When people talk about innovation, they usually have one particular idea in mind. And that idea depends on who they are and what their function is in their organization.
But there are of course many kinds of innovation, all the way from enacting best practices (I consider that a kind of innovation if your organization is lacking them) to incremental and sustaining innovation, to new market innovation, up to to disruptive innovation.
Rather than seeing your company through the lens of one particular kind of innovation at any given time, organizations need to see themselves as having an innovation portfolio. They need to be aware of all of these different kinds of innovation, what the returns can (and can’t) be on them, what the costs are, and what the risks are. Once you begin to see innovation as a portfolio, you start to realize you need a bit of something in each one of those slots at all times, and you think about how to structure your bets. You may re-balance the portfolio (and you should periodically to reflect your current needs and appetite) but you always keep your resources spread.
We at The Times tend to focus most of our energies at any given time on one aspect of innovation. We’re kind of an all-in type organization. I suspect a lot of companies are like this. It tends to create a lot of energy and focus, which can be exciting, then an “everybody on to the next thing” vibe when that focus starts to change.
If you think about that from the context of a portfolio though, that’s the equivalent of putting most of your money on a single stock or bond, hoping for the best, and then moving that money on to another stock at some point down the line. Not the best strategy.
What’s the answer? Diversify, stay diversified, understand what each part of your portfolio can and can’t get you, and understand how all of those pieces add up to more than the sum of their parts. And if it turns out they don’t, re-balance.