Wednesday, May 26, 2010

IMD Business Forum in New York - May 12, 2010

What are the key barriers to innovation within firms? Certainly everyone wants to innovate – so, why can’t firms innovate? The challenge, according to Bill Fischer, Professor of Technology Management, is that firm’s need to master seven key contradictions of innovation.

Hosted by Giacomo Landi (IMD MBA class of 2003) and now a Senior Vice President at DnBNor, a Norwegian bank that specializes in select industry verticals such as fishing and energy, the session was attended by over 20 executives from a range of business in the New York area including Nokia, Deloitte, and Sulzer Metco.

Professor Fischer’s provocative talk focused on contradictions that were “not obvious” at first glance, but were based on both his research and his depth of interaction with participants in a joint program offered by MIT and IMD. The program has been running for over 15 years and has enabled Bill the opportunity to repeatedly “test” these contradictions with program participants.

Consider, for example, his first contraction – that firms hire great people, and then turn them into average performers. Showing data for several studies, Professor Fischer showed that firms do not take advantage of their talent. Rather, they systematically under utilized talent – in some cases, the mean level of utilization is as low at 20%

Why is it so low? There are a host of factors including lack of clear leadership, working in the wrong roles, the nature of day to day work, and the lack of clear strategy.

A second contradiction related to the source of new innovative ideas. While one’s gut reaction may be that customers are the best source of new ideas, Bill pointed out that one can anticipate customer needs best by observing non customers. That is, significant innovation often occurs outside traditional industry boundaries. Discussion here centered on the emergence of micro-finance in exceptionally poor countries, far outside the boundaries of the conventional financial services industries.

The Business Forum ended with lively discussions and networking, followed by drinks and appetizers at a nearby restaurant.

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