What’s Your Key Innovation Metric?

To somehow follow-up on yesterday’s post, another question that I find extremely revealing about the strategy of any company is: what’s your key innovation metric?

Here again, no room for big formulas or complex constructions. If you have to gauge if your company is doing well on innovation, what would you look at and measure? The intent is not to ask a trick a question. That being said, the question packs a deep context:

  • What does innovation mean to you?
  • How do you define « doing well »?
  • Do you have a global or a symptomatic metric?
  • Over what cycle or at what frequency are you measuring?
  • Are you giving a lagging, on-going or leading metric?

The biggest tell will be to see if you answer without blinking. Because, of course, you would have a way to measure innovation that is shared within your company.

The most frequent types of answers I get about a company innovation metric are A) the amount of patents, the number of people in R&D, or simply the amount of money spent on tech and/or new projects ; or B) an example of a recent initiative (and in that case, very often a collaboration with another company famous for its innovation skills).

Answer A) is always worrying. Patents, R&D spendings and all that jazz are poorly correlated to innovation. Best case scenario it is linked to invention (creating new technology), not innovation (changing the market status quo).

And, answer B) can be anything. It can demonstrate enthusiasm because if you don’t have a strategy about innovation yet, you are starting something. Or it can show self-deception if you think that pairing your logo to a GAFA (or a BATX) means instant magic.

Companies giving what I call symptomatic metrics are the one I tend to eventually consider as the best players in the innovation game. A symptomatic metric can be « We try to fail at least 12 projects every quarter. » or « We launch a product in a market that we know nothing about every 6 months. » That doesn’t disclose your strategy or your innovation process, but it speaks volume about your innovation culture. It means you get that innovation is not about finding the best idea on the planet, putting the best team in a remote facility to develop it in stealth mode, and sinking as much money possible on this moonshot.

No, you get that innovation is messy, difficult to corner in a pipeline, even less in a process. Which means that for you, an innovation metric is borderline an oxymoron. Not completely impossible to define, but something very personal to your company culture that very few other companies would have a reason to use.

It also means that any generic (or « by the book ») answer to this question should be worrying.