About this Author
Gwen Smith Ishmael, Sr. Vice President of Insights and Innovation at Decision Analyst in Arlington, TX, has led marketing and new product development activities in the CPG and technology industries since 1986. She also conceived and developed ground-breaking Web-based promotional vehicles, two of which are patent pending. Gwen holds an MBA in Marketing and is a featured speaker on insights and innovation around the world. Her writings have been featured in international text books, most recently in Managing 4 Ps of Marketing FMCG Sector, and Product Innovation: A Strategic Tool for Growth, by ICFAI Publications, 2006 and 2007, respectively.

Founding Author

Renee Hopkins Callahan Renee Hopkins Callahan started IdeaFlow and serves as chief blog-wrangler. She is Director of Innovation Services at Decision Analyst in Arlington, Texas, is a former journalist who worked as an editor and reporter for The Dallas Morning News and the Nashville Tennessean, and was managing editor of D, the Dallas city magazine. She has a master's degree in rhetoric and has also taught college-level English and informal logic.


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June 14, 2006

Updated version of "What Drives Innovation?" available for download

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Posted by Renee Hopkins Callahan

We've updated the draft I posted last week of our most recent white paper, What Drives Innovation? A Heuristic Framework for Corporate Innovation. It's the same paper I wrote about here, (and in fact the link to the paper is the same) -- it's just an updated version.

These are the updates we made based on comments sent by those who read the draft I posted last week:

We've made it clear that the heuristic framework for innovation that we put forward in the paper can be used not just at the beginning of the innovation process. That's certainly when you'd need it, but you could also loop back through the questions in the framework at any point in the process that you needed to clarify direction and/or lynchpin drivers.

Also, we included more specific examples of the kinds of questions you would ask at each of the question points in the framework. For reference, these are our heuristic innovation framework questions, and the kinds of questions they might lead to:

Does the innovation fit the organization?

Questions that can be asked here might be: Does it leverage our core competencies? Is it aligned with the mission and vision? Does the current organizational structure work? Is there a cultural fit?

Does the innovation provide a strategic advantage?

Questions that can be asked here might be: Does it help us achieve our goals and objectives (revenue, market share, brand presence, operational efficiencies, etc.)? Does it impact the competitive landscape? Does it shift the customer base?

Is there a demand for the innovation?

Questions that can be asked here might be: Will it address an underserved market? Is it an “up-market” product? Will it meet a stated need? Will it meet an unstated need? What will the adoption curve look like?

How might we pursue the innovation?

Questions that can be asked here might be: Can we build it ourselves? Do we need to partner with some other company in order to produce it?

Is there a clear definition of the innovation’s success?

Questions that can be asked here might be: How do we measure this innovation’s value? Do we use our current metrics and measurements? Do we need to create new metrics?

Will management support the innovation?

Questions that can be asked here might be: Are we capable of making these changes? Are we willing to make these changes? What roadblocks might there be? Is it worth the effort? What needs to be done to gain support?

Comments (1) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Innovation Drivers

June 6, 2006

New white paper: 'What Drives Innovation? A Heuristic Framework for Corporate Innovation'

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Posted by Renee Hopkins Callahan

What seems like a very long time ago I wrote a series of posts on Innovation Drivers. There was a lot of discussion around the idea. So my colleague Gwen Ishmael and I decided to conduct a research project on the subject. We thought we would interview executives with innovation responsibilities about some of their successful as well as unsuccessful innovations, and then we could analyze these interviews and catalog a whole set of drivers for innovation.

Well, the process of qualitative research often turns the best-thought-out hypotheses on their heads! Once we had done a number of interviews, it became clear that there was something more important to talk about than the classification of drivers. We presented the results at ESOMAR's Global Innovation conference in early May, and now we have just revisited the research and written a new version of the paper, which is now called What Drives Innovation? A Heuristic Framework for Corporate Innovation. So called because that is what we created out of these varied case studies of successful and unsuccessful innovation initiatives -- a framework of six high-level questions that, when asked at the very beginning stages of an innovation effort, help guide you toward identifying the very important one or two lynchpin drivers -- the conditions that will make or break your innovation.

Here's the paper's introduction:

If you ask, “what drives successful innovation?” you are likely to get these answers:

“Desire for growth.”

“Demand for increased profitability.”


While clearly true, these are superficial answers. There’s no clear way to link these answers to the factors that would lead to success in innovation – or the factors that lead to failure. Innovation is still regarded as somewhat uncontrollable and mysterious, though this perception is beginning to change. The idea that there are factors that, singly and in combination, drive innovation (successful innovation in particular) has just begun to be discussed. An effort to understand innovation drivers – those factors that motivate and shape innovation efforts, and in no small way determine their success or failure – seemed to us to be a promising way to discover what factors make for uccess and failure in innovation.

