The Key Ingredients Of A Successful Innovation Strategy

Industry insight: Miguel Encarnacao, SVP & Chief Innovation Officer at ACT


Ahead of his presentation at the Chief Innovation Officer Summit in New York this December 5&6, we spoke to Miguel Encarnacao, SVP & Chief Innovation Officer at ACT.

A cross-industry innovation leader for nearly two decades, serial entrepreneur, and recognized research scientist in emerging technologies - Dr. L. Miguel Encarnação is leading ACT’s transformation into becoming an innovation force in the K-through-career assessment and EdTech industries. Prior to joining ACT in 2011, Miguel led emerging technology innovation in healthcare at Fortune 100 Humana Inc. He also founded and directed a non-profit vocational school of higher education, and led advanced applied technology R&D, and international for-profit spin-off activities at the Fraunhofer Society. He is an adjunct professor of computer science, the editor-in-chief of the IEEE Computer Graphics and Applications magazine, and the author of numerous contributions to peer-reviewed journals and conferences. Miguel has BS and MS in Computer Science and Business Economics, as well as a Ph.D. in Computer Science, with an emphasis on Human-Computer Interaction and Data Visualization.

How did you get started in your career?

I entered innovation strategy and management from the emerging technology side, having spent over a decade in scientific applied R&D, in such exciting areas as Data Visualization, Virtual and Augmented Reality, Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence.

What are the main challenges that companies face when they deliver innovation?

The main challenge might be that innovation cannot really be 'shrink-wrapped' and 'delivered', but a true innovation is decided by the market success, and thus, the customer adoption, which is often hard to predict. Market-reading innovation strategies just give you what everybody (including your competition) already knows, while needs-seeking strategies bear a higher risk of misreading customers’ desires. Purely technology-driven innovation tends to be short-lived and very volatile when it comes to customer expectations in the rapidly changing technological environment. So, having the right balance, expectations, mechanisms, and culture to construct a company-appropriate innovation portfolio might be the biggest challenge for sustainable innovation delivery, especially since it requires to take a long-term view on corporate innovation.

What are the key ingredients of a successful innovation strategy?

The right people, processes, platforms, partners, and perspective on innovation:

  • People root the innovation strategy (IS) in a corporate history, culture, core capabilities, and competitive differentiation
  • Platforms allow for innovation to scale and overcome time and distance in the global innovation
  • Partners add diversity, flexibility, versatility, and risk-management to the innovation strategy and execution
  • Finally, the right, long-term perspective on IS provides room for failure, learning, hype control, and environmental adaptation, allowing for the IS to innovate itself over time

Processes ensure efficiency, consistency, and repeatability, and thus, allow for tight integration of the IS with other corporate drivers.

What are the characteristics of a failed innovation strategy?

Some symptoms include:

  • The 'innovation CEO' leaves and everything goes back to when innovation wasn't a part of the marching orders.
  • Innovation is measured exclusively by short-term ROI
  • All innovation efforts are organic/internal, or all are inorganic/external
  • Innovation strategy and corporate strategy compete with one another
  • The head scientist is made (or considered) the Chief Innovator
  • Innovation efforts compete on an annual basis with operational corporate initiatives
  • … and the list goes on and on

How important is it to collaboration in driving innovation in the enterprise ecosystem overall?

Collaboration is essential if done right. Collaboration between internal stakeholders, with external partners, and collaboration — or better co-creation — with the actual customers. This is more than occasional meetings and comparing notes. This is about mutual understanding, appreciation, taking each others’ positions, and jointly iterating towards common visions.

Who is better at innovating Corporations or Startups, and why do you think this is the case?

This is the wrong question. Both have different motivations, drivers, and measures of success for innovation. They have different roles to play and need to understand and appreciate what each is bringing to the ecosystem. The right question would be WHERE do they complement or conflict with each other towards mutually beneficial relationships, in a broader innovation ecosystem.

What will you be talking about in your presentation?

I will be talking about the human side of innovation, where different stakeholders need to be acknowledged, understood, and their intrinsic needs addressed, in order for them to constructively participate in the broader innovation ecosystem. Often, this has little to do with rationalizing about innovation’s potential value and more about translating such value into stakeholders’ perspective and language.

You can hear from Miguel and other industry leaders at the Chief Innovation Officer Summit, taking place in New York this December 5&6.


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