Thoughts On Innovation Management From FEI 2010

I just had the chance to attend the "Front End of Innovation" (FEI) conference at the World Trade Center in Boston May 3-5. This event is sponsored by variety of innovation management suppliers, and included some great speakers like James Surowiecki (author of "The Wisdom of Crowds") and Sophie Vanderbroek (President of Xerox Innovation Group). Though I was only able to attend two of the three days at this event, I was able to leave with a solid impression on the innovation management marketplace.

A few of my notes from this event:

  • There is a unique innovation marketplace. With the sheer diversity of innovation discussions taking place at this event, I found it interesting to question whether the there is such thing as a common innovation management marketplace. I think there is. Everyone I spoke to at this event was either trying to unlock innovation potential within their own organization, or was trying to help their clients unlock their own innovation potential. In this regard, the marketplace for innovation is quite different with the boarder market of social collaboration tools and technologies -which I do not think has the same mission.
  • The market is broader than many realize. Despite the common objectives, the companies in this "market" bring a wide variety of different capabilities to the table. For example, at this event, I interacted with:
    • Companies like Spigit, Imaginatik, Idea8, and Kindling who have software tools focusing on idea management (but each with unique strengths)
    • NineSigma and Innocentive who are leveraging their "open innovation" heritage to bring new business models and a distinct offerings to clients
    • Innosight, which brings more management consulting offerings and thought leadership to lead its strategy consulting engagements
    • Seek, Futurethink, and Maddock Douglas which do not focus nearly as much on technology, but instead on methodologies, thought leadership, and workshops that can help clients clarify innovation objectives.

This was only a partial list of the companies I interacted with at this conference - but you can see how this market is evolving in many different directions. Further (as I will note later) there are other players in this innovation marketplace that were not represented at this event.

  • The interest in this market is strong. I was impressed to see such a diverse group of innovation stakeholders come together to discuss common innovation interests. In general, I see more CEOs looking to innovative companies - like Apple and Procter and Gamble - and saying "if we're going to remain competitive in a global market, we need to be more innovative" - and perhaps this trend was partially behind the large and engaged crowd at this event. For most event attendees I spoke with, this objective means that they must gain access to more innovation best practices, and increasingly manage innovation as a cross-functional discipline.


But all is not roses in the innovation management space. I have a few questions that could impact how this event and this market will look in coming years:

  • Where's the business value? I found myself disappointed by the fact that many end-user companies, and innovation suppliers, were eager to talk about how they changed their internal innovation processes, but short on the ability to describe the actual business value that was generated from that change. This was particularly true when people spoke about social technologies, which I think we can all agree are cool and may inspire collaboration, but have yet to work their way into the mainstream business processes of most of my clients. I've no doubt that businness value is hard to measure, but it should be in the disucssion.
  • What's the long term outlook? From the vendor perspective, I wonder how much disruption this "market" will experience when the "gorillas" of the technology marketplace (Microsoft, IBM) and collaboration providers (Tellgent, Jive) make their way into the innovation space. Some companies at this event clearly have differentiated models or thought leadership that will be hard for these larger companies to replicate, but others do not. I wonder how many of these same companies I will see at this event in five years - and which companies will emerge as the leaders.
  • Where are those "gorillas" anyway? I'm curious why I saw many software tool providers and small/mid-size consultancies were sponsoring this event, while leading brand name companies I follow in the innovation space were less visible. I would love to know why companies like BCG, McKinsey, IBM, Accenture - companies who pride themselves on their innovation offerings and are very much part of the innovation management marketplace - do not make themselves more visible at events like this (I know several had representatives at the event, but their companies were not highly visible). I suspect there are a variety of reasons for this, but to me none of those reasons really justifies sitting on the sidelines of cutting edge innovation discussions.

Overall, however, this is a great space to watch. Look out for my coming document on the future of innovation management in which I'll try to take a holistic view, to tie together the diverse business models in this space.



Its much easier to measure the business value when using the right tools and focusing social collaboration on a core business need. BT estimates that more than £100 million has resulted from cost savings and revenue generation from its innovation program:

That is hard dollar ROI.

3 year olds

Thanks again Chris for continuing to highlight this emerging space...

To your point on “where is the business value” – the problem is that most of the vendors you pointed out, have only been doing around for a year or two. In order to show actual business value on these types of platforms they have to be in place for a while to audit the fruits they are bearing. Since has been around for over 10 years, our clients have actual ROI, like BT who has proven over £100 million has resulted from cost savings and revenue generation through our platform. But again, BT has been using the Brightidea platform for over 6 years. Hopefully, if this space continues to expand, you will began to see a lot more ROI case studies at future FEI events.

With regards to the “gorillas” – they are starting to get into the game. We have a very strong partnership with HP who has developed a robust “Innovation Management Framework” and Innovation as a Service consulting practice last year. This is just the beginning.

I liken this space as a mash-up between with CRM and Six Sigma when both of them we only 3 years old…. And as you know they grow up to become pretty mature and impactful in their own rights.

