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Innovation in T urbulent Times
by Darrell K. Rigby, Kara Gruver, and James Allen
INNOVATION IS A MESSY PROCESS – hard to measure and hard to manage. Most people recognize it only when it generates a surge in growth. When revenues and earnings decline during a recession, executives often conclude that their innovation efforts just aren’t worth it. Maybe innovation isn’t so important after all,they think. Maybe our teams have lost their touch. Better to focus on the tried and true than to waste money on untested ideas. The contrary view, of course, is that innovation is both a vaccine against market slowdowns and an elixir that rejuvenates growth. Imagine how much better off General Motors might be today if the company had matched the pace of innovation set by Honda or Toyota. Imaginehow much worse off Apple would be had it not created the iPod, iTunes, and the iPhone. But when times are hard, companies grow

When resources are constrained, the key to growth is pairing an analytic left-brain thinker with an imaginative right-brain partner.
Shonagh Rae


June 2009


Harvard Business Review 79

Innovation in Turbulent Times

Knight, handledmanufacturing, finance, disillusioned with their innovation efIN BRIEF and sales. Howard Schultz conceived forts for a reason: Those efforts weren’t the iconic Starbucks coffeehouse forvery effective to begin with. Innovation Too few businesses have creative, mat, and CEO Orin Smith oversaw the isn’t integral to the workings of many right-brain types in leadership chain’s rapid growth. Apple may haveorganizations. The creativity that leads positions. That leaves innovation the best-known both-brain partnerto game-changing ideas is missing or stiespecially vulnerable to unwise cost ship. CEO Steve Jobs has always acted fled. Why would any company gamble cutting during hard times. Decisions as the creative director and has helped on a process that seems risky and unpreabout slashing versusretaining projects are made by analytic, leftto shape everything from product dedictable even in good times? brain leaders unsuited to evaluating sign and user interfaces to the customer In talking with executives about ininnovation portfolios. experience at Apple’s stores. COO Tim novation, we often point to the fashion Cook has long handled the day-to-day industry as a model. Every successful Thefashion industry is worth running of the business. (It remains to fashion company essentially reinvents emulating: be seen, of course, how Apple will fare its product line and thus its brand ev» Its businesses are “both-brain,” given Jobs’s current leave of absence.) ery season. It repeatedly brings out run by pairs of powerful executives No industry has gone further than products that consumersdidn’t know with complementary – creative and fashion, however, to incorporate boththey needed, often sparking such high analytic – styles. brain partnerships in its organizational demand that the previous year’s fash» They are structured to support leftmodel. Of course it makes no sense for ions are suddenly obsolete. A fashion brain–right-brain partnerships; hiring other kinds of companies to copythe company that fails to innovate at this at all levels seeks a mix of cognitive fashion template exactly. But Procter pace faces certain death. Understanding styles. & Gamble, Pixar, and BMW are among that, fashion companies have refined » Innovation becomes a way of busithose that have borrowed heavily from an organizational model that ensures a ness life, not a marginal activity. fashion’sapproach and enjoyed remarkconstant stream of innovation whatever Both-brain pairs have been found able results. the state of the economy. elsewhere: Apple CEO Steve Jobs At the top of virtually every fashion and COO Tim Cook; Procter & brand is a distinctive kind of partnerThe Fashion Model Gamble’s chief of global design, ship. One partner, usually called the creFashion companies understand one...