Every organization, small or large is talking about innovation to be developed as a key strength within their organization. Every organization has an innovation program running at some maturity, but nothing really breakthrough comes out of these innovation programs. So, what’s wrong?

Every organization wants to innovate, but no organization wants to fail.

People do not remember (everyone knows but conveniently forgets) that not all innovation projects will succeed and there is very little that you can do to forecast which one’s will in fact succeed.

In that sense, i think innovation projects are like the Movie business and there is a lot that organizations can learn from studios and production houses on how to manage innovation projects.

Mr. Jack Valenti, the long-time president and CEO of the Motion Picture Association of America, once mentioned that

No one can tell you how a movie is going to do in the marketplace… not until the film opens in darkened theater and sparks fly up between the screen and the audience.

So it is with innovation projects. You can only find out the project’s success or failure once they come in contact with the real world and its user base.

There is no sure fire way to predict which movie will be a block-buster. Sure, there are some basic ingredients that create the table stakes, for example,

  • a good script
  • a good team of people making the movie
  • good marketing and distribution.
  • The ability of the film to connect with its customers on an emotional level is also key for its success.
  • Discipline – Ability of the producer and director to stay disciplined in the making of the movie to balance the content of the film with the budget allocated for the film and to realize when one needs to give in to the demand of the other, all based on the idea of the film and the film only.
  • Finally, the movie needs to be released to its audience and the audience decides if the film is a success or not – not the production house.
  • Each production house has multiple film projects on the floor at any time. Once the film is green lighted, the entire machinery starts out with one single goal – to bring the movie out.

But these only provides the production house a stake in the business and does not guarantee success.

So it is with innovation projects. There are some basic ingredients that can set-you up for success.

  • You need to have a good “insight” based on which you start an innovation project.
  • The team that is working on the project is critical.
  • The more you are in touch with the reality while working on the project the better the chances are for the success.
  • Is the end result able to touch an emotional cord with the end-user or consumer?
  • The ability of the team to stay on course with the budget and at the same time able to procure additional budgets if the idea or the project demands it. One can’t re-count how many innovation projects are killed for the lack of additional rounds of funding.
  • As Seth Godin keeps talking about the need to “Ship”. The final judge of an innovation project should always be the customers for whom the product/service is created using the project. You will be surprised to know how many innovation projects never see this day because of some executive in the organization deciding that this will not work and kills the project. This is the single most critical aspect of innovation that can have dramatic influence of the amount of innovations that comes out of an organization.
  • If you want to create a culture of innovation, you need to ensure that you need to have multiple innovation projects going at any point in time and if once a project is green-lighted, you need to allow it to see the light of the day by shipping the result of the project and let the customer decide.

The success rate of the movie business is crazily screwed. The number of block-busters in a year from a production house could be a handful, but still they keep making & releasing a lot of movies. You will also find that each production house also specializes on a genre of movies, that they are comfortable making based on different criteria.

So it is with organizations that want to foster innovation. The number of innovations that will prove to be block-buster will be few, a few will turn out to be decent success and few will bomb poorly. But the overall investment in the projects will still be fueled by the block-busters and the decent successes.

So, if you want those block-busters, you still need to be prepared for the one’s that fail badly.