Benchmarking Strategic Innovation Capabilities

There are five questions embedded in the innovation process that are most highly correlated to perceived innovation success, according to a survey of executives and company leaders across a dozen industries.

The findings suggest where a robust approach to an end-to-end innovation process can have the highest impact on performance.

The survey also showed people are better at appreciating the value of innovation than actually pulling it off in practice — as well as showing we’re poor judges of our abilities to innovate.

When respondents were asked how they felt about their company’s strategic innovation outcomes and processes, they tended to rate themselves higher – 13% higher on average – than they did when asked to characterize the maturity of specific capabilities actually needed to put those aspirations into practice.

They also tended to score themselves highest on the capabilities that seemed to have relatively low correlation to overall perceived success, including the ability to commercialize new products and develop go-to-market strategies.

There was even a negative correlation between the average category-by-category scores company leaders gave themselves and each category’s relationship to innovation success described by the respondents.

The five questions whose answers had the highest correlations to perceived success were:

  • How does your company assess the feasibility of an innovative solution?
  • To what extent does your company include innovation as a tool for strategic growth?
  • How extensive is your company’s innovation strategy?
  • How does your company determine which product/service a consumer will want to buy?
  • How does your company satisfy market demands by deciding which innovative projects to pursue, and which to delay?

The survey asked respondents to assess their own organizations’ end-to-end innovation capabilities, from setting a strategy that included innovative new products and services through actual development of new ideas, to then taking the innovations to market and scaling up successes.

Within that process, survey respondents felt best at strategy, which occurred at the very front end, followed by taking products to market, which occurred much later the innovation life cycle.

They felt weakest in the middle – the process of going from good ideas to testing them in the market – and only marginally better at developing and executing growth strategies for successful new products and services later on.

The disparity was interesting between initial assessments of their companies’ capabilities and more specific observations when presented with examples of maturity from a capability model.

Respondents were best at assessing the maturity of their innovation strategy, their current overall strategic capabilities, and their abilities to generate innovative ideas.

They were worst at assessing whether they had the right talent in the job, their ability to finance organic growth around successful innovations, and their ability to balance resources.

Respondents were approached on LinkedIn, and through executive MBA programs at The University of Chicago Booth School of Business and Northwestern University Kellogg School of Management.

Industries represented in the study included Biotech and Pharma, Consumer Goods, Financial Services, Food and Beverage, Healthcare Provider, Insurance, News and Information, Media and Entertainment, Professional Services, Technology/Software, Utilities and Energy, and “Other.”

To take the survey, visit: I’ll update respondents as information gets more granular.

James Janega leads the Innovation & Insights group at Slalom Chicago. He is an Entrepreneur-in-Residence at the University of Illinois’ EnterpriseWorks accelerator, a member of the Chicago Ideas Co-Op, and helps enterprise companies and startups improve the way they think about innovation strategy, customer validation, building more robust innovation capabilities and processes. You can reach him at @JamesJanega on Twitter.


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