We interviewed a number of executives from across a wide range of industries, who either were or had been responsible for innovation efforts throughout their careers. Our goal was to find common innovation drivers that could be linked to successes and failures.

During the course of collecting nearly twenty highly diverse innovation stories, we realized these executives were telling us about something much more actionable than drivers. They told us about:

• Questions that were asked and were not asked.

• Issues that were addressed and not addressed.

• Decisions that were and were not made.

• Information that strongly impacted the innovation effort, but was discovered too late to alter the effort.

Ultimately, their stories pointed out that it was these things, rather than the initial driver behind the innovation, that led either to a successful or to a failed innovation. We refer to these critical things as “lynchpin drivers.”

A .PDF of the paper -- a version 1 beta -- can be downloaded here. All comments are welcome -- we are planning an updated version within the next several weeks, and would like as many comments as we can get.

Comments (4) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Innovation Drivers

November 21, 2005

Attention shoppers! Innovation in the grocery store

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Posted by Renee Hopkins Callahan

Disclosure up front: I once worked in marketing at Whole Foods Market, and before that spent part of my journalism career in food journalism. So I usually pay attention to stories about food marketing and food retail. Today's Wall Street Journal (sub reqd) has a fascinating story about the emerging trends that are changing the look of grocery stores.

The particular item that caught my eye was this: "Packaged-food makers, which traditionally stocked the center of the store, are moving to the periphery [of the store] as well to make sure they don't miss the sales shift. H.J. Heinz Co. of Pittsburgh, for one, is creating new refrigerated potato and macaroni dishes. 'This peripheral area of the store is growing'" says William Johnson, chief executive of Heinz. 'Consumers have spoken about the need for fresh food.' "

This is a fascinating story about an unusual innovation driver. In the broad sense, consumer/customer need is the driver -- "consumers have spoken about the need for fresh food." But in a much more specific sense, these new refrigerated potato and macaroni dishes have been created in response to changes in the way people move around in the grocery store.

Food shoppers no longer spend as much time traversing up and down the central aisles of supermarkets. Instead they shop the more interesting peripheral areas -- dairy, bakery, deli, etc. -- which are also, perhaps not so coincidentally, where much grocery-store innovation has taken place. This is where the funnest stuff in the store is, where the Starbucks kiosk is, where the free demo food usually is. One grocery executive in the WSJ article was quoted as saying, "The center aisles haven't changed for 30 years."

So, some new food products are being created solely because companies want to get their products in front of shoppers where they actually are.

Source: "New Food, New Look," by Janet Adamy, Wall Street Journal, 11/21/05

Comments (3) | Category: Innovation Drivers

April 25, 2005

New von Hippel book, Democratizing Innovation, available for download

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Posted by Renee Hopkins Callahan

MIT's Eric von Hippel, most widely known for his research on customer-driven innovation and his lead-user theories, has a new book out that is available for free download via a Creative Commons license. The book, Democratizing Innovation, describes "how the emerging proccess of user-centered, democratized innovation works...[and about] how innovation by users provides a very necessary complement to and feedstock for manufacturer innovation."

The whole idea of using customers as a source as well as a driver of innovation is turning up everywhere these days. Look at blogs themselves -- there's a great example of customers innovating the news-gathering and news-disseminating process itself.

On the opposite end of the spectrum from von Hippel's academic work, the idea is gaining traction as a bona-fide trend, according to, which recently featured "Customer-Made" as an "emerging trend."

Comments (1) | Category: Innovation Drivers

December 1, 2004

Call The Innovation Chiropractor!

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Posted by Renee Hopkins Callahan

Now that I've found Hugh McLeod....I found this post on his blog:

"In any organisation, when a new technological implementation is put in (SAP, Peoplesoft etc), it affects the culture.

When a new piece of culture is implemented (new company vision, ad campaign, whatever), the technology is affected.

Cultural alignment with the technology. Technological alignment with the culture. That is the ideal goal, but it's rarely achieved, especially in times of great change.

Anyway, I have an idea which will make new technology implementations less culturally disruptive to companies. And allow cultures to make better use of their technology."

I don't know what Hugh's idea is -- I didn't see anything further on this posted. Cultural-technological alignment sounds vaguely chiropractic, but I still like the idea. Makes sense. I'm adding it to the list of innovation drivers that I am working on.

