Endpoint: Closing the Gaps


How do you measure success? Some days, it might be simply getting dressed, or making it on time to your child’s soccer game. Other days, at the lab or office, perhaps it’s turning in a report on time; or even unlocking the combination to an unknown flavor or fragrance molecule.

From a business standpoint, success is typically measured in numbers—and bigger is usually better, especially if you’re talking about profits. Big Data is another component that has had a massive impact on business success. Indeed, according to Larson and Chang,1 in a recent edition of the International Journal on Information Management, the Big Data phenomenon and its volume, variety and velocity have impacted business intelligence and the use of information. From this, new trends such as fast analytics and data science have even emerged.

Behind the numbers, though, as I’m sure any of this month’s Leaderboard companies would agree, is a lot of love, sweat and tears. So what is the optimal formula for success? And what gaps could be filled to move success forward? This brief review explores these questions and reveals our top four picks for what business needs researchers have identified.

1. Train to Innovate

Innovation is crucial to the lifeblood of a company’s unique selling proposition. And many companies already invest heavily in R&D and innovation. But how are they investing? Do the actors involved really know how to innovate? According to a recent paper by authors Michaelis and Markham, no.2

Their research, published in Research-Technology Management, involved interviewing 30 senior R&D managers from Fortune 1000 companies. Results indicated that even though senior managers viewed innovation success as more focused on human capital than previously, innovation training rarely happens. Nearly 80% of the companies reported “rarely engaging in structured training to build innovation competencies.” So, although efforts to improve processes and integrate new development methods have led to system efficiencies, a large skill gap remains.

2. Map and Diversify Innovation

In relation, diversifying innovation can support a company’s success, as authors Alabbas and Abdel-Razek emphasized3 in the Journal of Innovation Management. For example, although introducing new product innovations is important, innovation should span processes, market positions, paradigms, etc., and variations thereof—all aspects of a business to adapt to challenging environments.

To ensure a business is diversifying its “innovation portfolio,” the authors show how mapping can be used to organize efforts, determine current innovation focus, and explore holes where development could lead to future success. This approach also can ensure incremental improvements to keep companies competitive, or identify if more radical improvements are necessary.

Here, the authors took innovation mapping a step further, to compare the profiles of three petrochemical companies with one another: Gulf Petrochemical Industries Company (GPIC), Saudi Basic Industries Corporation (SABIC) and Dow Chemical. Innovation data across three years (2010-2012) was collected, analyzed and mapped.

Ten innovation areas were plotted. These included four single dimensions: 1. product innovation, i.e., what is introduced to the market or to customers; 2. process innovation, or how the company produces or delivers the product, 3. position innovation, or the market positioning for a product; and 4. paradigm innovation, meaning the company’s frame of product reference, or mental model for the company’s work. Six innovation combinations also were plotted: product-process, product-position, product-paradigm, process-position, process-paradigm and position-paradigm.

Results showed the three companies completed 194 innovations in total: 53% by Dow Chemical, 38% by SABIC and 9% by GPIC. Product innovations were the dominant type, representing 57% of the total. Position and paradigm innovations were the minority, representing only 3% and 1%, respectively. Also, multi-dimensional innovations represented 23.7% of total innovations, and product-process innovations represented 50% of that subset. Interestingly, during this period, only 5.7% of the total innovations were radical; these were all introduced by Dow Chemical.

The benchmarking results reveal product innovation was a strength for SABIC; process innovation was the strength for GPIC; and product, radical, product-position, process-position and product-paradigm were strengths for Dow Chemical. This translates as opportunities in the areas of product, product-process and process-position innovations for GPIC; and for Dow Chemical and SABIC, in the process innovation area.

3. Act ‘Pre’sponsibly

In today’s F&F market, sustainability and its role in social responsibility are nearly a given for product development. Companies have long faced pressure from consumer concerns over certain chemicals, as well as stakeholders aware of those concerns, even when those concerns are not backed by sound science.

According to a paper by Scruggs and Van Buren,4 published in Business & Society, unregulated and potentially hazardous chemicals and/or their levels in consumer products are not well-understood by the general public, yet a number of proactive (and successful) consumer product companies have voluntarily adopted strategies to minimize the use of such chemicals—despite these actions being costly. Why?

In this paper, authors identified the most significant reasons given by senior environmental directors for 20 multinational consumer product companies: to achieve a competitive advantage and stay ahead of regulations, as well as manage relationships and maintain legitimacy with stakeholders.

4. Know Your Identity

Finally, as Keller and Richey explain in the upcoming book Advances in Corporate Branding,5 as markets continue to mature and competition grows fiercer, companies will not succeed on products or services alone. So now, more than ever before, it is important for companies to have a culture and sense of corporate citizenship to compete in the marketplace.

This could mean embracing sustainability or other initiatives to pre-empt consumer pressure; mapping your innovation strategies against like-minded competitors—with whom you want to compete; or investing in the people who can make major innovation breakthroughs. Whatever gap or gaps you choose to address, build it into your identity because according to these authors, “The success of a 21st century business will be defined as much by who it is as what it does.”


  1. D Larson and V Chang, A review and future direction of Agile, business intelligence, analytics and data science, Intl J Information Mgmt 36(5) (Oct 2016) pp 700-710
  2. T Michaelis and SK Markham, Innovation training, Research-technology Mgmt 60(2) (2017)
  3. S Ali Alabbas and RH Abdel-Razek, Mapping and benchmarking technological innovation of three international petrochemical companies, J Innovation Mgmt (4(3) (2016)
  4. C Scruggs and HJ Van Buren, Why leading consumer product companies develop proactive chemical management strategies, Business & Society 55(5) (2016)
  5. KL Keller and K Richey, The importance of corporate brand personality traits to a successful 21st century business, in JMT Balmer et al, eds, Advances in Corporate Branding, Palgrave Macmillan, London (to be released 2017)
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