Your Perspective May Undermine Innovation and Value Creation

Every company, whether privately owned or with public stockholders, is concerned about its valuation. The value of an enterprise is enhanced when its future growth opportunities are well understood, documented, and pursued. Why is it, then, that so many small to medium size enterprises fail to articulate a compelling innovation strategy that will fuel the needed growth? Kevin McFarthing, who operates the Innovation Fixer consulting firm, argues that it can be a lack of perspective. He has seen too many companies obsessed with current period performance of the exclusion of the long term “big rocks” that must be put in place to build a foundation for sustainable success.

McFarthing evokes the Three Horizons model of the late 20th century in many consulting projects as a means to draw corporate executives’ focus into more far-reaching and significant perspective. Baghai, Coley and White first outlined the model in “The Alchemy of Growth” in 1999. Markets and technology are seen as drivers in the model and are depicted in the diagram below (from Tim Kastelle’s blog).

Three Horizons Model


McFarthing’s interpretation of the Three Horizons model is as follows:

The Three Horizons process forces an assessment of technology strengths and market dynamics. It then forces a view of how much resource is allocated to each of the Three Horizons. The example above shows Google’s allocation of 70/20/10, which will differ for different companies in each category. It also forces a portfolio approach to innovation.

It also helps to retain the concept of emergent strategy in your approach to the innovation portfolio, as the days of fixed long term planning are diminishing…You can’t just write a five-year plan, lock it down and expect it to deliver. Large companies must continually revise their perspective of the role radical innovation will play in their growth.

The balance of the projects and resource applied to each element of the portfolio should be decided by the top team in the company, and be dictated by corporate strategy. Incidentally, it’s not just the resource that should follow a strategic allocation; the use of management time should also follow the Horizon split. Too often resource is applied to the opportunities on the edge, but thinking time is taken up by the short term. It should be followed through, and the temptation to reallocate Horizon Three resources to fight Horizon One fires should be resisted.

Where the application of these principles falls apart in many organizations is in the allocation of strategic (often scarce and/or over-committed) resources to pursue what has been stated as a priority. You know the saying, “You gotta walk the talk.” Breakthrough innovation, then, must move from strategy and communications (though it needs to be thoughtfully developed therein) to execution via competent actions. The right combination of talent, unique skills, and initiative, when coupled with appropriate resources, produces an environment ripe for innovation to occur.  While some organizations are able to spur internal innovation, most rely on open innovation (external sources) to re-energize their enterprises. Even large companies like Kraft Foods estimated that 98% of IP in the food industry existed outside Kraft. Knowing that an industry leader like Kraft saw value in eliciting the help of others should embolden your team to admit the need for outside help.

Three Horizons, while instructional, is not the only model used to enhance one’s perspective on the opportunity for innovation. What these models have in common, according to McFarthing, are the following principles:

  • Make space in your portfolio for bets on radical innovation;
  • Balance your portfolio over different time frames;
  • Balance your portfolio over different technology needs;
  • Exploit the potential offered by Open Innovation;
  • Balance your portfolio over different market opportunities;
  • In all cases, stretch your view and take a broader perspective.

Sounds like good risk management, creative strategy, and a plan for sustainability rolled into one approach!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s