At base level as part of the conditions of possibility for innovation, it doesn't really matter whether the cultural-technological alignment works well or doesn't work well. What matters is to find out what it's reality is and understand how that reality affects innovation at a company, for better or worse.

I can certainly think of some instances where a warped cultural-technological alignment stifled innovation. It's probably also true that the other innovation drivers -- whatever drivers exist in a given situation -- need to be aligned.

Wouldn't it be great if you could call an innovation chiropractor to adjust these drivers so that *all* of the conditions of possibility for innovation could be aligned correctly!?

Comments (0) | Category: Innovation Drivers

November 9, 2004

The conditions of possibility for innovation

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Posted by Renee Hopkins Callahan

A number of the commenters on the what drives innovation posts have come to the conclusion that the answer is quite simple: People drive innovation; therefore, the key to driving innovation is to help an organization foster a culture of innovation for its own employees.

For the record, I absolutely agree. And also for the record, I think that agreeing with that statement and still continuing my effort to determine what drives innovation -- other than people -- isn't contradictory.

My reasons go back to almost a year ago, when we had a discussion here on IdeaFlow about whether innovation is a process or a religion. To recap some of that discussion, I'll quote:

"There seem to be two camps regarding innovation -- those who view it as something of a religion, a state of mind, a way of thinking that can't really be measured very well, and those who view it as a process that can be predicted, managed, and measured in order to result in new business models, business processes, and products that will increase growth. The truly successful innovators, I believe, will be those who can embrace both of these kinds of thinking about innovation."

I still think we need to embrace both these kinds of thinking, the same way I think we need to embrace an effort to understand in general and in specific all of the things that drive innovation, as well as to embrace an effort to understand in particular how people drive innovation.

Why? First -- yes, absolutely, people drive innovation. Period.

But -- in order to be successful, innovation must meet whatever objectives have been set for the success of that innovation. In order to determine best how to meet those objectives, people must work within, and with, all the factors that are driving innovation for that company in that particular place and time. In order to do that, people have to know and understand those factors intimately, especially the way these factors affect each other.

I'll call the set of those factors the particular "conditions of possibility" for innovation for that company at that place and time. I use the term "conditions of possibility" here with a specific nod to Foucault, meaning "the set of relations within which...other factors gain their sense." I also like this term because my usage of the term "drivers" causes some confusion with people who think I am talking only of sources of innovation. I see a difference between drivers and sources (about which more in a later post), and using "conditions of possibility" may avoid that confusion.

So, I am not advocating for innovation models and equations here -- I am advocating for people's ability to make sense of the conditions of possibility for innovation, for their immersion in the religion of innovation to be solid enough that they can become masters of the process of innovation.

I'll end with a fascinating comment from Jeffrey Baumgartner:

"Motivating corporate innovation also touches upon a critical issue that is largely ignored in innovation: organisational versus individual innovation. It is relatively easy to determine what motivates an individual to innovate. Indeed, you can write it into a book, give the book to the individual and very possibly she will agree with what is in the book and behave in a more innovative manner.

"Moreover, if she runs a small company - with no more than a handful of staff - she can even use what she has learned to make her company more innovative. Small individually-owned and -operated companies are generally motivated by the owner-manager.

"But, a medium-sized or large company cannot pick up a book and be motivated to be more innovative. Likewise, the CEO cannot wave a magic wand and transform her company into an innovative one, no matter what she has just read.

"And while one might assume that if a large company was full of innovative people it would naturally be innovative itself, that would be wrong."

Baumgartner goes on to talk about some of the things he thinks medium to large companies need to have in place in order to be innovative, including a innovative culture, an idea management system, and a budget that will accommodate risk-taking. It's worth reading.

Comments (1) | Category: Innovation Drivers

October 26, 2004

More on innovation drivers

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Posted by Renee Hopkins Callahan

In the two years since I've been writing IdeaFlow, I've never posted anything that has received the response than What Drives Innovation? has received.

It's a good thing, because I do intend to continue to explore that topic. Because there've been a lot of comments on the blog, and a lot of you only see the posts in email, I'm going to summarize and comment on some of the comments here in a post. To read the entire set of comments, clickhere

John Wolpert commented by email that I should take a look at Eric von Hippel's The Sources of Innovation . Wrote John: "Eric von Hippel is the undisputed leader of this sort of inquiry. His Sources of Innovation is a staple, and I'm sure you've heard of or read it. There is quantitative support for your point there in his research on user-driven innovation, but I can't recall where in his studies the lion's share of sources came from."

