An organization’s innovation efforts become more efficient and effective if they are tied to the company’s strategic planning process.  Linking the two processes, however, is easier said then done. How can companies use their strategic plans to guide innovation? One way to do this is to identify core themes in the company’s strategic plans that delineate valuable areas for innovation. For example, Hewlett-Packard Company (HP) identified the following ten strategic themes: Networking and Communications, Mobile and Immersive Experience, Cognitive Sciences, Cloud and Security, Intelligent Infrastructure, Sustainability, Information Analytics, Printing and Content Delivery, Services and Solutions, and Social Computing. HP seeks new ideas that fit into these strategic categories. The categories serve as a shorthand way to help employees understand how to focus their innovation efforts.

By identifying strategic themes for innovation, companies can also solicit ideas from suppliers and outside partners more easily. One way that HP does this is to hold an open innovation competition.  HP calls for proposals in each of its theme areas and awards the winners the opportunity to collaborate with HP on their proposed idea.  In HP’s most recent competition (2012), 441 researchers from 257 universities in more than 30 countries proposed ideas. HP Labs scientists and technologists reviewed the 500+ proposals and selected a total of 60 projects to receive awards across the theme areas. For example, the University of Southern California’s Dr. Gerard Medioni proposed the idea, “Real-Time Face Tracking and Expression Inference from a Video” within HP’s Mobile and Immersive Experience theme.

HP has followed this theme-based strategy since 2009, and it has changed the innovation themes as its strategy has changed. For example, Social Computing is a new theme that did not exist in HP’s 2009 strategic lineup.

In summary, companies can target their innovation efforts by identifying strategic themes in which they want to see new ideas for products and services. The themes help employees focus their efforts on the areas of highest value to the company.

61 University Professors Selected for HP Labs Innovation Research Awards in 2012
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