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The Innovation Leadership Continuum

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“Who is responsible for incubating and leading the definition and development of innovative or disruptive products in your organization?” This is one of the key questions we asked survey respondents in our latest market research. The aggregate responses are quite diverse but a clear pattern has emerged in the data.

Setting the Innovation Context

Innovation is a frequently discussed topic which ranks highly with senior executives. Most believe that innovation is a critical area of investment in order to remain relevant in the marketplace and to continuously nurture a healthy product portfolio. While innovation and disruptive product development rank highly, the actual implementation of innovation processes and the development of disruptive products tends to be a combination of both art and science.

In order to increase the science and decrease the art many senior leaders strive to infuse innovative thinking into the DNA of their organizations. This is not easy to accomplish as a wide variety of factors can adversely impact successful implementation. Size of company, culture, skills and talent levels and a host of other factors all contribute to the long list of risks.

As part of our ongoing research into high performance product teams we have been investigating who is responsible for leading the definition and development of innovative or disruptive products within organizations from the perspective of actual product team members. The survey is ongoing but we have already identified a pattern – a continuum of leadership that is reflected in the data.

I would argue that the data is not rocket science although I am sure it will stir up some controversy as there are many opinions on the subject of who should lead the development of disruptive products and innovation processes. Since our research is not complete the preliminary findings may change before all is said and done but it is pretty clear at this point that size of company impacts who leads.

Preliminary Findings

In companies of less than $50 M in annual revenue the CEO and/or company founder are perceived by product team members as having ownership of these processes and activities. Once a company crosses this annual revenue threshold team members tell us that leadership shifts. Respondents indicate that product managers lead, or should lead, the incubation and development of disruptive products for companies with annual revenues above $50 M and up to approximately $2 B. The closer you get to the $2 B in annual revenue line leadership tilts in the direction of a “special cross-functional team” appointed by senior executives.

The preliminary data clearly illustrate a continuum of leadership. Once the study concludes we will publish our findings. We believe the data will spur discussion as individuals and organizations tend to have strong views of who should lead these critical activities given the associated high risks and rewards.

Tell Us What You Think

We would like to hear your point of view! Who is responsible for leading the incubation and development of disruptive products in your organization? And just how big is your company?


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