The image here is the list of exactly which capabilities your company needs to succeed at innovation. Read on to understand how it works and how to implement it yourself.

Almost every business leader will tell you that they value innovation and that it is a positive & important factor for their company.

In fact, innovation and creativity are cited as being some of the most important skills and differentiators listed by CEOs which will determine their future success. And companies regularly boast about how they are spending millions (and sometimes billions) of dollars into research & development to come up with innovative new offerings.

However, why is it then that approximately 96% of innovation efforts fail?

Are companies just performing innovation theatre, saying that they value innovation when in reality they fear it?

Or are they focused on the wrong things, constantly trying to make their existing products better instead of seeing all of the different ways there are to innovate?

The answer is actually surprisingly simple.

Most companies don’t understand that innovation isn’t just a single process that can be improved, but the result of capabilities existing within the company which enables ideas to be developed and scaled into solutions.

I have shown previously how innovation is all about the delivery (rather than just development) of ideas that deliver value, as well as the most important management frameworks for innovation.

Now, I’m going to outline step by step what enables a company to deliver those ideas.

I have spent years researching what capabilities are actually required to facilitate and deliver innovative ideas, and have tested and refined these ideas with some of the world’s largest companies while I was an innovation subject matter expert at the world’s largest Management Consulting firm.

In this article, I am going to show you what it really takes to have innovation succeed at any company.

The Three Dimensions of Innovation (by Nick Skillicorn)

In order for innovation to be possible, a company needs to have the following foundational elements:

  1. Enablement: The creativity and culture to develop new and different ideas. This includes capabilities that need to be possible in every individual in the company.
  2. Delivery: A team of people who have the ability to take rough ideas and develop them into a customer-facing innovation.
  3. Management: A flexible approach to management and governance which enables leadership to understand direction and progress, but gives authority to the team to do their best work with reduced bureaucracy.
  4. Leadership: Guidance and support from executives in the company to build an organisational culture where new ideas can be pushed

As you can see from the visualisation below, these foundational elements fit into the three primary groups of people responsible for various aspects of innovation (Delivery, Management, and Leadership), while the Enablement stream is applicable to all people in an organisation.

The Three Pillars of what makes innovation work in any company

The Three Pillars of what makes innovation work in any company

This is what I call the 3 Dimensions of Innovation.

I published the first draft of the 3 Dimensions of Innovation all the way back in 2013. This new version has been refined based on extensive feedback and research over the years with companies, leadership, team members and thought leaders across the world.

What is important to remember is that innovation is not the responsibility of any one of the specific groups mentioned above.

In order for it to succeed, a company needs to have strength in all three pillars and the enablers.

For example, a project team with strong capabilities to deliver innovation can be prevented from succeeding by a management team with inappropriate governance processes. Or a capable management team may waste time and effort building an inappropriate innovation portfolio of projects if the leadership team has not communicated a clear innovation strategy.

Each Dimension is connected to the others, and a lack of capabilities in any single one can prevent success overall.

Each of the 3 Dimensional pillars and enablers also has its own set of activities which the members of that group need to successfully execute in order for innovation to succeed. These are the capabilities we are about to explore now.

So, what are the actual capabilities which teams need to innovate?

The 23 capabilities every company and team requires to innovate successfully

In this image, I show you the full list of 23 capabilities required to succeed at developing successful innovations:

23 core capabilities required to innovate: 3 Dimensions of Innovation by Nick Skillicorn

23 core capabilities required to innovate: 3 Dimensions of Innovation by Nick Skillicorn

These 23 capabilities are as follows:

1. Delivering innovation Capabilities

These are the activities and skills which are required for a team to ideate, design, test, iterate and pilot a new innovation. The full list of capabilities is:

  • Identifying core challenges & perceived value: Getting a clear understanding of not only what issues a solution should address, but also what potential customers perceive as the value of existing solutions (including yours and those of competitors). This will ensure that an innovation is being developed to actually deliver value to a customer.
  • Idea Generation: Generate creative new ideas that address the identified challenges, beyond basic brainstorming exercises
  • Idea Evaluation and Prioritisation: Figuring out which ideas have more potential than others, and which fit the strategic goals
  • Lean Innovation Project Management: Putting in place a structure which teams can use to focus limited time and energy on progressing ideas quickly, and validating progress
  • Developing, Experimenting, Prototyping & MVPs: Quickly developing low-resolution versions of the solution to get feedback, iterating and adjusting the solution based on feedback, experiments, and failures
  • Pilot and Iteration: Testing the solution in a small scale environment and adjusting it based on customer feedback and demand

2. Managing Innovation

These are the activities and processes which are required to successfully prioritise, manage and scale the various innovation opportunities to bring value to the company.

