CHAIN ARE COMPANIES GOOD AT?Originating ideas usually isn’t the hardest part of innovating. Most companies are sufficiently good at generating ideas, the “bottleneck” in the innovation pro-cess actually occurs a lot further down the pipeline.1Generating ideas insideGenerating ideas outsideCross-pollinating ideas insideSelecting promising ideasDeveloping ideas into products/servicesDiffusing proven ideas across the company23How good is your company at the following activities, on a scale of one to five?
SLOANREVIEW.MIT.EDUWINTER 2011 MIT SLOAN MANAGEMENT REVIEW49The sentiment was echoed by the head of inno-vation at Mars Central Europe: “We try to recognize people rather than offer material rewards. We hold a corporate event, biannually, called Make The Dif-ference, where ideas and success stories are celebrated. The Central Europe team is very proud of the fact that we won more awards at this event last year than any other region.” Takeaway: Rewarding people for their innovation ef-forts misses the point. The process of innovating — of taking the initiative to come up with new solutions — is its own reward. Smart companies em-phasize the social and personal drivers of discretionary effort, rather than the material drivers.11 Myth # 5. Bottom-Up Innovation Is Best There is a lot of enthusiasm among those writing about innovation, and among those working in R&D settings, for bottom-up activism or “intrapre-neurship.” The reasoning here is straightforward: Top executives are not close enough to the action to be able to come up with or implement new ideas, so they need to push responsibility for innovation down into the organization. “Let 1,000 flowers bloom” has long been the mantra of big successful innovators like 3M, Google and W.L. Gore. We wanted to believe this, and we sought out companies that had allowed, or even encouraged, bottom-up processes. We wanted to find cases where dramatic changes had emerged through bottom-up initiatives. But we came back emptyhanded.Don’t misunderstand. There are plenty of ex-amples of successful innovations that started out as below-the-radar initiatives, or as proposals that got rejected by top executives several times. Examples that spring to mind include Ericsson’s mobile handset business, Sony’s PlayStation and HP’s printer business. But, the point is, at some point all these innovation were picked up and then priori-tized by top management. Successful innovations, in other words, need both bottom-up and top-down effort, and very often the link is not made.During the research, we followed several cases of bottom-up innovation in considerable detail: UBS’s Idea Exchange, Best Buy’s resilience initiative and GlaxoSmithKline’s Spark program. These initia-tives were neither great successes nor outright failures. They were able to demonstrate all sorts of modest successes, but they didn’t have the impact that their proponents would have liked either.
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MIT Sloan School of Management, MIT Sloan Management Review