How to Execute Innovation in Any Organization

Beyond the Idea: How to Execute Innovation in Any Organization Hardcover

by Vijay Govindarajan  (Author) , Chris Trimble (Author)

The New York Times bestselling authors of Reverse Innovation and How Stella Saved the Farm distill more than a decade of exclusive research into one short, powerful, action-oriented book.

Companies stumble when they imagine that innovation is mostly about ideas. The reality is that ideas are only beginnings. Indeed, even a company with the world’s best idea still faces a devilish challenge: it must build the business of tomorrow without endangering the business of today.

Vijay Govindarajan and Chris Trimble are the world’s leading authorities on the successful management of innovation. In Beyond the Idea, they distill more than a decade of research and insight into a practical, accessible, read-at-one-sitting handbook that offers invaluable guidance for anyone charged with making innovation happen: executives, managers, consultants, project leaders, and teams.

By offering specific action steps, Beyond the Idea extends the elegant conceptual insights from How Stella  Saved the Farm, Govindarajan and Trimble’s parable. Beyond the Idea shows exactly how to:

Build a team with a very particular structure, one that makes it possible to simultaneously build something new and sustain what exists.

Manage any innovation initiative as a disciplined experiment.

Implement three distinct models for moving from ideas to action.

Beyond the Idea is an essential book for any business that recognizes that innovation always has been, and always will be, the key to long term growth and vitality.


Editorial Reviews


Praise for Reverse Innovation:


“This book is a defining work on how we invest in and engage in the future.” — William Green, Executive Chairman, Accenture


“Unique and important work, hard-hitting examples, detailed and actionable steps, and clear explanations.” — Omar Ishrak, Chairman and CEO, Medtronic, Inc.


“The global community is now so networked that innovation can come from just about anywhere and make an impact everywhere.” — John T. Chambers, Chairman and CEO, Cisco Systems


Praise for How Stella Saved the Farm:

“This elegant story, rich in insight into what it takes to make innovation happen, has already had tremendous impact in GE executive development programs and on key innovation projects.” — Stephen Liguori, Executive Director, Global Innovation and New Models, General Electric

“Govindarajan and Trimble have managed to do the unthinkable — develop  a case study that is both seriously thought-provoking and truly entertaining.” — Dolph Johnson, Senior Vice President, Human Resources, Hasbro

“We have found How Stella Saved the Farm to be a very useful tool for raising the key challenges in organizing and executing innovation initiatives.” — James Euchner, VP, Global Innovation at The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company

“Deere has already held innovation workshops based on Stella, with very positive results. This is a powerful, practical tool for learning and executive development.” — Mary Jones, Vice President Global Human Resources, Deere & Company

“At first glance, I was skeptical. By the end, I was blown away. In a quick, fun read I found brilliant simplicity, capturing best practices for enabling and managing innovation. I continue to recommend Stella to executives seeking to turn new ideas into material business outcomes.” —Roy Rosin, former Vice President of Innovation, Intuit

About the Author

VIJAY GOVINDARAJAN (VG) is the Earl C. Daum 1924 Professor of International Business at Tuck at Dartmouth. In the latest global ranking of management thinkers, VG came in third place. He lives in New Hampshire.


CHRIS TRIMBLE, also on the faculty at Tuck, has been an advisor for dozens of top corporations. With Govindarajan he co-authored The New York Times bestseller Reverse Innovation (2012) and How Stella Saved the Farm (2013).He lives in Vermont.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.