  • Ways of innovating & Business Models: There are more different ways to innovate than just “make your product better”, and more business models than “sell the product”. Effective innovators are trying to find multiple ways to innovate in order to cumulatively add value in new ways.
  • Sensing & understanding trends: Awareness of the demands and trends in your market based on new technology (both inside and outside your industry), new competitors and customer experiences
  • Prioritisation & Portfolio Management: Ability to manage a pipeline of ideas and projects, identifying which ideas will help the company achieve its short, medium and long-term innovation goals, and ensuring that the portfolio has a balance of incremental, adjacent and transformational innovations.
  • Management, Funding, Governance & KPIs: A flexible management and governance system which empowers teams to experiment and make progress rapidly, yet still giving senior leadership ability to track and validate progress against all projects in the innovation portfolio and ensure these align with the innovation strategy
  • Facilities & Locations: Project teams are provided with space, spaces, equipment, and tools to run their required innovation experiments
  • Launch, Integration & Scaling: Identifying the most effective ways to ensure the changes from the innovation can scale once launched, either by making adjustments to the way the core business operates or scaling independently at the edges of the company

3. Leading Innovation

These are the capabilities required for the entire organisation to work in the same direction and have the ability to spend time on innovation productively.

  • Innovation Strategy & Communication: Leadership have made the choices about which innovation questions and challenges their teams should answer (and as a result, the choices about which will not be prioritised), how this should be done, as well as communicating this in a way that all members of the organisation understand how success will be judged
  • Ambidextrous Organisations & Operating Models: Clarity on who is responsible for delivering and managing innovation in the organisation, and how they interact between themselves and the rest of the business along the journey
  • Time, Resources & Funding: The organisation provides the resources required for people to devote time and run experiments around innovation
  • HR, Performance Review & Recognition: How new people with new ideas and different experience are brought into the company, how contributions are assessed and rewarded, and whether there are any formal (or informal) processes which punish the less predictable aspects of innovation and may scare people away from innovating
  • Ecosystems, Acquisitions & External Innovation: How a company fits into the wider ecosystem required to get their offering to the customer (including suppliers, distributors, retail channels, competitors, the public sector, startups and the customer), as well as finding ways to innovate through cooperation outside of the company
  • Culture, Purpose & Driving Change: Creating an environment where people feel like they are making a worthwhile contribution, and they have the ability to innovate and their ideas are heard. Also a culture where change is expected and supported

4. Enablers

These are the capabilities and mindsets required by everyone in the organisation.

  • Understanding & Managing Creativity: The basis of what triggers the best divergent and convergent ideas, how to improve the frequency and quality of these ideas, and how to get all people to break beyond the evolutionary biases which hold them back from their creative potential
  • Psychological Safety & Risk Perception: A climate where people believe it is possible, expected and valued, that they speak up with relevant ideas, questions, concerns and even mistakes, in addition to having the bravery to make choices which have the potential to fail
  • Authority: The ability to follow through on activity for which you have responsibility, without having to get undue additional approval in advance
  • Action based on Insights: A predisposition towards making things happen and delivering, supported by relevant data and insights to ensure movement is in the right direction
  • Continuous Learning, Development & Change: A growth mindset which supports people in developing new skills, knowledge, capabilities, and belief in what more they can achieve

In order for any company to succeed at innovation, it needs to have foundational strength in each of these 23 capabilities.

There will be situations where for your particular company some capabilities are more important than others, especially depending on the size or industry of the company. For example, a startup with only a few dozen employees and a single product may have a smaller innovation portfolio than a multinational corporation, and a completely vertically integrated company may have fewer external partners with whom to map their innovation ecosystem.

Next, I’m going to show you the two ways to assess your current innovation maturity against the capabilities in the 3 Dimensions.

How to assess your current innovation capability maturity

It is not enough to just understand the list of the 3 Dimensions of Innovation your company needs.

It is more important to understand which capabilities your company already has, and which ones are lacking and therefore are holding you back from succeeding.

Therefore, it is vital that your company conducts a health check or maturity assessment to determine where there are capability gaps, and whether to invest in improving them.

I usually recommend assessing the capabilities against a simple Red-Amber-Green (Traffic Light) system, which makes communicating the strengths and gaps (or opportunities for improvement) simpler to decision-makers.

This would result in a simple Innovation Maturity Assessment like the one below: