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It is not just the effort we put into innovation but its structure and process that decide success!

Another Side of The Innovation Coin

Too much of anything is bad; for business and for anything else as such. Innovation is not an exception. Obviously, you cannot keep innovating the same product or process repeatedly. Not for the extended period. Therefore, we need to talk about the other side of the innovation coin – exnovation!

You may have barely heard of this word – exnovation. The earliest usages of this term came in 1981 when John Kimberly referred to “removal of innovation from an organisation”. In 1996 A. Sandeep provided the modern definition of exnovation as the philosophy of not innovating. In other words, ensuring that best-in-class entities are not innovated further. 

However, exnovation still has not become common parlance, at least in the intended way.

Why exnovation?

The basic definition of exnovation is self-explanatory and quite simple per se. However, why we need it is still a question, especially if we compare it with the continuous innovation paradigm.

When should you call it a day and stop continuous innovation? And, of course, this itself demands a balanced strategy.

But, let me assure you that exnovation is not about refusing innovation in the company. It is about channelling it and narrowing the process down over a period. For example, you may be soliciting innovative ideas from almost everyone initially. It is the phase of exploration where quantity over quality matters. This is when you want everyone to think innovatively and contribute with their ideas.

Exnovation is not about refusing innovation in the company. It is about channelling it and narrowing the process down over a period.

However, once you shortlist a few ideas to implement and the execution starts, there is no need to get more of the same ideas again. Moreover, once the changes are made, a new product or process is introduced, and the innovation has been implemented, it is time to reap its benefits. At this stage, colluding tried and tested outcomes with some more new ideas does not make any sense. It only delays the payback.

This is the stage when the focus must shift to exnovation. Earlier, you may have encouraged people for being more innovative. However, you must also encourage them to comply with the newly established product or service process. Then only the innovation that you implemented will result in profitable returns.

When and where should you use it?

Interestingly, in his book “The Myths of Innovation,” author Scott Berkun writes, “Competence trumps innovation. If you suck at what you do, being innovative will not help you. Business is driven by providing value to customers. Often, that can be done without innovation: make a good and needed thing, sell it at a good price, and advertise confidently. If you need innovations to achieve those three things, great, have at it. If not, your lack of innovation isn’t your biggest problem.”

This thinking highlights an important principle of exnovation. For a multinational company with a presence in different geographies, you often face region-wise challenges. These challenges result from apparent differences in consumer behaviours compared to the parent market of the company. So how do you manage such matters?

In my experience, a set process and structure of innovation and strategy are important. Additionally, specialised teams with vested authority make a good fit here. They can study the local market’s needs and see how they could be fulfilled within the existing system. Then, if any changes are to be made, they can tailor the existing process, products, or system. I wrote about these special-purpose teams in a previous article in this series.

Special purpose teams play a crucial role in innovation as well as exnovation.

During my tenure with LG Electronics in India, each LG factory had its own R&D teams and TDR (special purpose – tear down re-engineering) teams. So, we would work on joining and separate innovation projects all the time. But when it came to feedback from the local market and adapting the products, each team had a degree of freedom to work on it. Make necessary changes that suit the local market and implement them at scale. And for those improvements that were nationally or globally applied, the company made sure that these improvements get adopted by all.

The point is, if changes in established design and processes are to be made to suit geographic needs, teams need to be empowered to experiment with those changes first. Then, once validated, there must be a process to recommend them to other units and have them formally introduced or regularised for all when applicable. Once done, it becomes a standard process again, which need not be tampered with any further.

The important piece in the innovation puzzle

Exnovation is not about saying no to innovation. It is about hammering out a process and structure to implement it at scale. Once established, everybody need not innovate but implement it to the T. Counterintuitive but true. You can then put a team in charge to check processes and structures throughout the organisation and improve them when the need arises.

Exnovation means the opposite of innovation only to an extent. Mainly, it is about keeping a check on the innovation process in your company. Once a process, product, or system is evaluated, validated, and almost mastered by the special purpose team in the organisation, the next step is to put in place a critical system. A system that will ensure this new change is replicated across branches, departments, units, factories, or similar groups within your organisation. 

Ensuring the process is implemented without any alternations is highly important. No one within the organisation should be allowed to tailor the process further for whatever reason. 

Innovation can give an organisation the much-needed big leap, but only if favourable processes and systems are passed on and repeated seamlessly by all involved. A strict check on customisation by anyone at random must be kept. Let the special purpose teams take that call. Give them the liberty and latitude to manage it. 

The point is 

In defence, not everyone is a commanding officer. In orchestra, not everyone is a conductor. In an organisation, not everyone can be an innovator.

If you want to be an innovative company, you cannot be one without the process and structure. Whether it is around innovation activity or the downstream delivery mechanism to deliver it. Innovation and process within a company must coexist and feed off each other.

In its true sense, innovation includes creating culture and systems that help in effectively sustaining innovation. Your people and innovation teams are central to promoting internal and external collaboration. However, for innovation to be nurtured, you need to establish a solid process with clear communication and appropriate employee training.

Because it is not just the effort that we put into innovation that decides success. It is how we go about innovating, its structure and its process.

Because it is not just the effort that we put into innovation that decides success. It is how we go about innovating, its structure and its process.


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