September 2019 | 

Closing the Gap Between Innovation and Execution

Closing the Gap Between Innovation and Execution

Here’s a great way to stall innovation in any company: Call everyone up and down the chain of command to submit their best ideas for new products, services, or operations improvements. Collect all of the ideas. Then — do nothing. It wouldn’t take long before a flood of ideas slowed to a trickle.

That’s not to say that vetting all of those ideas, selecting the most promising ones, and devoting the attention and resources needed to assess or prototype them is easy. But it could be a lot less daunting. It’s been a decade since Wharton professors Christian Terwiesch and Karl Ulrich published their framework for a structured, process-driven approach for innovation, and since then thousands of companies have benefitted.

One is Meredith Delaware, a director at Booz Allen Hamilton. She says attending Terwiesch and Ulrich’s Mastering Innovation: From Idea to Value Creation program helped her make existing innovation processes more effective. “Booz Allen already has a strong culture of innovation. This program showed me best practices on how to get more out of these processes as a leader,” she says. “Knowing how to get people engaged and to get the right people to prioritize the initiatives is key. To get the best ideas, you need a mechanism to act on them and a way to continuously generate more.”

Before the program begins, participants are put in groups and charged with coming up with ideas for an Innovation Tournament. The tournament includes processes for generating, selecting, and prototyping ideas. For some, like Christopher Kennedy, chief operating officer of Heritage Biologics and founder of HemoMD, it’s not just an exercise. He used the framework to turn an idea into an award-winning innovation. “HemoMD received the 2018 American Telemedicine Association President’s Award for Innovation. My experience at Wharton helped shape this new market solution into something that is improving patient outcomes,” Kennedy says.

For Delaware, the experience of the tournament was a practical, and fun, tool to bring innovation to teams of any size. “It was really interactive, helping you get to know people in the program and share an experience. At the same time you learn a process that you can take back to your organization to help foster new ideas. Actually going through the tournament lets you see for yourself how it would fit within your corporate culture and how you can explain it when you get back to work.”

Closing the Gap

Once promising ideas are selected, though, how do you make sure your organization can capitalize on them? To close the innovation-execution gap, Delaware came back to Wharton for Business Model Innovation in the Age of AI. “The program focuses on the next step after you generate ideas: choosing one and bringing it to market,” she says. “We learned how to conduct a Business Model Audit that shows you where you are today and where you need to go to explore how to convert your idea into a product or service offering. A big takeaway was discovering the hype and myths around innovation and digital disruption. Serguei Netessine shares research and academic studies around what innovation is, how it works, and how it impacts the market. It also debunks the first-mover advantage, showing the benefits of watching the market, seeing a new product, and then partnering with the creators or improving on their version.”

Delaware says the programs helped show how to generate ideas and capitalize on them, stressing the need to think differently and challenge your assumptions. The two Wharton programs do indeed complement each other well; Mastering Innovation gives participants the tools to promote innovation, and then Business Model Innovation in the Age of AI provides the knowledge needed to follow through on those big ideas.