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Beyond the Buzz: How to Drive Impactful Innovation
April 23, 2021

Originally published on LinkedIn by Paola de Almeida, Global Director, Corporate Innovation at Mars

True innovation solves real world problems. Take rice, for example. Our ready-to-heat rice product helped families cook flavorful rice in 90 seconds, instead of 30 minutes—because it addressed the real problem of getting a tasty dinner on the table quickly. Another example I’m proud of: the biodegradable kitty litter we’re developing, safe for sanitation systems, reducing our footprint — another actual problem.

Since 1911, our leaders and Associates have been innovating for the world we want tomorrow to stay relevant, generation after generation. Now, it’s our turn to write our chapter of this permanent innovation journey. We’re doing so at a time where every second of consumers’ attention is subject to fierce competition, and the most valuable currency is relevance.

Many leaders realize their strategies and structures aren’t nimble enough to adapt to this level of disruption. Innovation, they think, will fix this. Unfortunately, this leads some to engage only in what we call innovation theater — generating events and buzz in the moment but without long-term impact and meaningful results. Innovation theater is usually heavy on the conversation, but light on follow-through. Accelerators, incubators, hack-a-thons — the world is full of them, and they can be successful — but without clarity of the problem you’re trying to solve, focus on the destination you’re trying to reach, and needed capabilities to get there, they often become innovation theater.

So how do we avoid innovation theater?

By being obsessed with the consumer and how you can help solve their real-life problems. It requires working across the business with different parts playing different roles in different timeframes and understanding both the solutions you can offer through existing products and services — and the capabilities you’ll need to deliver completely new solutions. That level of clarity then helps you determine how and where to invoke the best capability to deliver.

Only with a well-integrated set of activities, resources, and assets, fueled by deep clarity around resolving for the right problems, can we properly allocate resources on the right bets. It’s an all-hands- on-deck proposition involving every job in every area of the company. Everyone has a role to play in innovation, even if they aren’t doing innovation themselves. Managing an existing portfolio is just as important as developing the next one, for they both inform each other.

Innovation is a constant exercise in being curious and humble.

It’s iterative and requires discipline. It is not owned by fringe groups doing innovation on the side: leadership is accountable for innovation’s success by allocating the right resources within the right delivery systems. There is no guarantee in innovation, and sometimes the bets will not fully pan out. But when you succeed, you may succeed big.

Innovation isn’t something the cool kids are doing for show. Innovation is something the committed, patient and resilient create to deliver mutual value where all parties win.

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