How Should GM Innovate? Management first, products second

As we all know, General Motors is in trouble. Along with other industry leaders, GM has been widely castigated for its leadership failures, and above all its failure to innovate. As a result, CEO Rick Waggoner has been busy pleading Congress for bailout money.

Yet despite all the public castigations of failed banks and failing automakers, few of us have suggested solutions to their innovation problems. And when ideas have surfaced, they have often been misguided -- focusing too singly on what I think of as product innovations (e.g., building next-gen hybrids like the Toyota Prius; selling ultra-compact, ultra-affordable cars like the Tata Nano; etc.). These are certainly good next-gen product ideas, and I hope that GM is considering them. But in reality, I'd bet that GM has already considered these ideas -- and either dismissed them or failed to implement them successfully. My wager, therefore, is that GM doesn't fail at innovation; it fails at innovation management. This distinction is critical. In fact, it underscores the core themes of my innovation management research at Forrester.

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Innovation Vendors List, v1

***Updated December 30, 2008: I've added basic category definitions for innovation software, innovation services, and innovation consulting. I consider it as a working first draft -- please comment on this post to let me know what you think.***

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First, I'd like to thank everyone who responded to my previous blog post -- either publicly or privately. The responses were mixed; some vendor strategists supported my forecasting hesitance; others strongly disagreed with my decision.

Regardless, I realize that my work is now cut out for me. Although I'm still not planning to launch a rigorous quant forecast earlier than mid-2009, your comments have moderated my "no forecast" views a bit. More to the point, it was unfair for me to castigate the vendor landscape for its "overlapping, vaguely marketed, and undifferentiated" technologies. This may be true, but the fault is partly mine.

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Innovation Tools Markets: Resisting the Itch

For a Forrester-ite like me, market forecasting is often top-of mind. Sizings and forecasts represent perhaps the most powerful research tool at an analyst's disposal -- in some cases, forecasts are both our bread and our butter. Thus, when I launched coverage of the innovation management tools market this past spring, the question of how and when to forecast and size the market was a key part of my planning. Indeed, a market forecast can often "make or break" a coverage area for a Forrester analyst -- especially a nascent one ripe for analyst buzz.

Nonetheless, in recent months I've become convinced that -- for now -- I should firmly resist the forecasting "itch."

Already, this position has caused me considerable grief. For months, multiple parties have been clamoring for me to publish a market forecast -- parties including vendors, buyers, and even some of my own colleagues at Forrester. Case in point: Three separate vendor CEOs have privately asked me about my (apparently forthcoming) market forecast. One went so far as to send me his own company's forecasting framework, suggesting that I should follow suit. Another CEO proactively provided me with sales data and market projection numbers -- in another not-so-subtle nudge.

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Mightier than the Pen

For those who don't know me, I work on the "Vendor Strategy" team at Forrester -- the research group that owns this blog. For my first post, I wanted to outline a major reason why I'm excited about posting on this blog.

The basic story is that now I can actually tell people what my work is all about. At Forrester, my research coverage focuses on topics such as Innovation Management and Business Services -- research which is then filtered and targeted for an audience of Vendor Strategists. To most people -- even Forrester clients -- this sounds like pure gibberish (and I don't blame them for thinking so). Finally, with this blog, I can actually explain what all of this nonsense-sounding jargon actually means to me. The possibilities are almost infinite -- and infinitely exciting.

It's good timing too, because communication challenges these days are significant and getting worse. The world is changing so fast that the cognitive gulf between different people seems wider by the day.

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