“Transformation” and “innovation” are popular buzzwords and the subjects of countless business seminars, guides, and articles. But, as a recent CIO opinion piece by Imran Sayeed and Fariha Chaudry argues, “…little has been written about whether those success stories have staying power. Were they able to sustain and grow their initial innovation into a pipeline of disruption? What lessons can be learned from their success?”

To help shed some light on these questions, the authors offer insight into four truths about achieving sustained innovation:

  1. You don’t need a visionary. Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, and Marc Benioff are just a few visionary executives whose companies have continued to innovate under their leadership. According to CIO, however, “…those examples are more the exception than the rule.” In the authors’ experience, companies that sustain innovation over an extended period of time cultivate a culture that encompasses all employees rather than relying solely on innovative thinking at the C-level. A methodical approach that favors incremental improvements and a customer-centric strategy was also distinguished as a characteristic of organizations with sustained innovation.
  2. You don’t need a lot of money. Collaborative workspaces, cutting-edge customer events, and credentialed brand consultants are great, but they should never be confused with tangible innovation. The authors of the CIO piece recount their experiences meeting with various business leaders and VCs who perpetuated the myth that innovation requires significant financial resources. A common myth, but far from the truth for sustainable innovation. 
  3. You do need metrics. Two of the most critical factors for achieving sustained innovation are ensuring that the efforts are linked to key business drivers and that strong metrics are in place to measure them. The CIO article outlines a number of suggested KPIs for organizations to consider, including increased productivity, faster speed to market, and greater topline growth. As the article puts it, “If an innovation activity doesn’t result in at least one of the above business benefits, then it should not be undertaken. But before you can make that determination, you need the right metrics to measure the benefits, and that will depend on the specifics of the business you are trying to innovate.”
  4. You need an ecosystem. Urging people to recognize that innovation needs an ecosystem in order to truly flourish, the CIO article outlines several key components that must be developed in order for efforts to reach their potential. These include cultivating employee ambassadors who can champion efforts within their own business units, engaging with customers who recognize the project’s value, and interacting with academics to uncover new avenues for inspiration and creativity.

You can check out the CIO piece here for more on these components and the other truths behind achieving innovation for the long term.