, only 1.5 are launched, and only 1 succeeds.² Companies that have a history of converting innovation into ACTUAL GROWTH outperform the market by an average of 78 basis points a month.³

At RE:INVENTION, we believe that innovation creates sustainable value. No value creation, no innovation. And ideas have to be executed well to generate value.


Qualcomm is great at chips R&D and licensing – they’ve stumbled with execution when they’ve attempted to bring consumer ventures to market (FLO-TV™, Skifta™, next up Digital Health). Biotech companies struggle with commercialization as well – perpetual research then they get gobbled up like San Diego’s Life Technologies because they under-perform when it comes to bringing their research-driven ideas to market. Sony Reader, Microsoft Surface, and some might argue the Chevy Volt — innovative technologies that fizzled because of flawed execution.

What drives science (and technology) innovation does not drive business. In the majority of cases, the market for a new scientific advancement or truly innovative product doesn’t exist at the outset and you have to create it. No matter how good the idea, if you can’t build the market, construct an ecosystem, and win customers, your innovation will fail. Companies with crappy commercialization capabilities inevitably also have faulty fuzzy front-end innovation processes — their commercialization capability blindspots prevent them from seeing problems they will encounter while executing their “cool ideas.” Glaring vision gaps can be fatal.

Does this mean that Qualcomm or biotech companies should walk away from bringing new products to market? No. Heck no. Any company has the potential to improve its commercialization capabilities. Companies also have the potential to lose their go-to-market edge. Apple’s reputation for execution has been faltering despite the powerful legacy of Steve Jobs.


THE HEADLINE HERE: when companies understand how to evolve and commercialize new innovations and new products rather than merely inventing (or acquiring) them – they survive and thrive.

Alas, there is no single path to success when it comes to commercialization. There are many ways to go from the incubator, lab, or storyboard to ready-for-market solution. What works for some companies may not work for all.

There are some basic fundamentals that can increase the likelihood of commercialization success. Community building, collaboration, communication — as well as concept validation, critical path analysis, capital financing, concept protection, channel management, competitive pricing, and continuous improvement — are important facets of commercialization and implementation.

Great ideas and innovations are not enough – you have to get them to market. That’s why we created RE:INVENTION’s 12 C’s of Commercialization Guide. Rather than advancing a rigid process or methodology, RE:INVENTION’s 12 C’s inject planning and discipline via a flexible/adaptive framework. The 12 C’s don’t need to be sequential. Companies may emphasize some C’s more than others based on their industry and current challenges.

For the record, I also believe that innovation isn’t limited to invention or novelty. Reinvention, hacking, pivots, and adaptation of existing assets can produce innovative solutions. But that’s for another blog post.

So what do you think? Do you agree? What’s the biggest hurdle to innovation? Do you think an enterprise management platform that tracks innovation performance metrics can improve implementation?

1. Fortune Magazine
2. Journal of Product Innovation Management
3. Harvard Business Review, December 2012

– The Fuzzy Front End Innovation (a definition)
– The Back End of Innovation (a definition)
– RE:INVENTION’s sister strategy site,
– “Why Good Business Basics and Great Marketing Matter More Than Innovation” – the presentation

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