4 keys to sustaining innovation

Big-bang innovation projects capture the imagination, but many lack staying power. Here's how to build longevity into your innovation initiatives.

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Thousands of articles, books, talks, and seminars have been devoted to tales of cool innovative projects that have transformed companies and even entire industries. Indeed, innovation is unarguably a key business differentiator. 

But little has been written about whether those success stories have staying power. Were they  able to sustain and grow their initial innovation into a pipeline of disruption? What lessons can be learned from their success? 

Following are four truths about sustained innovation. Some of these may seem counter-intuitive or even downright heretical, but they're based on our years of experience guiding innovation in private and public companies across 40 cities globally.

1. You don’t need a visionary

Popular wisdom holds that innovative companies are driven by visionary leaders, and their success can be attributed to the charisma and imagination of those individuals.  Classic examples are Steve Jobs and Elon Musk: In both cases, their names are synonymous with their companys' accomplishments.

But those examples are more the exception than the rule. In most cases, companies that sustain innovation over an extended period, transcending any one leader, share the following characteristics: 

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