The next couple of years is going to be exciting for everyone in this space…

Vincent Carbone
Co-Founder and COO

Thanks for the great comments

Thanks to both for the comments so far -- I am actively following them and love the data points. Keep in mind that some of my comments were related specifically to this event....I take regular briefings from some larger companies about their offerings, and see a handful of business cases in this space. BUT... my "complaints" are meant to also highlight some of the key challenges I see facing the industry -- creating real business value rather than social technology hype, and bridging the gap between the "new" world of innovation management and the "old" world of real innovation expertise...I agree that this is a great space to watch, and certainly very exciting.

Chris, just going to throw

Chris, just going to throw this out there, but one thing that would really help everyone in this space, is for an person like yourself & forrester to put out a "Market Size" report on the space. To date, nobody has done it specifc to the types of vendors you are discussing. There are some reports out there for "Enterprise Social Media" and "E2.0" but they are such meaningless categories because they are so generic and undefined. Any help would be appreciated.

Market sizing the innovation management space

Thanks for this note. I do have some estimates of market sizes now based on my own assumptions, which I am happy to discuss with you.

I had several people ask me for a more formal market size at FEI, and this is a question I have received a handful of times in the last year. Market sizing a small and "amorphous" marketplace like this one has its challenges -- as I note in this blog post, I think the market for innovation management consists of a variety of players, some of whom may not even segement their own revenues by the percentage related to "innovation". But creating a strong definition of this market, and its segments, is something I am trying to do now and you will see more about this in future blogs/research. However, a few other considerations come up when sizing markets that affect the accuracy of the sizing...Namely, the ability and willingness of companies in the space to share their market information (even in a confidential manner) with the analyst doing the research. I recognize that we do not need perfect information to guide our estimates , but we do need some detailed information, and so far the small, private companies in this space (some of whom even make requests for market sizings) have been unwilling/unable to share those numbers with me...This is something I am tryinng to work around, but if I do a market sizing it must be 100% defensible so that my audience -- the people reading this post, Forrester clients, and all of the other stakeholders seeing the final number -- can rely on it and share it with confidence. My experience is that an inaccurate or careless market sizing effort can cause far more problems than it solves -- so I take such an initiative very seriously.
So please be patient, and I'll keep working on this. ...Chris

With so much innovation coming from line workers . . .

More and more innovation seems to be coming from people using technology within their regular jobs to, for example, build communities.

I look forward to seeing if vendors can harness this incredible and broad source of ideas.

Totally Agree

Hi Josh,

I totally agree with you.. Individual Employees are starting to us our platform like Webex for their individual job functions; meaning they just set up a ad-hoc Webstorm for a project or daily job funciton they want to improve.


Gorillas in the mist

The why we have less visible "gorillas" (large consulting firms) around in innovation is they simply have a real problem with innovation. Innovation is a messy, complex business. Consultants aim for the middle, less risky ground, one that they have a fair understanding of the time and resources required to complete a given task and as innovation often has open ended issues it becomes uncomfortable. Also innovation understanding requires fairly deep range of competencies across a wider number of aspects than is often appreciated and having these on the 'bench' is expensive, the smaller company tends to specialise in 'given' areas of innovation focus (technology, scouting, ip, need-related marketing etc). The downside of this for the client is he often has to appreciate different philosophies, methodologies and working approaches and sadly to many of these are shrouded in mystery so the USP by the smaller consultant can be maintained.

The gorillas also come down from the hills of strategy and their 'heavier weight' in rigorous analysis in often very fuzzy situations does not work so well.

Where the gorillas have gotten away with 'thumping their chests' an awful lot, is the innovation study area of trends and insights. The value of their network at CEO, CIO, CTO etc enables them to tap in and extract significant knowledge about where innovation is at present, where it is heading but they lack that dexterity to 'translate this' effectively within their own domains in many commercially valuable ways. If they do handle some innovation specific work they are known to often parcel the 'uneconomical parts (for them) out' if and when they can but keep it still under the umbrella of their remit. There are notable exceptions but often these have centred around specific themes that can appeal at the C-Level for return evaluations, pipeline and human resource building as examples, where the competence offered is internally established.

The gorilla certainly needs to rethink. Innovation in all its parts is sizeable.The terrain is big. It is funny actually but the only means for the strategic consulting firm to differentiate its own self is through innovation but they often seem not to have the 'insight' to open up their thinking on what and where this can have a greater impact on their own workings (and offerings), let alone their clients. Vested interests, unattractive yields and one set of market concepts become difficult to package out to others and often this is where the real investment return is, applying the same balm to many.

Lastly the gorillas have one trump card, again in the C-suite. The power of the alumni. This has given innovation projects to the bigger resource heavy consultant and often the more 'attuned' specialised innovation consultant has missed out, often much to the disappointment of the people who have to make the decision work.

