Measuring Innovation : Metrics, Audits And The Factor That's Sometimes Missed.

Red heart surrounded by a tape measure to symbolise measuring intrinsic motivation in innovation.

Many will agree that a well-chosen selection of innovation metrics is critical to good management of innovation projects and innovation teams.

Even better, by also undertaking regular innovation audits, an organisation can get a ‘more rounded’ picture of its innovation performance.

But are innovation metrics and innovations audits enough? Or should we be measuring anything else?

First, let’s look at the difference between innovation metrics and innovation audits.

Innovation Metrics

These are generally quantitative measures. Much has been written about the range of possible innovation metrics an organisation can gather. Typically they would include:

  1. Input measures e.g. percentage of revenues invested in innovation
  2. Process measures e.g.  average project costs
  3. Output measures e.g. average time to market, return on innovation investment

 In recent years there has been a realisation that innovation metrics need to reflect better how innovation is rarely a linear process. There has also been recognition of the growing importance to innovation success of such aspects as knowledge and networks, partnering and collaboration. This means that innovation metrics should also measure the macro environment as well as inputs and outputs.

Innovation Audit

The innovation audit poses qualitative questions about the organisation. These can be across a very wide range of topics including, strategy and planning, management, market research, training, culture, marketing and distribution and others. Examples might include how well does innovation strategy link to corporate strategy? Or is the concept of risk adequately understood in the organisation? Or what systems are in place to encourage employees to submit ideas?

 A well designed and implemented innovation audit can play a powerful role in diagnosing the innovation capability of an organisation.

Choosing Metrics

As with selecting metrics for any other area of the business, key principles to bear in mind are; not to select too many metrics, to ensure that the data for the chosen metrics can be easily collected and also to ensure that it does not cost too much to collect that data.

Evaluating Innovation Metrics

Good management practice encourages us to look at measurement data with an analytical mindset. And so it should be with our innovation metrics data. We need to assess how we are performing on innovation versus a year ago, two years ago etc and decide remedial action where necessary.

Likewise with our innovation audit we need to consider this data carefully and interpret how these various qualitative measures interact. This will help us understand how we can best grow innovation capability in the organisation.

However, is innovation and creativity really just the same as any other aspect of management practice and organisational life? Can it be measured just as easily and effectively as, say, manufacturing throughput and debtor days?

We have concerns about this.

Consider this. James Dyson reportedly made over 5000 prototypes of his Cyclone vacuum cleaner over a period of more than five years. He also incurred debts on the project over a 14 year period.

It’s likely that if Dyson had been formally recording innovation metrics over this period they would have looked pretty poor. As Dyson owned the company, he was able to keep it going, as long as he was able to fund it.

However, if Dyson had been an innovation project manager in someone else’s organisation how would he have fared?

It’s likely that the metrics of his innovation performance might have left him open to criticism and might have meant that  the project was curtailed well before five years was up.

So, should Dyson’s efforts have been curtailed?

And if not, which part of the innovation metrics or audit would have indicated that the project should continue in order to build a multi million pound business?

On most sets of innovation metrics there would be no suitable measure for the relevant factor.

Intrinsic Motivation Or Passion

What we’re talking about here, and what drives entrepreneurship and successful organisational innovators is intrinsic motivation or passion. It’s the same stuff that fuelled Thomas Edison’s more than 1000 prototypes of the electric light bulb.

So does this mean we should add a question to our innovation audits about intrinsic motivation within the teams and the organisation?

That would be a good start.

However, we believe that intrinsic motivation is so important that it deserves to be treated separately from other measures. Moreover if it’s on the innovation audit we need to ensure it does not get  ‘lost’ among the other  findings in the  report.

With intrinsic motivation there needs to be a focus not just on a measuring it but also exploring it, encouraging it and tapping into it.

Intrinsic motivation is one of the key determiners of success in creativity and innovation - according to renowned academic Teresa Amabile.

This is because intrinsic motivation literally ‘makes things happen’. It’s the driving force for the team to stay late and wrestle with the challenge. Intrinsic motivation contributes to the ‘belief’ that the team will ‘find a way’. Intrinsic motivation causes the team to ‘stick with it’.

Next month we’ll have the second part of this article where we’ll consider the nature of intrinsic motivation in more detail and specifically how innovation coaching can help teams to build their intrinsic motivation to strengthen their chances of innovation success.