I've got the book, am looking at it, but haven't yet found appropriate quantitative support for my point. I agree with John though -- von Hippel's focus on the economics of innovation (or, an "analysis of the 'temporary rents' or economic profits expected by potential innovators) does speak to my idea about the drivers of innovation. Von Hippel's focus was narrower -- he was looking for the "functional source of innovation," while I would like to be able to
sketch out all the sources in a given situation, or all the possible sources. Not all of these sources are going to be functional, by von Hippel's definition. But they will still be drivers.

David Locke commented: "Product managers show up after version 1.0. Customers start getting heard sometime after that. You might also notice that innovation moves from radical to continuous with the advent of the product managers. If we want to change this, we need to start with independent product managers that have a collection of widely distributed, heterogeneous customers. These product managers would in turn establish a market for the requirement orginating from this network."

Also -- "Typically, marketing is going to bias the customer base away from the heterogeneous. ... Does this imply that the company has no chance to find a radical innovation after the advent of the product manager? Is the arrival of the product manager the end of radical innovation?"

My take -- According to Clayton Christensen, the established customer is never going to be the source of radical, disruptive innovation. Christensen places part of the blame on traditional marketing segmentation, and I don't disagree. But perhaps it's more simple -- customers drive continuous innovation, while consumers drive radical innovation. By "consumers" I mean people who are NOT customers yet, because they have needs you are not meeting, that are quite radically different form the needs of your existing customers. Anthony Ulwick writes a lot about this too.

Naina Redhu listed some external factors other than customers: regulations, the market, competitors, and global changes. These are great additions to the external drivers I had mentioned: new technology which may be coming from outside), competition, suppliers. What's fascinating to me is that the particulars of the list will probably be constantly shifting. It would be great to sketch out the overall picture, though.

Ben Simonton commented: "Innovation drivers will always exist, but whether or not they will be noticed and acted upon mostly depends on the extent to which company leadership causes employees to use their brain at work." He went on to describe a "superior leadership strategy" that will make employees innovative.

He brushed up against something that's important but that I did not point out in my original post -- that primarily it will be company employees who notice and act on innovation drivers. I think this is true for the most part whether the drivers are internal or external.

Amy Pearl responded to Ben's comment, saying that she had just left a company that had a reputation as an innovators, but "I learned that innovations encounter huge resistance when they run against what has been defined as "standard practice" or they fall outside those groups charged with "being innovative". While it is clear that standards need to be in place, there is a new need to create internal strategies that enable innovations (especially with proven track records) to be recognized and examined for the value they might bring to the larger organization."

She asked a question I'm going to put out to everyone: "I would be interested in learning what new procedures, policies, or practices companies are adopting or developing to literally identify and recognize, and subsequently analyze, true innovations. What do companies do, in concrete terms, that raise up a new practice or strategy and allow it to flourish, as well as be explored? I have enjoyed reviewing as a company that seems to have figured out ways to support its growth... Any others?"

Comments (4) | Category: Innovation Drivers

October 14, 2004

What Drives Innovation?

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Posted by Renee Hopkins Callahan

What drives innovation?

Here's my hypothesis: The particular driver (or drivers, since I suspect there's always more than one) of a company's innovation efforts determines how that company practices innovation. The "fit" between the original innovation drivers, and the ways in which innovation is conducted at a particular company, in large part determines the outcome of the innovation.

And when I say "outcome" I mean not only the particular result -- the new/improved product, service, process, or business model. I also mean the success or failure of the effort itself, and how the learnings from that success or failure are brought back in to the company. I think that perhaps all, or some, of this can be predicted to some degree by understanding what the original set of innovation drivers was.

So what are some innovation drivers? The biggest one is likely desire for growth. Some of the others might include availability of new technology, competition, suppliers, the company leadership, and customers. These are the easy ones to see.

It's easy to imagine how a company's innovation effort and results would differ if the main driver was the discovery of a new technology that the company wanted to commercialize, than it would be if the main driver of the innovation was that the company's main supplier started to use RFID and the company wanted to take advantage of that.

While I'm within at least shouting distance of the topic of customers and innovation, I want to pass along a great quote I found in a Fortune Q&A interview with Gary Hamel from August 23, 2004 (sub only):

Q. Do customers drive innovation?

A: Every industry on the planet is being reinvented from the customer backwards. Companies need to bring as much innovation to the demand chain as they brought to the supply chain. How do customers learn about this product or service? How do they pay for it? Acquire it? Use it? Experience it? And how do they build a relationship over time with the vendor?

Comments (9) | Category: Innovation Drivers