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Innovation Maturity Matrix – A Model to Successful Innovation Transformation

With 80% of executives considering their businesses to be at risk for being disrupted in the near future, they are under tremendous pressure to transform their organizations towards becoming more innovative.

However, any organizational change, let alone a major transformation, is always very difficult to implement successfully.

In this post, we’ll look into some of the lessons we’ve learned from helping our customers with these efforts, as well as explain how to use an innovation maturity matrix, a tool we've designed for this specific purpose.

The lights of successful innovation transformation

Why do an innovation transformation?

To begin with, we first need to explore why a transformation is necessary. Why couldn’t an organization just make minor changes, or add a new innovation team to the mix and expect solid results from innovation?

The answer is quite simple: innovation isn’t something you can simply add to the mix, it needs to be a core part of the way the organization works.

Innovation isn’t something you can simply add to the mix, it needs to be a core part of the way the organization works. 

There are two main reasons for this:

  1. The traditional R&D style of innovation is broken
  2. Innovation activities that don’t integrate with the core business don’t lead to anything

Traditional R&D isn’t working anymore

What we mean by the traditional R&D style of innovation being broken is that even though companies are pouring in millions or even billions into R&D investments, that doesn’t mean they would get a solid return for those investments. It’s been shown that there is no real relationship between R&D spend and innovation.

traditional R&D style innovation is broken

There are a couple of reasons for this. The first is that the R&D departments of most large organizations are typically quite technology-oriented and tend to take very long to introduce their new products and services to the market.

With the rapid rate of change and intense competition we see across industries, these make success against nimbler and more customer-focused competitors challenging.

What’s more, their focus on just a few projects at a time is also a big challenge, especially when combined with those long development cycles. That means that for the organization to reach their goals, virtually every single one of those projects needs to succeed big time.

However, if you’ve ever worked in innovation, you know that that will be highly unlikely, given that most innovations fail.

There are obviously still great companies that invest heavily into R&D and manage to turn those investments into successful innovations with staggering success rates, however, there seem to be fewer and fewer of those as time has gone by.

Innovation theater

The other issue, just adding innovation activities, such as idea challenges, hackathons, design thinking workshops etc., to an existing organization is referred to as innovation theater.

These activities usually bring with them a lot of excitement and people feel great about the organization finally starting to emphasize innovation. After the activities end, the organization ends up having plenty of ideas, and maybe even a few prototypes.

Innovation theater is a common challenge

However, the problem is that everyone in your industry usually has more or less the same ideas. It’s the execution that makes the difference. And if those activities are just an add-on, there won’t be people and resources to actually pilot those ideas, choose the most promising ones, and then commit to executing them brilliantly.

Thus, while idea challenges and hackathons can be great tools, they need to be used in the right way. Without them being integrated in the core activities of the business, everyone involved will see that these activities won’t lead anywhere, and they’ll become disillusioned about innovation in general. That’s when you’ll hear things like “innovation isn’t for us”.

In essence, you can’t just add a new R&D team or innovation lab, or start arranging all kinds of innovation activities, and expect successful innovations. Thus, for most organizations, a pretty big transformation is often required.

A transformation is, of course, much easier said than done. So, let’s move our focus on that.

A brief primer on innovation maturity models

An innovation maturity model is a tool and a framework that can help a company identify where they currently are in terms of their innovation capabilities. It can also be used to create a roadmap for future improvement.

In the last decade or so, it seems like every other consulting company has launched their own Innovation Maturity Model.

Almost all of them are very close to one another in terms of being derivatives of the CMMI (Capability Maturity Model Integration).A traditional CMMI-style innovation maturity modelThey start from a level where innovation activities are non-existent, then proceed from reactive to proactive and finally to a place where there are clear, well-structured innovation processes in place all around the organization. At this point, changes to the processes are mostly incremental by nature.

As you might be able guess by now, most of those approaches were built with the traditional R&D style of innovation in mind.

Those models are a great starting point and can help you improve the innovation capabilities and processes in your organization.

However, while those things are certainly important, there’s more to consistently high innovation performance than just the maturity of the processes the organization has in place.

The way we like to look at it, virtually every top innovator seems to have the same four key elements in place: scale, balance, clear focus, and the right structures.

I explained these concepts in more detail in my previous article, so if you’re looking to understand these factors in more detail, I’d recommend you read that.

Key traits of top corporate innovators

The Innovation Maturity Matrix

As we’ve seen quite a few organizations struggle in figuring out the right way to build their innovation maturity, and many of them falling into either the R&D trap or the innovation theater trap, we knew that a different, more practical maturity model was needed to help with the transformation.

