Innovating from the Bottom-Up

Innovation is definitely a complex endeavor that requires the orchestration of multiple dimensions. Without doubt, unless an organization's leadership has thought out the structures, processes, metrics, rewards systems, and knowledge and skills required to advance their innovation agenda, they will not be successful.

However, this is not to say that there's nothing to be done at the front-line of organizations to advance innovation. Interestingly, many instances of innovation occur not because of management, but despite of management!

In this Blog, I'll be sharing some ideas on how innovation can be driven from the bottom-up. It's a long awaited complement to all the important research and literature on how to drive innovation from the top-down.

Let's see what develops.

Ulises Pabon

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Borders' Demise

It took me some time to write this entry.  I've been carrying the picture on my iPhone for weeks.  It wasn't until today that I mustered the energy to upload it to my blog.

As you all know by now, Borders closed shop.  They went bankrupt.  The brick and mortar business model finally collapsed.  For some time, it seemed they could co-exist with their virtual counterparts.  There is, after all, something about the touch and feel of books that an electronic download can't provide.  Nevertheless, their business model became unsustainable.  You can search the blogsphere for the reasons of their demise.  For sure, a complex combination of factors - not one single cause - are the culprit.

What brings me to write about this unfortunate outcome is an earlier blog entry I wrote on October 1, 2009 (you can hyperlink to it on the Blog Archive at the right).  In it, I made reference to the emergence of Borders impromptu "chess club" as an example of an emerging strategy and an instance of bottom-up innovation.

Although that blog entry described but one specific instance of bottom-up innovation, I couldn't resist reflecting on the fact that, in the end, it didn't matter at all.  Of course, business success is not a one variable equation.  Interestingly, Borders held one of the highest ratings in customer experience.  Does Borders' demise mean that customers need not be treated appropriately?  Of course not.

So, rather than dump the whole bottom-up innovation thesis, Borders' bankruptcy should prompt us to fine tune the concept and, perhaps more importantly, the context in which the concept is valuable.  Toyota's leadership, for example, recently went through a similar reflection regarding their continuous improvement process.  Even an organizational system that generates between 20 and 30 ideas per year per employee with an implementation rate of 80% can not exclusively depend on bottom-up innovation to succeed.

Should we dismiss bottom-up innovation as a "nice-to-have" because of its vulnerability against force majeure or are our expectations misplaced when it comes to understanding the benefits of a bottom-up initiative?

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