Investing in ideas, instead of just operations, is a concept that many in the C-suite have yet to fully embrace.

Investing in ideas, instead of just operations, is a concept that many in the C-suite have yet to fully embrace.

Investing in ideas, instead of just operations, is a concept that many in the C-suite have yet to fully embrace. It is a forward-looking tactic that separates businesses that simply survive from the ones that thrive and experience long-term success. And because those in the board room have started tying this investment to the bottom line, more C-level leaders are taking notice.

As the Columbus Chamber prepares to present the 2013 TechTomorrow "Sustainable Innovation: accelerating Business Value" conference Nov. 14 at the Ohio State University, it is important to shed light on idea investment. That concept, which is commonly referred to as sustainable innovation, impacts every company and therefore every business leader – from the family-owned small business to the major corporation. TechTomorrow is spearheaded by a planning committee of this region's top CIOs.

Chris Potts, one of the TechTomorrow keynote speakers and a leading thinker on IT investments, is an advocate of companies that make sustainable innovation a priority. Potts is a corporate strategist, executive mentor, and author of FruITion, RecrEAtion and DefrICtion. At TechTomorrow, he will delve into the topic of innovating in the scope and role of the executive.

To help guide those in the C-suite through the sometimes muddy waters, Potts has offered a few tips:

Evaluate the current situation

Identify how (or if) your company is investing in sustainable innovation, and if you are doing it well. Many companies are handling it better, or worse, than they think they are. If you are continually reacting to market changes and implementing last-minute shifts in strategy, it is likely that your company is not dedicating the right amount of resources to sustainable innovation. A company that sees the value in scenario planning – always looking ahead and taking proactive steps to navigate changing business climates – embraces sustainable innovation.

If you are unsure of which ideas warrant investment, ask yourself: how do investors evaluate this? If you can align innovation with results, you will keep yourself accountable.

Set clear, measurable goals

Be clear on your goals for investing in innovation, and make those goals continuously drive people's decisions and actions. Weaving the importance of idea investment into the culture of the company is integral. When innovation is tied to specific objectives and reinforced from the top down, employees can work collaboratively toward a common goal. Without specific benchmarks for success, your company will be left chasing one idea after another.

Get the boardroom on your side

Assign a boardroom leader to drive your strategy for delivering results through innovation. Those in the boardroom have long been known for driving value from operations, and colleagues trust and respect their judgment when it comes to the bottom line. Use those skills to your advantage by establishing a champion on the inside. Convince the boardroom that idea investment drives just as much value – if not more – than operations, and you will have a simpler time implementing innovation.

Find a balance between stability and innovation

Stability and innovation are both alluring propositions, but it can be difficult to achieve the right balance. Make it your strategy to always get the best of both. This is especially a challenge with established companies that have seen steady growth by doing things the way they have always done them, and have no interest in altering the formula to implement new ideas. The problem with sticking with the status quo and not embracing scenario planning is that, when the market inevitably shifts, it can be detrimental to your business.

Take the traditional video rental companies, for instance. As consumers moved toward more convenient, on-demand options for streaming television and movies at home, the companies that were able to adapt by changing their business models survived. The companies that ignored the trend and fought to continue the norm did not.

The bottom line: Thrive with sustainable innovation

Conducting SWOT analyses and staying open to change are things that we all embraced at one point or another, but that adaptability tends to go on the back burner as we get in a pattern of maintaining our businesses on a day-to-day basis. The concept of sustainable innovation and Potts' advice is a well-timed reminder that it takes innovation – not just smart operations – to make a company thrive.

For more information on TechTomorrow, visit

Michael Dalby is president and CEO of the Columbus Chamber. He can be reached at (614) 225-6917 or