Expert Advice Bruce Nolop, former CFO of Pitney Bowes Inc. and E*Trade Financial Corp: Go for Singles, Not Home Runs

Bruce NolopEvery organization wants to be more innovative, but few attain their objectives. From my vantage point, they too often stress going for the home run when it would make more sense to go for singles.

Here’s what I think doesn’t work:

Funding a corporate innovation program. Centralizing and systemizing the efforts of a group of assigned innovators seldom achieves an attractive return on investment. It typically produces a lot of activity, but seldom a meaningful result.

Letting a thousand flowers bloom. Likewise, it is usually unrewarding to spread funding across a wide spectrum of ideas, with the hope that a few will succeed. Getting from the idea stage usually takes sustained focus and ruthless prioritization.

Here’s what I think does work:

Emphasizing incremental changes. Instead of seeking a big new thing, it is usually more rewarding to develop continuous improvements to existing products and processes. Listening to customers is usually the best place to start.

Sticking to what you know. The odds of success are also much better when people focus on their current areas of responsibility, where their particular expertise and insights can be brought to bear. Innovation is easier when it arises from a bedrock of accumulated experience.

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