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The Final Key to Innovation: Understanding the Law of Execution

Innovation can sometimes seem totally intangible. It’s easy enough to come up with an idea that you believe will change the world, or at least your industry. It is putting that idea into action that becomes another ballgame. Developing an actual product or service that can be sold or put into practi

Phil McKinney
Phil McKinney
4 min read
The Final Key to Innovation: Understanding the Law of Execution

Innovation can sometimes seem totally intangible. It’s easy enough to come up with an idea that you believe will change the world, or at least your industry. It is putting that idea into action that becomes another ballgame. Developing an actual product or service that can be sold or put into practice is a daunting task that requires clear execution.

This is where execution comes into play. Execution isn’t something that just happens. It takes effort; it takes thought, and it takes planning. But just because it isn’t easy, doesn’t mean it isn’t possible or worthwhile.

What Is Execution?

Ideas without execution are a hobby, and true innovators are not in the hobby business.

Execution is the final Law of Innovation, and it is arguably the most important. In innovating, execution is the ability to bring an innovative idea to life. However, it is essential to do this while also achieving the company’s quarterly operating objectives. Focus cannot just be placed on business as usual, nor can we can put it solely on the innovation agenda. There must be a balance in order to keep the business stable and growing.

However, this balance cannot be created in silos, with half of the organization concentrating on business as usual and the other half working towards innovation. The entire organization needs to be committed to the execution of both innovation and core operations. If it isn’t, innovation’s Law of Culture goes out the window.

It is also essential to understand that without execution, innovation flounders. Even if leadership supports innovation, the organization’s culture nurtures it, resources are committed towards it, the business is patient with its development, executives have created a strong process for it, and a big goal has been set, if the innovation is not executed it won’t come to fruition. It’s just that simple.

When an innovative product or service is not focused on and followed through to market release, it won’t be a success.

What Is the Execution Pitfall?

There is a major pitfall that many companies end up tumbling into when trying to innovate: they don’t execute. Or at least they don’t prioritize the execution of innovation. Instead, they get caught up with the execution of the day-to-day business objectives.

This is understandable. Business leaders feel they are executing innovation because they are helping the company to create innovative ideas or implement a more innovative culture. But when it comes down to the wire, they prioritize operational execution.

Now, to be clear, this type of execution isn’t a bad thing. It’s necessary. For any business to succeed and stay above water, they need to maintain a steady focus on the core products or services they offer. Driving revenue is absolutely imperative to funding innovation. It is the accomplishment of this operational execution that creates short-term success.

Innovation Agenda

Long-term success, however, comes from the execution of the innovation agenda. It is necessary to make operations and innovation equal priorities because it is the innovation that will set you apart as an industry leader. If innovative products are released, but the business is distracted with its historical line-up of products and hitting sales goals, the innovation will be a bust.

Parity of priorities is key.

Another pitfall that many companies fall into when they try to balance the execution of both agendas is the previously mentioned siloing. They will put part of the company in charge of innovation and wall them off from the rest of the team that is working on marketing and selling the already developed products and services.

This doesn’t sound like such a bad idea at first. But when you put it into action, the faults become more clear. First, it destroys a company-wide culture of innovation. For an organization to thrive, there needs to be unity in the vision and a collaborative camaraderie throughout.

Second, it can create a disjointed feeling and appearance of the brand to the consumers. There is a flow lacking between the traditional products, services, and marketing and the new innovations. It causes confusion inside and out.

How Do Businesses Balance Execution?

And here is where things get tricky. Balancing the quarterly and annual operations with the innovation agenda is much easier said than done. But again, it’s not impossible. You just have to be willing to take a hard look at both your innovation agenda and your operational goals.

Innovation Goals

With the operational goals, consider which ones have to be achieved so that innovation can be funded, pursued, and executed successfully. Identify the everyday tasks that aren’t getting you anywhere and cut them out.

Innovation Agenda

For the innovation agenda, decide what’s worth executing. You are investing resources. Your workforce is investing in their passion. Everyone needs to know it's worth it and that the time, money, and energy being spent will pay off down the road.

Changing For Innovation

These assessments aren’t easy, and you won’t always be right. The important thing is that you keep going even when there are operational challenges or you realize that a previously done-away-with operational goal was necessary. Regroup, adjust, and move forward. Accept that organizational change takes time.

This change and balance can also be more easily accepted by the organization if you ensure two things. First, the leaders need to know how to execute both innovation and regular operations. If they don’t, they’ll resist whichever is their weakness. That means you might just have to get them some training or maybe you should consider replacing them.

Second, take a look at your compensation structure. If you only reward execution of innovation or only reward operational execution, there’s very little incentive for employees to pursue the unrewarded route. Make sure you adjust so that achieving a balance of execution is most valued.

To learn more about how to execute your innovation goals, check out how the team can help.

BlogCareerCulturebeyond the obviouscreativityexecution pitfallinnovateInnovationlaw of execution

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Phil McKinney is an innovator, podcaster, author, and speaker. He is the retired CTO of HP. Phil's book, Beyond The Obvious, shares his expertise and lessons learned on innovation and creativity.


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