After researching and thinking about the topic, we’ve come up with a framework we call the Innovation Maturity Matrix.

The Innovation Maturity Matrix

It’s a simple framework designed to illustrate the difference between those who succeed in innovation, and those who don’t.

We realized that the two variables that innovation performance ultimately boils down are maturity, and scale. All of the best innovators we’ve seen, have managed to combine both of these factors in their approach to innovation.

The two variables that innovation performance ultimately boils down are maturity, and scale.

Let’s look into these factors in a bit more detail.

First, maturity is basically an aggregate level concept that encompasses things like the innovation processes, decision-making and organizational structures, as well as the skills and resources required to succeed.

Second, scale refers to how widespread innovation is within the organization, and how deeply embedded it is in the culture. For innovation to lead to meaningful results, scale is a must.

Let’s take Google’s 70-20-10 rule as an example. The basic idea is that 70% of your innovation investment should go into core, 20% into adjacent and 10% into transformational initiatives. Even though it’s just a rule of thumb, it’s still a very useful baseline for most large organizations.

The three horizons of growth and the 70-20-10 rule of innovation

With that model, it’s quite easy to see that 90% of the innovation efforts should happen around existing products, services and processes. A standalone innovation unit simply won’t be able to work on them effectively. Thus, the vast majority of innovation needs to happen in multiple fronts all over the organization, instead of an “innovation silo”.

However, those silos might come in handy for working on the transformational initiatives, since they, by definition, shouldn’t be constrained by the existing processes and ways of working within the organization.

Without either maturity or scale, or both, would-be innovators are bound to run into a number of challenges.

Classifying the innovators

Using the innovation maturity matrix, we can divide innovators into four distinct groups: beginners, traditionalists, scalers, as well as the advanced innovators. Let’s look into each of these in a bit more detail.


The first group is beginners. I’m sure we’re all familiar with beginners. It’s those organizations who aren’t even interested in innovation, or who might have a vague idea that it could be useful, but don’t have any clue on where to start.

Given the background, it’s quite evident that there’s very little to no innovation in these organizations.

There are often heroic individuals that are innovating and working really hard to turn these organizations around, but without top management support to scale their work, these efforts don't usually result in much impact to speak of.

If you’re in one of these organizations, your first step should be to get management to understand the importance of innovation, and convince them to start hiring talent who understand innovation and then give them plenty of responsibility for getting things off the ground.


Next we have the traditional organizations. These are usually large and mature organizations that have long traditions in their industry and often also have strong R&D heritages.

They typically invest significant resources into R&D and have clear processes in place for developing new products and services, as well as for managing their overall portfolio. Some of these organizations may be past their best days, but there are also highly successful ones.

Some traditional organizations have great history but are past their prime

These traditional innovators have, however, typically come across the limitations of the traditional R&D process. They have a hard time keeping up with the rapid change we see everywhere, which often renders products obsolete by the time they are launched.

In addition, innovators who rely purely on their R&D or innovation units miss out on a huge proportion of incremental and adjacent innovation opportunities within the core operations of the organization that we referred to earlier.

For these organizations, the best approach is typically to start introducing incremental innovation initiatives one-by-one across the organization, as well as setting up a new independent unit responsible for advancing those transformational innovation opportunities that could help shape the future of these organizations.

Level of centralization compared to innovation maturity

Even though the end-goal is a decentralized approach, it often makes sense to have a temporary centralized party responsible for developing the right capabilities and drive change within the organization.


Premature scaling is by far the most common reason for startup deaths, and the same challenge also applies for innovation efforts within larger organizations.

Scalers are organizations that know they need to innovate, but don’t have the patience to properly build their capabilities step-by-step. The end result is innovation theater that falls apart as soon as the curtain closes at the end of each act.

Scalers are organizations that need to innovate, but don’t have the patience to properly build their capabilities step-by-step. The end result is innovation theater that falls apart as soon as the curtain closes at the end of each act.

Scalers simply copy the visible tactics that many of the top innovators are using and then deploy them across the organization without building the right capabilities and structures for capitalizing on the opportunities for innovation they discover.

Let’s illustrate this with a story we’ve seen happen over and over again:

A company has seen their profits and market share start to shrink. There are more and more entrants to their market every year. They have little competitive advantage against these new entrants and have realized the need for more innovation.

