Unlocking the Critical Functions for Innovation (Part 3/3)

Sunday, April 15, 2018
Author: Alan Fusfeld

Unlocking the Critical Functions for Innovation (Part 3/3)

3. How Do We Unlock and Leverage the Critical Functions for Innovation?

a. Which “tools” do we have?

You should begin with an assessment of yourself and your colleagues.

As an informal assessment, you might describe each other’s strongest and weakest capabilities using the definitions above of each of the critical functions. This is a self-perception assessment and can be done alone or as a team.

Alternatively, you might meet with your colleagues, make a list of past innovations from your organization’s recent history, and note which person carried out each critical function. This is an empirical assessment and also can be done alone or in a group.

You might also select a known innovation such as the Apple iPod and ask yourself which critical functions would have been most attractive for you to have performed. This is a projected assessment and is done alone.

A formal assessment uses a third party (such as a consultant) or a survey using specific questions that have been developed and tested with known innovators.
Based on the concept of the Critical Function for Innovation, BCon have developed Innovation Drivers Survey for teams and organizations to identify its innovation ability.

However it is done, an assessment of your critical functions skills should show you which skills are current strengths, which skills have potential for development and which ones are not natural to you. When your assessment is combined with those of your colleagues, you will then know how many people have skills are overall strengths for your team or your organization, how many people and in which skills is there potential for development, and which skills are in general weak and may be considered missing.

You will often find common sets of critical functions that are parallel strengths. Idea Generation and Entrepreneurship are often found together. Other common pairings are Idea Generation and Information Gatekeeping, Project Management and Problem Solving, and Sponsorship and Quality Control.


b. Assembling the Tools” to Leverage the Critical Functions for Innovation

Each stage of innovation requires different “tools”. In other words, at the initiation of an innovation project different critical functions are needed versus later in the process. At the beginning, you need strong skills in Idea Generation and Entrepreneurship. Later you need Information Gatekeeping, Problem Solving, and Project Management. Finally, you need Sponsorship and Quality Control.

Ensuring that an innovation has the right critical functions skills at the right time is a challenge. The most serious issues that commonly arise are from conflicts between the critical functions of Idea Generation, Entrepreneurship and Project Management. If Idea Generation is weak, the innovation will not start well, but if it is too strong and has trouble finalizing a solution that is not good either. Entrepreneurship needs to be tightly coupled to Idea Generation to avoid frustration or conflict. Finally, Project Management should not be delayed too long or start too early. And, when Project Management is needed, Idea Generation and Entrepreneurship must step back or preferably go on to a new innovation project.

Training to develop critical function competency is an important complement to the natural presence of these skill. Where there is potential for development of new critical function skill sets, this may be accomplished through a combination of apprenticeship (with someone with current strengths) and training such as BCon ITS (Innovative Thinking System), which is a systematic approach for generating ideas, filtering them down to the idea most likely to succeed and taking initiative at implementation.

Of course, the best way to ensure that all of the necessary critical function skills are available when needed is to pursue innovations with a team of people. Think of this like selecting a group of people to become a successful football team. Some people are good at kicking, others at passing and still others at defending.

Selecting the right people with the right critical functions innovation skills is like assembling a team that can win the championship versus simple having a team that can play the game!

We recommend that you start small – that you assess your own critical function skills and decide where you have potential for development. After that, decide how you can use these skills to create innovations.

Practice your skills with real innovation projects, leverage your knowledge of the critical functions to make sure that your organization has the right skills available at the right time, stretch your mind with surveys (including Innovation Drivers Survey) or training (Innovative Thinking System), and then decide on development steps that will increase your ability and that of your organization to innovate and grow.

Selecting and developing the right people to the right innovation jobs are small steps that can achieve big dreams!!!

For further information on the concepts described above, please contact BCon's ITS Team at


Alan Fusfeld is the President and CEO of The Fusfeld Group
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