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Business Growth - Taking A Look At Innovating For Cash

Aug 17, 2007
A little over three decades ago, Bruce Henderson, the Boston Consulting Group's founder, warned managers, "The majority of products in most companies are cash traps. They will absorb more money forever than they will generate." His apprehensions were entirely justified. Most new products don't generate substantial financial returns despite companies' almost slavish worship of innovation.

According to several studies, between five, and as many as nine, out of ten new products end up being financial failures. Even truly innovative products often don't make as much money as organizations invest in them. Apple Computer, for instance, stopped making the striking G4 Cube less than 12 months after its launch in July 2000 because the company was losing too much cash on the investment. In fact, many corporations make the lion's share of profits from only a handful of their products. In 2002, just 12 of Proctor & Gamble's 250-odd brands generated half of its sales and an even bigger share of net profits.

Yet most corporations presume that they can boost profits by fostering creativity. During the innovation spree of the 1990s, for instance, a large number of companies set up new business incubators, floated venture capital funds, and nurtured intrapreneurs. Companies passionately searched for new ways to become more creative, believing that returns on innovation investments would shoot up if they generated more ideas.

However, hot ideas and cool products, no matter how many a company comes up with, aren't enough to sustain success. "The fact that you can put a dozen inexperienced people in a room and conduct a brainstorming session that produces exciting new ideas shows how little relative importance ideas themselves actually have," wrote Harvard Business School professor Theodore Levitt in his 1963 HBR article "Creativity Is Not Enough." In fact, there's an important difference between being innovative and being an innovative enterprise: The former generates lots of ideas; the latter generates lots of cash.

For the past 15 years, we've worked with companies on their innovation programs and commercialization practices. Based on that experience, we've spent the last two years analyzing more than 200 large (mainly Fortune Global 1000) corporations. The companies operate in a variety of industries, from steel to pharmaceuticals to software, and are headquartered mostly in developed economies like the United States, France, Germany, and Japan. Our study suggests there are three ways for a company to take a new product to market. Each of these innovation approaches, as we call them, influences the key drivers of the product's profitability differently and generates different financial returns for the company.

The approach that a business uses to commercialize an innovation is therefore critical because it helps determine how much money the business will make from that product over the years. In fact, many ideas have failed to live up to their potential simply because businesses went about developing and commercializing them the wrong way.

"Innovating for Cash", James P. Andrew and Harold L. Sirkin, Harvard Business Review, September 2003.
About the Author
Melih ("may-lee") Oztalay, CEO
SmartFinds Internet Marketing
Web: www.cjps-enterprises.com
EMail: melih@hsfideas.com
At CJPS Enterprises, we specialize in execution. Getting things done. Our approach is designed to give your company an unfair advantage.
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