Innovation is a two-part challenge. Part one is ideas; part two is execution.
To win, you have to succeed at both. Many companies, however, expend most or nearly all of their energies on part one. As such, they tend to produce a great many ideas on paper that never become anything more than … ideas on paper.
The most important message in Beyond the Idea is very simple: Part two, innovation execution, is its own unique discipline. It requires time, energy, and distinct thinking. Unfortunately, few companies treat it as such. In fact, few companies give it much thought at all.
Companies wishing to improve at innovation must shift a substantial portion of their time and energy to part two, the other side of innovation. Doing so is not easy. The gravitational pull toward the front end of innovation is powerful. For one thing, the front end has the natural advantage of being first in the sequence. You can’t even get started without an idea!
That’s not all. Most everyone instinctively agrees that the world needs more front-end activity—more imagination, more creativity, more out-of-the-box thinking. Strategists see innovation as the pathway to disrupting your competition. Scientists and engineers link innovation to technological breakthroughs. Romantics see innovation as dramatic advances delivered by chance meetings and chance occurrences; by magic and by luck.
And then there is the icing on the cake—the rewards. We put idea people on a pedestal. We celebrate them, we promote them. We mythologize inventors and their inventions.
As such, it’s a snap to entice people into the front end. Getting people to attend creative brainstorming sessions, for example, rarely requires heavy persuasion. The front end offers the possibility of an exciting discovery, a eureka moment, an unexpected insight. It is, plainly put, fun.
The other side of innovation, on the other hand, is about practical matters. It is about getting the work done. It is blood, sweat, and tears. It is, plainly put, less fun.
Indeed, many people withdraw when it comes time to execute. Suddenly, innovation becomes just one more thing on a crowded agenda. Rather than the promise of outsize rewards, many will anticipate being blamed if the initiative does not go as well as hoped.
No wonder, then, that the front end gets all of the attention. No wonder that part two lives in part one’s long shadow. This imbalance of attention shows up on many maps that companies create of the innovation process. The typical map breaks down the front end of innovation into several substeps—for example, generating ideas, cross-pollinating ideas, evaluating ideas, selecting the best ideas. Then, on the far right side of the page, just barely hanging on in the consciousness of the mapmakers, is that one final step: execution.
These maps speak volumes. They show just how dramatically innovation execution is underestimated. The attitude is: The real innovation challenge is the epic search for the breakthrough idea! What is part two? That’s just getting the work done!
Be careful. Many companies are quite confident that they excel at execution of day-to-day operations. Therefore, they mistakenly conclude, they must be equally good at executing innovation. Unfortunately, comparing the two is like comparing a simple somersault to a triple flip with a quadruple twist. There really is no comparison.
So why is innovation execution so hard? Simply put, organizations are not built for it. Quite to the contrary, they are built for ongoing operations. They are built to be Performance Engines.
A well-run Performance Engine is the master of many challenges. It excels at serving today’s customers and fighting today’s rivals. It is terrific at driving for efficiency by holding employees accountable. It is on time, on budget, and on spec—every day, every week, and every month. It delivers bottom-line results each and every quarter. Like a finely crafted Swiss timepiece, a great Performance Engine never misses a beat.
As impressive as this may be, the Performance Engine confronts innovation with high hurdles. Innovation promises short-term pain for long-term gain, but the Performance Engine wants to win now. Innovation requires experimentation; the Performance Engine demands efficiency. Innovations sometimes fail; the Performance Engine struggles to forgive.
These contrasts illustrate the first law of the other side of innovation: Innovation and ongoing operations are always and inevitably in conflict.
One indicator of just how deep the incompatibilities run is the fundamental accounting premise that a business is an ongoing concern, meaning that the current period will look an awful lot like the prior one. This is, of course, the antithesis of innovation.
The most fundamental source of conflict, however, lies in the method of the Performance Engine. This method is the same in every industry, in every part of the world, and in every type of organization—including private sector, public sector, and social sector organizations. It is to try to make every process and every activity as repeatable and as predictable as possible.
There is great power in both. When a process is repeatable, it is possible to break the process into small tasks and have people specialize. For centuries, specialization of labor has been recognized as a remarkable expedient to efficiency. Of equal importance, when a process becomes predictable, performance standards can be set and employees can be held accountable for very specific and quantified results.
Repeatability and predictability may be foundational for the Performance Engine, but they are also the antithesis of innovation. Far from being repeatable, innovation initiatives are intentional departures from the past. Far from being predictable, innovation initiatives proceed into territory in which there is no precedent upon which to base any forecast.
The Performance Engine strives for repeatable and predictable, but innovation is, by nature, nonroutine and uncertain. These are the fundamental incompatibilities between innovation and ongoing operations. They strike right at the heart of how managers are trained and how organizations are designed.
With such deep incompatibilities, perhaps the solution is to tear down the Performance Engine and rebuild organizations from scratch! Alas, we cannot. It is not that simple.
A well-run Performance Engine is a very powerful asset. Indeed, it is the foundation for an organization’s well-being. Great companies have great Performance Engines. Without one, customers leave, costs rise, profits fall, and organizations fall apart.
There may be deep incompatibilities, but that does not make the Performance Engine the enemy. In fact, without profits from the Performance Engine, there is no funding for innovation. Furthermore, the aspiration of every innovation initiative is to someday be just like the Performance Engine—successful, stable, and profitable.
Therefore, throughout this book, we have taken as our first obligation that we must do no harm. The challenge is not just to make innovation happen, but to do so while simultaneously excelling at ongoing operations. The challenge is to tackle two very different activities—in fact, two diametrically opposed activities—at the same time.
We think you will agree, then, that we have our work cut out for us.
Learning about innovation can feel daunting, in part because there are so many innovation types. Beyond the familiar distinction between sustaining and disruptive categories, innovations have also been described as incremental, radical, strategic, reverse, architectural, modular, competence enhancing, and competence destroying. There are also process innovations, product innovations, adjacency innovations, and business model innovations. It is enough to make your head spin.
These categorizations are useful—but only on the front end of innovation. When setting strategy, when selecting the best of many possible ideas, or when trying to estimate an innovation’s potential market impact, understanding the distinctions between the many innovation types can help.
The good news for Beyond the Idea, however, is that all of these categorizations are absolutely irrelevant on the other side. As such, we can leave this complexity behind and go with a very simple definition: An innovation initiativeis any project that is new to your organization (not necessarily new to the world) and has an uncertain outcome.
Definition of an Innovation Initiative
Any project that is new to your organization and has an uncertain outcome.
The word project is important. On the other side of innovation, ideas become projects that need to be executed. In a sense, Beyond the Idea is about project management. That makes it sound pedestrian, but our focus is on projects that carry a high degree of difficulty because they are new and uncertain, and because they are in direct conflict with the Performance Engine. This takes us well outside of the realm of traditional project management techniques—which presume that a project has a precedent, that the necessary resources are well understood and available, and that the outcomes are relatively predictable.
Many people may want to judge some initiatives as more “innovative” than others. Some may even want to draw a line. These initiatives “count” as innovative, those do not. However, we have never found it to be useful to try to assess “innovativeness” or to draw a line that excludes some initiatives. The criteria for doing so are inevitably vague. Besides, doing so only seems to start…


About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (, the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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