Innovation is a Journey, Not a Destination

Janaki Mythily Kumar
Experience Matters
Published in
5 min readFeb 14, 2017


Successful design-driven companies go beyond using design as a service, and see it instead as a catalyst for culture change and as a tool to drive business strategy and innovation. However, they do not get there overnight. Creating a culture of design-led innovation is a journey that takes time and commitment.

From our experience at SAP’s Design and Co-Innovation Center, we believe customers fit into four stages of an innovation culture: Interested, Invested, Engaged, and Scaled.

In the first stage, organizations are interested in design and design-led innovation, but they view design as a luxury that is not worth the cost.

In the second stage, organizations begin investing in design practices and experience some pockets of success. However, the success is ad hoc and not repeatable.

In the third stage, organizations are engaged in design-led innovation practices. The organizations view design as a competence, and they lobby for design resources when starting projects. However, they only experience design-led innovations in the context of product design.

Finally, the fourth stage marks successful scaling of design-led innovation practices. Organizations are utilizing the practices beyond product design to drive business strategy and to co-innovate with customers.

Each readiness stage offers its own unique strengths, and also poses various barriers, to innovation. It is important to understand this, and to address each barrier strategically in order to make meaningful progress.

The innovation readiness survey helps organizations understand where they are in their journey, and barriers in their path. As of January, 2017, 110 customers from various industries have taken our survey. Based on a preliminary analysis, we observe a number of common barriers.

Through the survey and through our own experience working with clients, we are able to identify which key barriers are unique to each participating organization based on the stage they place in. From there, we can offer concrete recommendations about how to move forward.

Stage 1: Interested

The lonely soldier

In stage 1, when an organization is interested, the key barrier is most often lack of executive support. In some cases, there is top level support but mid-management resistance.

During this stage, it is important to make a case for design-led innovation through a concrete project. Double deliver and document the process, and use this to show the effectiveness of a new way show the effectiveness of this new way of thinking and working.

Stage 2: Invested

Success in silos

In stage 2, when an organization has made some investment in design-led innovation and has seen some success, the key barrier is often that the rest of the organization is skeptical of the pockets of success, because they do not possess a design mind set.

At this stage, it is important to create awareness of the power of design and design-led innovation within the entire organization. Otherwise, the organizational anti-bodies will squelch any success that the company is starting to see.

Stage 3: Engaged

The push-pull shift

In stage 3, Engaged, design is viewed a competency. The team looks for design thinking and design doing resources when beginning projects, but the biggest barrier is a lack of design resources.

Our recommendation in this situation is to scale the limited resources by creating a center of excellence, and by using technology to share best practices across the organization.

Stage 4: Scaled

Scale up!

The transition from stage 3 to stage 4 is the most transformative, since it requires the design team to grow and stretch in new ways. To effectively drive business strategy, designers must learn more about how the business runs, and objectively analyze their design decisions based on business impact.

Practical Advice

To be an effective change agent, it is important to know what to do, and what not to do.

For example, if executives don’t know of the power of design-led innovation, it will be an uphill battle to lobby for design resources. First, you need to introduce them to a pilot project to effectively deal with stage 1 challenges. Further, once you do have executive support in stage 2, it is not advisable to continue to do individual projects without scaling the design mind set throughout the organization. This will build organizational resistance to your innovation efforts. Lastly, it is important not to add design resources while in stage 3 without establishing standards and guidelines, as this could lead to fragmentation of your customer experience.

Organizational transformation is both a top-down and a bottom up initiative. Sure, executive support is essential, but when an organization is transforming and becoming a design-led innovative culture, it’s not the executives who are solely responsible for generating the fruits of success — it’s the intrepreneurs, the idea generators, the big thinkers and doers, who are empowered and enabled by the organization.

It is also important to consider that most organizations have multiple cultures — some departments may be more innovative than others. So, they may be working in different stages within different departments. We suggest that you send our survey link to different departments and request a custom report. We can then include individual department assessments, as well as an overall assessment.

Finally, the defining element of an innovation culture is customer centricity. So ensure that the customer’s voice is the loudest in the room!

In order to more effectively assist our customers in benchmarking themselves based on their industry, we need more data. So, we would greatly appreciate your help.

Kindly visit our website,, to take the free survey, and please share this link with your friends and colleagues. This will empower you with actionable insights, and it will empower us with insightful data that we can analyze and share with you in a later blog post.

To view Janaki Kumar’s previous blog posts about the Foster Innovation Culture initiative, see Don’t Wait, Innovate! and What does it take to innovate? on our SAP Design page.



Janaki Mythily Kumar
Experience Matters

Design leader experienced in building, coaching, inspiring high-performance design teams and driving design-led transformation in the enterprise.

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