Return on Innovation – a new definition for ROI

A perspective on the panel session held at MACC 2018 from E.G.Nadhan, Chief Technology Strategist (Central), Red Hat, @nadhanEG


I was all excited to attend the panel hosted at the end of the MACC conference hosted by Richard Walker, CEO of York Solutions. Even more so when I heard Walker pose the first question to the panel — How do you define Innovation?” You see, the panel was right after my own speaking session at the conference which was on “Accelerating collaboration to architect continuous innovation”. It mattered to me how Innovation landed up being defined by the panelists. The responses prompted my own question to the panel about how they defined ROI — Return On Innovation. Thanks to the excellent moderation by Walker, experience based insights from the panelists and a highly engaged audience, please find below my own responses to these questions. I certainly got my “ROI” from this panel — so to speak! And, by the way, if you have your own thoughts, don’t be shy — share away through the commentary on this blog!

The panelists sitting left to right were:

  • Joe Perzel, Program Manager at Surescripts LLC
  • Dr. Tariq Samad, Director of Graduate Studies, M.S. in Management of Technology, University of Minnesota
  • PJ Johnson, Principal Architect, Microsoft
  • Keith Narr, CTO, Cargill
  • Charles Betz, Principal Analyst, Forrester Research
  • Chris Armstrong, President of Armstrong Process Group, Inc

How do you define Innovation

Walker kicked off the panel with this seemingly simple question.

Here is what the panelists shared:

  • For a healthcare enterprise, Innovation is developing software products to address the problems faced by the customer community including insurers and doctors.
  • When academia and the industry meet and have a meaningful discussion (like they did on this panel!) — innovation happens.
  • Innovation is not just about cost transformation. It must holistically change how we do something.
  • Innovation is not just about going in a lab and coming out with a super product. It has to creatively deliver value. “Great ideas are great — but if you don’t do anything with them, they are worthless!
  • Game changers define Innovation. 90% of everything we try will fail. You fail fast to learn fast.

Based on the thoughts above, here is what I compiled as my own definition for Innovation:

Innovation is creativity applied with passion to collaboratively deliver value that disruptively betters the quality of life for customers.

I must confess — a one-on-one dialog with my niece a few years back did help!

All of this discussion about innovation formulated my own question to the panel:

How do you measure the Return on Innovation – ROI?

The term ROI is conventionally known as Return on Investment. But then, the process of Innovation is an investment in time and effort. Even if it yields value, it is important to measure the amount of value that is generated in contrast to the effort.

Here is what the panel shared:

  • Innovation does not manifest as quickly as you want. The “innovator” may not even know where they are going. After all, we were in the city that houses the manufacturer of Post-it notes! Key Message “Unfettered curiosity”
  • It is not possible to quantify all the reasons corporations invest in innovation. Patents could be one reason that yield some value. It is important to invest in innovation so that new ideas come out while fostering a culture of generating revenue from new things. Key Message: “Channel our inner child”
  • Even something as simple as adding meaningful repeatability to processes can redirect the human mind to be more innovative and have fun. Key Message: “It is all about having fun!”
  • Innovation is a state of mind. Some corporations set aside a certain percentage of time for employees to have the freedom to innovate — try new things. But how many employees actually use it? Is it measured? Key Message: “Emotional safety is vital. No dumb question.”
  • Only cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity. Key Message: “Curiosity is an asset. Use it!”

I digested each key message shared on this panel and crafted the following way to measure the Return on Innovation. To me, a key measure of the Return on Innovation is the average age of the customer — be it the individual consumer or other businesses. Successful innovation is about realizing outcomes that penetrate new markets and keep pace with innovative technologies and paradigms that are adopted by upcoming generations of consumers. If the average age of the customer keeps going up and up, the customers of the future are left behind — which results in enterprises being out-innovated.

Thus, my definition for the Return on Innovation is:

A key measure for the Return on Innovation is the sustenance of the average age of the end customer over a period of time. Innovation yields high returns when employees have fun in an emotionally safe environment that channels unfettered curiosity allowing the constituents to channel their inner child.

Those are my thoughts!

What say you? How would you define Innovation? How would you measure the Return on Innovation?

Let the discussions begin — right here — on a virtual panel of sorts! Who knows, we might even hear from the moderator and the panelists listed above!

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