Mariah Power

Calculated innovation: Is there a post-recession payoff?

November 20, 2009: 9:00 AM ET

Yes, you can create new products and services without betting the farm

By Ilana Westerman, CEO, Create with Context

Westerman: Innovation doesn't have to be risky. Photo: Create with Context

Many companies remain shell-shocked from the past 18 months of economic disaster.  As such, innovation - despite its potential rewards - is not exactly in fashion right now.

Though gurus like Jim Collins and others extol the virtues of using the downturn to capitalize on market opportunities or a competitor's weakness, companies today are more likely to take a wait-and-see approach to innovation:  "Look for the quick bucks and the low-hanging fruit," you might say to your management team.

But wait a minute: why not invest in innovation? And I'm not talking about focus groups and customer feedback surveys and Friday afternoon brainstorming sessions.

Economic indicators suggest that we are slowly pulling out of this global economic downturn. Despite the uncertainties ahead, this is the optimal time to think about innovation in a different light: what new groundbreaking product or service would truly resonate with your customers? It's probably something they can't articulate themselves. But it's worthwhile to take the time to discern what motivates your customers and how you could meet a need they don't even realize they have. In our work with clients, we call this calculated innovation.

When executives think about innovation, what often comes to mind is not far from the truth: engineers and marketing chiefs sit around a table and pontificate on the next big idea. This is fuzzy and abstract, and often not grounded in reality. Where do these ideas come from and how can you measure your risk?

No wonder innovation is scary for many companies. More

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