BOSTON, Jan. 9 /PRNewswire/ -- Although 90% of senior executives rate
innovation as a top strategic priority, almost half admit to being
dissatisfied with the return they get from their innovation dollars,
according to a survey by The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) of more than
1,000 decision makers.
A key reason is that most companies confuse ideas or inventions with
innovation. True innovation must lead -- directly or indirectly -- to
increased profits. And even when companies recognize this, they're
generally unsure how to determine which innovation efforts are on the road
to payback, and which are destined to become "cash traps" -- projects that
drain valuable resources that could be better invested elsewhere.
That's according to James P. Andrew and Harold L. Sirkin, BCG senior
vice presidents and co-authors of the new book, Payback: Reaping the
Rewards of Innovation (Harvard Business School Press, January 9, 2007).
Based on BCG's innovation-focused work and research involving hundreds of
innovation decision makers and global corporate leaders, Payback analyzes
the innovation problem and uses scores of detailed examples to show that
companies can get beyond "innovation intoxication" and gain a clearer
picture of innovation efforts from which to make smart decisions and align
"Focus & Finish" - And do it Faster
Says Mr. Andrew, "The innovation problem has little to do with good
ideas. There are a lot of them. In many cases, idea worship derails and
dilutes companies' focus on getting payback from innovation. Even at the
best companies, up to a third of all innovation initiatives are wasting
cash and human resources and will continue to do so. Cash traps in
innovation portfolios are more damaging -- and prevalent -- than most
companies realize." The challenge is to identify which projects need to be
curtailed so ones with real potential can be focused on and brought to
market faster-with a higher probability of success. In many companies
nothing is ever finished. Companies need to ensure they put real critical
mass against their winning ideas and accelerate their path to market -- and
Innovation's Missing Links: Managing Innovation as a Process and Having
a Reality Check
Adds Mr. Sirkin, "Companies aren't very good at identifying,
establishing and sticking to evaluation metrics that assess projects
through the lens of payback, or incremental profit -- metrics that would
help leaders make the right choices in terms of trade-offs, further
investment, giving projects more (or less) time, and so on. Often this is
because innovation projects are 'homeless' within an organization, owned by
too many people or by no one at all."
The Solution: The Cash Curve
According to Payback, the cash curve offers leaders a way to create a
picture of any innovation effort -- a "payback profile" of an innovation
and its critical stages. This picture helps ensure that everyone involved
is seeing and evaluating the effort from the same perspective, and provides
the basis for sound, reality-based discussions and decision-making. The
cash curve takes into account the four key variables that contribute to --
or prevent -- payback: start-up costs; speed to market; speed to scale, and
"We call these variables the 'Four S's', and they're the levers that
innovation leaders can use to fine-tune efforts. By analyzing these
variables on a cash curve, companies can clearly see when to kill an
effort, when to invest more, or when to speed up or delay a launch. The
cash curve provides a clear picture of whether innovation efforts are on
track to payback, and is an effective tool for alignment and intelligent,
dispassionate decision-making. Getting the cash curve right takes effort,
but it's probably the most important thing an innovator can do," says Mr.
The "Right" Innovation Metrics Are Also Critical
Measuring innovation is another issue that companies struggle with.
Explains Mr. Andrew, "Most companies are looking for a 'silver bullet'
metric to help them predict or force a perception of profitability -- or
they're using a collection of metrics that aren't very valuable. What they
really need is a set of metrics that provides not only a picture of the
outputs of innovation -- cash payback and indirect benefits -- but also
inputs, including time, money and people, as well as the overall
effectiveness of the innovation process."
The "Indirect" Benefits of Innovation: Even These Must Generate Cash
Payback addresses a number of the "indirect" benefits of innovation
efforts -- including knowledge acquisition, brand enhancement, ecosystem
strength and organizational vitality. But the book stresses that these
indirect benefits have little value unless they too add to profits.
"Pursuing a project simply for morale or knowledge could be
counterproductive if that added knowledge or morale, in a measurable way,
does not lead to incremental profit. So the answer to the question, 'Is
innovation about more than just money?' is 'No!'" Mr. Sirkin contends.
The Best Approach to Innovation Often Lies Outside A Company's
Experience and Comfort Zone
Payback explores the three business models for innovation: integration,
orchestration and licensing. Companies may have experience with one or two
of these models -- and thus a comfort level and tendency to use them by
default. But this is a mistake, since the choice they make affects payback.
"The right business model depends on the cash curve, as well as the
company's risk tolerance and resources," explains Mr. Sirkin. "For
instance, a company that's always done everything itself -- an 'integrator'
-- may need to start licensing in order to get an innovation to market
quickly enough to make money."
Payback Analyzes Innovation Successes and Failures
To underscore the importance of the cash curve and a clear focus on
payback, the authors explore the experiences and lessons of "payback pros."
These include Samsung, which transformed itself from a maker of cheap,
copycat products into one of the most respected -- and innovative --
companies in the world; BMW, whose tightly aligned organization supports
innovation and payback at every level, from strategy to measurement;
Seagate, which has mastered the "integrator" model of innovation by doing
everything in-house; and Microsoft, the greatest innovator -- in terms of
payback -- in business history. Payback also examines innovation failures,
such as Polaroid's attempts at the digital camera and the Concorde -- great
inventions that never generated payback.
About the Authors
James P. Andrew is a Senior Vice President and Director of The Boston
Consulting Group, and heads the firm's global innovation practice. He has
been with BCG for 20 years, in both the US and Asia. Mr. Andrew leads BCG's
annual global Senior Executive Survey on Innovation (conducted with
BusinessWeek), and works with leading companies around the world and across
industries on their innovation strategies and related organizational
issues. He regularly counsels senior executives on innovation culture,
performance, and leadership.
Harold L. Sirkin is a Senior Vice President and Director of The Boston
Consulting Group, and leads the firm's global Operations Practice. He has
been with BCG for 25 years. Under his leadership, the firm has emerged as
the foremost driver of client results in two areas critical to profitable
growth -- innovation and globalization. Mr. Sirkin previously led BCG's
E-commerce and IT practices. He regularly counsels senior executives on
innovation, globalization, operational capabilities, change management and
About the Boston Consulting Group
Since its founding in 1963, The Boston Consulting Group has focused on
helping clients achieve competitive advantage. Our firm believes that best
practices or benchmarks are rarely enough to create lasting value and that
positive change requires new insight into economics and markets and the
organizational capabilities to chart and deliver on winning strategies. We
consider every assignment to be a unique set of opportunities and
constraints for which no standard solution will be adequate. BCG has 61
offices in 36 countries and serves companies in all industries and markets.
For further information, please visit our Web site at www.bcg.com .
To receive a copy of Payback and supporting materials, or to schedule a
conversation with one of the authors, please contact Alexandra Corriveau at
Sommerfield Communications, Inc. (212) 255-8386 or
SOURCE The Boston Consulting Group