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Get Your Program for Sustainable Innovation in Gear

By Robert Brands, Brands & Company, LLC | February 12, 2010

Here are some tips to spark the creative process.

Now, more than ever, delivering sustainable innovation is critical to our industry’s long-term economic health. We are in an innovation-driven business.We innovate, or we perish. Yet all too frequently, innovation programs languish in times of economic uncertainty.
Recent reports by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office show a 2.3% drop in U.S. patent filings while U.S. patents issued to foreign businesses jumped 6.3%. Further, last year was the first time since 1996 in which U.S. businesses and inventors filed fewer patents compared with the previous year.

Following key innovation “imperatives” in time of recession is not only doable, but necessary for survival in today’s highly competitive marketplace. Whether you represent a brand owner or supplier, if you’re on this website, you know that recessions cut into budgets, and often the first thing to go is the R&D budget.Sure, patents are a controllable expense. But remember this: innovation is the secret to outperforming the competition. When the going gets tough, cutting innovation for the sake of short-term expense control erodes our competitive edge and only our competitors stand to benefit.

The Path to Innovation Starts at the Top

Based upon my experience, the key imperatives to creation of a successful, lasting innovation strategy are:
1. Inspire;
2. No Risk, No Innovation;
3. New Product Development;
4. Ownership;
5. Value Creation;
6. Accountability;
7. Training and Coaching;
8. Idea Management;
9. Observe and Measure; and
10. Net Result and Reward.

These 10 rules are the cornerstone of innovation programs that deliver profitable growth through innovation. Like the original “Robert’s Rules of Order,” understanding “Roberts Rules of Innovation” will help you intelligently create order from the chaos imposed by today’s misguided slashing of R&D budgets.

But where to begin? Start with the question: How inspired is your organization? In a survey conducted by half the respondents answered “Inspiration”to the following question: Which elements of an Innovation Process and/or culture are in place today?

The good news was that half of those responding organizations realized the need for inspiration. The bad news was that just as many didn’t recognize the need or haven’t put the process in place.
From the CEO’s suite to the rank and file, does your company encourage inspiration and welcome vision across the organization? In writing Robert’s Rules of Innovation, we sought to encourage the creative spark that ignites broader thinking and inspiration. Sustainable inspiration is vital to continued growth of the organization, but you must first identify its source within your organization and channel and nurture that wellspring.

About Robert's Rules of Innovation
Robert’s Rules of Innovation (ISBN # 978-0470596999), a roadmap for success through sustainable Innovation written by Robert Brands with Martin Kleinman and published by John Wiley & Sons, is now available in bookstores and via
online booksellers.

Timely, accessible and indispensable, the message of Robert’s Rules of Innovation is clear: innovation is the lifeblood of business and the secret to outperforming the competition. Direct and practical, the book is a must-read for managers at all levels.

The cornerstone of the book is Brands’ 10 essential rules of Innovation that help business leaders achieve profitable growth.

“Our book – like the original Robert’s Rules of Order – intelligently and entertainingly creates order from the chaos imposed by today’s misguided slashing of R&D budgets,” Brands said.

The book's 10 imperatives are distilled from Brands’ wealth of experience as a leader of international product development teams.They are the guiding principles today’s business leaders need to build, nurture and profit from their innovation programs.

Rich with real-life examples, contributed by Brands and his international network of Innovate-For-Success experts, the book is a must-read for managers who know, in their gut, that – today – it’s Innovate, or Perish.

For updates and to stay posted on the book publishing date and events, please register at:

Where does the inspiration exist within your organization? We’ve found that inspiration extends from the CEO to the customer service help desk, from the factory floor to the retail showroom, from the longest-tenured employee to the newest hire and all the way to the customer visiting your website. No one in the organization deserves a pass from thinking creatively about how to improve the company, its products or its processes.

As CEO at Airspray—the company that created the innovative soap dispensing product that transformed liquid soap into a foamy cleanser—I knew an inspired team was essential to our success. That vision unleashed upon consumer markets a novel productand created significant value for the company and stakeholders when Airspray was acquired in 2006 for Euro 150 million, or a 15x EBIT sale.

Seven Steps for Inspiration that Builds Innovation

While thoughtful leadership fueled innovation at Airspray and leading organizations such as Apple, inspiration remains the spark that drives the creative process.As your organization works towards its goal of profitable, sustainable innovation, remember these seven tips:

Make Inspiration An Imperative. In Robert’s Rules of Innovation, we write that successful innovation in an organization is fueled by many imperatives: leadership, ownership, accountability, risk and reward and value creation, for example. None is more important, though, than inspiration. An inspired leader, organization and process engages the team, and heightens chance of success.

Identify and Empower a Chief Innovation Officer. The processes of inspiration and innovation need a champion, someone who helps develop the ideas, foster an environment that encourages creativity, camaraderie and esprit de corps, and steers the organization toward greatness.The CIO—not to be confused with the chief information officer—is the inspiration quarterback, the team leader who has the authority to drive projects through the pipelines.

Set Shared Goals. Where do you want your organization to go today—and tomorrow? Though the CIO is the leader (after the CEO or other top executive), the team must embrace the challenge as a shared goal to be met together.

Create the Culture... Inspiration is bigger than an individual; it permeates the organization. Successful inspiration that fuels innovation transcends hierarchy and silos. It’s not “just” the CIO’s job. It needs to be embraced by everyone. Together, the team enjoys success and learns from the lessons of failure.

…And Not Just for the Near-Term. Life and business are littered with uncompleted tasks. Inspiration that leads to innovation is a project that must be seen through.

Observe, Measure and Know. Inspiration—like innovation itself —must be measured to gauge performance and ensure success. Each project team must have a leader who shepherds projects to their respective waypoints and end goals. Create processes and milestones. Establish checkpoints to weigh accomplishments.

Never Relent. Inspiration is a life-long calling. Herb Kohler, the inspired, ingenious chairman of the plumbing fixture company that bears his name, still heads his company’s monthly new product development meetings—that is, when he’s not collaborating with legendary golf course designer Pete Dye. At a time when his peers are kicking back and enjoying the fruits of their labors, Kohler remains committed to his company’s NPD and the inspiration behind it.

Inspiration and Your Culture of Innovation

The importance of inspiration in creating and/or enhancing your culture of profitable, sustainable innovation cannot be underestimated. Remember, that inspiration is but one of the imperatives that serve as the foundation of your innovation initiative.

These rules must be understood, implemented, maintained and fiercely protected in order for your innovation program to succeed. This holds true even in the face of tremendous economic pressure to cut costs. For your business to out-maneuver the competition—and for our economy to continue to pace the world—we must challenge ourselves to value and foster sustainable innovation.

About the Author
Industry veteran Robert Brands – past managing director of the Rexam Plastics Personal Care Division – is the founder of Brands & Company, LLC, an international consultancy ( dedicated to helping business leaders create sustainable innovation programs that deliver profitable growth.

Brands has more than a quarter-century of experience in creating innovative, breakthrough products at such firms as Kohler Company, Sylvania and Philips Lighting. As managing director of the Rexam Plastics Personal Care Division, Brands led a global team of operations, marketing and NPD professionals who developed products found in households throughout the world.

The former leader of Airspray N.V., Brands led the company forward to become the worldwide leader in innovative personal care product packaging – including the non-aerosol, instant-foaming hand soap, considered one of that industry’s biggest breakthrough product designs in the last 25 years.