Close this search box.
Close this search box.

10 Steps to Disciplined Innovation

Innovation is hard. It’s messy. Anyone who tells you otherwise is doing something different. Systematic innovation means connecting invention to adoption via a disciplined framework.

Innovation is hard. It’s messy. Anyone who tells you otherwise is doing something different. Generating early momentum can be the trickiest part of all—particularly making sense of all the tools, methodologies, best practices, and thought leadership that crisscross today’s innovation zeitgeist.

Truth be told, there is so much noise out there, the word innovation is almost meaningless. Yet, it still frequently gets thrown around large organizations to generate excitement. But recognizing your organization needs to change is not the same as changing it.

And recognizing that innovation—the invention of a new technology/product/service—is not the same as actually delivering/fielding something that’s needed and wanted with speed and urgency.

So let’s say you are serious about delivering/fielding. You are sick of the same old, tired way of solving problems, which increasingly leaves your organization falling further behind. Your motivation is not professional vanity or innovation theater. You understand that systematic innovation means connecting invention to adoption via a disciplined framework.

How do you get started?

1. Read this, then this, then this. These insights will warn you of the common pitfalls ahead and ways to avoid them by establishing a foundational understanding of disciplined innovation.

2. Sketch an innovation workflow (or “pipeline”) for your organization. How do you define targets for innovation? How do you validate the fit between new ideas, problems and proposed solutions, and ultimately transition them to full production? Basically, how does an innovation project start and finish, and what are the steps in between?

3. Determine where and how the outputs of your pipeline fit with related efforts within your organization and vice versa. Estimate how many things you need coming into your pipeline versus how many you’ll deliver/field.

4. Figure out how you intend to collect ideas, problems, and technologies — the starting point for any innovation system—and how you will prioritize those worth spending time and resources to explore further.

5. Identify the decision points, leadership requirements, and decision-support tools you will use to determine what moves from one phase of your innovation pipeline to the next.

6. Assess your capacity for innovation and be brutally honest. The identified shortcomings are clogging your organization’s capacity to innovate, and they likely need some immediate plumbing.

7. Identify and fix the low-hanging fruit from the self-assessment, then prioritize the rest as you design version 2.0 of your innovation pipeline.

8. Identify and define key users, beneficiaries, supporters, advocates, saboteurs, partners, and the critical pathways within your pipeline—and then get out from behind your desk to solicit feedback from key stakeholders, gain their unique perspective (positive or negative), learn from it, and adapt.

9. Repeat steps 5-7 until you have a validated business model for your innovation pipeline, one that delivers real, tangible value to your organization.

10. Execute your model while continuously assessing your efforts and your impact.

The key is to explore what your organization really needs. Discover what works and what does not. Generate myriad hypotheses to test, and let the data and evidence guide your early decisions.

Recognize that at the beginning, you’ll be in search mode. Most likely, no one in your organization has taken a disciplined approach to innovation, so while goodness exists, this will feel chaotic, and you and others will step outside your comfort zone. But it’s necessary to chart your own path to truth.

Provided you have the right framework and understand that innovation is not consistent with endless brainstorming, casual decor, and buzzwords, the above starter kit will help. It will be hard. It will be messy. But if you follow these steps, you’ll be on the right track.

Read more: Innovation At Scale Isn’t Easy, But The Rewards Are Worth It


  • Get the CEO Briefing

    Sign up today to get weekly access to the latest issues affecting CEOs in every industry
  • upcoming events


    Strategic Planning Workshop

    1:00 - 5:00 pm

    Over 70% of Executives Surveyed Agree: Many Strategic Planning Efforts Lack Systematic Approach Tips for Enhancing Your Strategic Planning Process

    Executives expressed frustration with their current strategic planning process. Issues include:

    1. Lack of systematic approach (70%)
    2. Laundry lists without prioritization (68%)
    3. Decisions based on personalities rather than facts and information (65%)


    Steve Rutan and Denise Harrison have put together an afternoon workshop that will provide the tools you need to address these concerns.  They have worked with hundreds of executives to develop a systematic approach that will enable your team to make better decisions during strategic planning.  Steve and Denise will walk you through exercises for prioritizing your lists and steps that will reset and reinvigorate your process.  This will be a hands-on workshop that will enable you to think about your business as you use the tools that are being presented.  If you are ready for a Strategic Planning tune-up, select this workshop in your registration form.  The additional fee of $695 will be added to your total.

    To sign up, select this option in your registration form. Additional fee of $695 will be added to your total.

    New York, NY: ​​​Chief Executive's Corporate Citizenship Awards 2017

    Women in Leadership Seminar and Peer Discussion

    2:00 - 5:00 pm

    Female leaders face the same issues all leaders do, but they often face additional challenges too. In this peer session, we will facilitate a discussion of best practices and how to overcome common barriers to help women leaders be more effective within and outside their organizations. 

    Limited space available.

    To sign up, select this option in your registration form. Additional fee of $495 will be added to your total.

    Golf Outing

    10:30 - 5:00 pm
    General’s Retreat at Hermitage Golf Course
    Sponsored by UBS

    General’s Retreat, built in 1986 with architect Gary Roger Baird, has been voted the “Best Golf Course in Nashville” and is a “must play” when visiting the Nashville, Tennessee area. With the beautiful setting along the Cumberland River, golfers of all capabilities will thoroughly enjoy the golf, scenery and hospitality.

    The golf outing fee includes transportation to and from the hotel, greens/cart fees, use of practice facilities, and boxed lunch. The bus will leave the hotel at 10:30 am for a noon shotgun start and return to the hotel after the cocktail reception following the completion of the round.

    To sign up, select this option in your registration form. Additional fee of $295 will be added to your total.