So a sum up of the reasons why the consulting market for innovation is like it is and the gorilla is not playing as much:

1. So todays present mix of multiple innovation messages can and often does muddy the water, it limits clarity in this area for often the type of clear analysis gorillas expect to give.
2. Often are emerging sets of techniques, methods or approaches that allow the 'light of foot' to move more swiftly than the bigger guys to shadow innovation as it quickly evolves. Experimentation is often needed and gorillas are not good at tap dancing!
3. Resources need to be coming from this leading edge of innovation to provide value otherwise clients can do this themselves even if it has some failure, failure is encourages right?
4. Broad knowledge across the spectrum of innovation is expensive to bring together in one team.
5. The C-suite like to hear about innovation but tend to delegate it down the organisation as they don't have the attention span of its value (exceptions are well documented and prove this is not the best decision)
6. Top executive advice on innovation is hard to justify in the development cost and return unless there is crisis or threat to the business and this needs strategic analysis.
7. Time and appropriate resource allocation cannot be driving the innovation project in the way the larger consultant would wish to get a 'revolving' return.
8. Too many emergent practices (open, design thinking, social media, ethnography, VOC, Need related) need a higher degree of specialisation and the bigger consultants have not decided to invest in these as yet.
9. Innovation still is a 'frontier moment' for many within companies, and offers the chance to experiment, break out, pioneer, play in different sand boxes. We all need some escape from analysis/ paralysis so often provided by the gorillas.

So this is my take on why the gorillas are still up there playing in the mist. The world below is enjoying the freedom in the sunlight!

Interesting post!

Paul, thanks for your comments. This is a very interesting and thought-provoking comment. I agree with many of your points -- particularly the point that we need better ways to get more tactical about what real innovation is, and how it can be managed. On one point where I disagree, to a degree, is your implied dismissal of the value of the larger consultancies in the innovation process (and I could have caused this a bit by calling them "gorillas"). I talk to many of these individuals, and they are very smart people who understand innovation and care deeply about the the problems of their clients. As you point out, its important to understand their core audience (the C-suite) who cares less about tactical implementation than breaking down the stuctural barriers that inhibit innovation -- see my innovation stakeholders post from a few weeks ago. I think the real failure of the innovation "marketplace" is connecting these very important C-suite objectives with the tactical implementation of innovation. So, to me, the challenge is more of a function of the whole market needing to connect the dots between various innovation stakeholders, and varyinng objectives, to come up with a cohesive -- and realistic -- innovation strategy. I think social media can play a role in this, but real innovation strategies absolutely need support and guidance from senior level management.

Thanks again for your comment, and I look forward to continued discussion.

Gorillas emerging from the mist

There was some tongue in cheek from my end in picking up and developing the gorilla further. No I do not have even an implied dismissal of the values of larger consultancies to innovation, they provide many of the 'higher plain'. My attempt in this was to try and highlight their difficulties to translate this into broader innovation offerings. Certainly there are some very smart people within these organizations but they have possibly imposed their own barriers to break out of their present innovation offerings, that is assuming they want to. I'm not sure they have made the best use of their internal skills in breaking down the structural barriers that inhibit innovation.

I would not designate one group or the other to tactical or strategic, i just don't think we have cracked the innovation consulting code yet and was outlining some of the constraints I feel bind the bigger consultancy. This is the same as your 'connecting the dots' but in a much bigger way though.

The client is partly to blame as we seem to both agree the C-Suite does not engage as much as they should do and to take one well documented story- P&G and why other C-Suite groups have not seen the effects of this very engaged top management within P&G for innovation?

But it is the consulting industry that has failed to lead on innovation. It has often been forced into a back seat, catching up and 'chipping in'. This needs to change and it will I feel only come when the bigger consulting companies find the right way to engage across innovation in broader ways.

More good points...

Agree fully. Your points echo, in some ways, the points I read today at

Thanks for your interest and readership -- I'm thrilled to have the comments, and I'll keep your thoughts in mind as I continue my research in this space.

Gorillas emerging from the innovation mist

Thank you for referring me to the blog from Innovate on Purpose. I know the author of this blog, Jeffrey Phillips has an equal passion for dymistifying innovation and making the process more transparent and open, more organized and structured. He has written a range of articles that reflect his growing concern and particularly in his article entitled "Innovation: Science or Alchemy?" This was written recently, and talks of a crossroads for innovation.

I have been researching innovation, tracking many of the established and emerging advisors within innovation so I can understand and antiscipate where we are going on innovation. Although it is a fragmented market there are enough published numbers for you to gain a sound feel for its size as a number of the practices are publically listed.

I've worked in collaboration with one or two of the gorillas and their rigour and approach to explaining and attempting to solve some of the more difficult problems in innovation are incredibly valuable. As someone working independently in this innovation space researching trends, advising, coaching and consulting they are often a source of 'evolution' for me.

If you can quantify the 'state' of the innovation market it will make a valuable contribution to us all working in this area. Lets all clear the mist.