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Are your innovations taking off?

How to drive sustainable innovation in manufacturing – the six key levers

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Manufacturers are spending more on innovation but our research shows half of the ideas they generate fail to become a reality. So how can they ensure their innovative ideas turn into commercial success?

As part of our innovation as Unusual survey, we asked 100 senior leaders from the consumer products, industrial engineering and automotive sectors about the critical factors in successful innovation. The findings show that embedding a culture of innovation reinforced by leadership that encourages and nurtures innovation are vital.

Building, embedding and sustaining that innovation culture and securing its rewards requires a focus on six essential levers:

  • build internal fluidity
  • establish external networks
  • embed innovation in the company
  • support experimentation
  • use free space creatively
  • strengthen the ability to manage conflicts

How to embed a culture of innovation

Our research shows that innovation leaders in manufacturing have distinctive cultures that:

  • Enable innovators to fail safely and frugally. They recognise that failure does not need to be expensive nor put careers at risk.
  • Take a bold and visionary approach. They recognise strategic innovation might mean cannibalizing their own business.
  • Embrace an entrepreneurial mindset. They create a network of vendors or customers to help them to innovate.
  • Democratise innovation. 38% of our respondents said of their best ideas originate from their rank-and-file employees.

There are five key building blocks that make up the landscape in the current manufacturing sectors: context, areas, processes, structure and barriers.


The challenge manufacturers face is that these building blocks are changing and companies need to respond. In particular, for innovation to succeed they will need to look at structure and processes and move from the current hierarchical approach to one that is driven by flexible networks. They will also need to be ready to respond the increased focus on digitisation and adjust their work to enable those digital approaches.

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Six levers for success

Our work with a range of organisations, and analysis of the companies that responded to our survey, shows that there is a clear correlation between the use of the six key levers and a sustainable innovation culture that generates commercial success.

The most important levers for success are the support for experimentation and how well innovation is embedded, followed by the freeing of space for creativity and the use of external networks. These are all supported by the sixth lever – managing conflicts. With a larger network of external stakeholders, fluid organisational structures and more freedom, the change of conflict substantially increases and managing this well is a central factor in a company's ability to innovate successfully. 

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Key steps to creating a sustainable innovation culture

We have identified three key steps to developing successful and sustainable innovation culture:

  • Examine the current status of existing behaviors and networks to identify barriers, innovation potential and change objectives
  • Schedule and pilot they way forward using innovative methods like design-thinking workshops or rich picture development
  • Implement the initiative and measure their progress

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Contact us

To speak to one of our experts about developing your organisation’s innovation management capabilities, please contact

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