As a result, they set up a new innovation lab or team. The new team is put in a difficult position. They have limited resources and authority within the firm, yet they are still supposed to be responsible for turning the organization more innovative.

They are typically given quite free hands but rarely have strategic objectives more specific than “please innovate” or “think about the future of our business”, as top management doesn’t usually have experience from leading innovation and have also heard that innovation requires quite a bit of freedom.

What then happens is that these teams might run some lightweight pilots for new digital and digital-enabled products and services, which they then try to hand off to existing business units as they don’t have the resources to commercialize these products.

Freedom to innovate

These business units, however, don’t have the capabilities to develop or roll them out and often don’t even have interest in doing so since focusing on these new services would mean not being able to reach their own short-term goals.

Having realized that they can’t innovate alone, they start to work on transforming the company culture to be more innovative, and to try to get the business units excited about innovation, which typically means holding “Dragon’s Den” events, hackathons, creativity workshops and sending people off into seminars etc.

These actions might generate good vibes and positive feedback, but once people get back into their old roles and incentives, they inevitably fall right back into their old habits.

As a result, no real change happens and the organization, especially management, gradually becomes more and more skeptical of innovation.

That’s obviously a very tough situation to come back from, and thus something you should try to avoid.

If you find yourself on this path, the answer is to take a step back, look at the big picture and figure out the role innovation could play in their specific business, then break that vision down into smaller, highly concrete initiatives and gradually start chipping away at them.

They key is making sure that these initiatives generate measurable results and contribute towards the strategic goals of the organization.


The top innovators can all be found from this group. They are constantly thinking about the long-term future of their organization and have projects in place for exploring these opportunities, but they also keep improving their existing business one innovation at a time, be they big or small.

For these organizations, innovation is business as usual. These organizations have people whose job involves innovation virtually across the organization. Most of these people won’t even have “innovation” in their job titles, they could be project managers, designers, engineers, analysts, you name it.

Innovation isn’t just the job of people in brightly colored hoodies at a hip co-working space, innovation is about systematically and gradually building the future of the organization, and all of the top innovators know that.

Innovation isn’t just the job of people in brightly colored hoodies at a hip co-working space, innovation is about systematically and gradually building the future of the organization, and all of the top innovators know that.

The Innovation Maturity Matrix explained

The journey towards becoming a top innovator

Depending on where you’re starting from, there’s obviously more than one way to get to the top right corner, and we already touched upon some of the actions you might want to take in the previous chapter.

However, what is important to understand is that when you are an established organization, transformations like these won’t happen overnight, and even when successful, they rarely are projects with clean start and end dates.

Strong leadership and decisive actions are required to get the process started, and clear communication is a must to ensure that everyone understands where the organization is headed.

A great starting point is always to illustrate the big picture of where you want to go, and then break it down into smaller, more easily achievable and practical goals that will get you closer to that vision.

An example process for building innovation maturity

Still, the single most important thing to understand is that it’s an iterative process.

The single most important thing to understand is that innovation transformation is an iterative process.

Without taking action, you can’t make change happen. Yet, many of those actions will likely fail because the company isn’t yet ready for them.

Maybe you’ll realize that you don’t have a very innovative culture, or maybe you don’t have nearly enough capabilities for implementing some of the ideas you’ve come up with.

Some of these challenges you might have been able to foresee and avoid with careful planning, but there are always just as many you won’t be able to.

So, do your homework and start with a solid plan, but don’t spend too much time and effort in perfecting it. It will fail regardless.

We’ve never heard of a large-scale organizational transformation that has gone exactly as planned. So, be prepared for the obstacles you will inevitably meet, learn from them and get over or around them one by one.

Prepare for the challenges in your innovation transformation

The bad news is that there won’t be any shortcuts.

The good news is that when you start making practical changes around things that matter, you’ll start to see measurable progress very soon. This will allow you to build momentum by improving your skills, capabilities, processes and even shift the culture, all of which naturally helps build conviction in the transformation since you can communicate these wins within the organization.

What’s more, you don’t have to invest hundreds of millions of dollars into the transformation right away.

You can start small and increase investments gradually once you’ve proven the approach to work and generate positive results. With that track record, it’s usually quite easy to convince management and owners of the organization to double down on innovation.

It won’t likely be the quick turnaround you might’ve hoped for, but once you’ve continued down that road for a couple of years, you’ll be able to look back at the stagnated competition and see just far you’ve come.

If you’d like to learn what your current maturity level is, or figure out what next steps you should take to get to the next level, feel free to take our Innovation Maturity Test!