Right-Size Your iZONE Investment


In our last post, we unpacked the 4 Dimensions or Zones of Innovation: Game-Changing, Disruptive, Breakthrough, and Incremental. I urged you to lead your team to carefully consider the nuances of the different dimensions of innovation, incentivizing you with this payoff: higher sophistication in your innovative thought will deepen effectiveness in your innovative action. Now let’s take it further.

What is the right iZone (innovation zone) for you and your team to focus on? Is it best to specialize in 1 of the 4 dimensions or to seek to divide your energy amongst the 4 and be a “4D” team or company?

These are important questions. Before we try to answer those, let’s consider a couple more. What iZone or dimension do you tend to engage the most? Which one should you engage more?

Answering these questions will help you to get a better grasp on how to invest your innovational time and energy. Nailing this down will immediately clarify expectations, relieve needless pressure from your team, help you avoid investing too much time and energy in the dimensions that won’t yield as much strategic value in a particular season, allow you to drive down deeper into the dimension that will, give you a more holistic and less monolithic approach to innovation, and bring real-time increased strength to your organization’s competitive advantage.

The proportion of time that you invest in each of the 4 iZones should likely hinge on several factors: your industry, current marketplace challenges, level of resourcing, appetite for risk, where your organization sits in its life cycle (i.e., growing, plateauing, declining), and your target customer’s chief needs. But what I would argue here is the importance of disciplining yourself to invest some time in each of the 4 iZones. So try this: based on your unique situation, prioritize the 4 iZones—where should you be investing the most of your innovational time and energy.

For example, when I prioritize the iZones for where my organization (a church) is currently, based on the factors I just mentioned, my sense is that we need to invest most of our time in Incremental innovation, then in Breakthrough innovation, then less in Disruptive, and the least in Game-Changing innovation. What would be yours?

Once you develop a sense of how to prioritize the iZones for your team or organization, then engage a conversation to identify the right percentage of time and energy your team thinks it should ideally invest in each of those dimensions. When I do this for my team, we discover that we’d like our time and energy to ideally be divided up this way: 60% to Incremental, 20% to Breakthrough, 15% to Disruptive, and 5% to Game-Changing.

When you arrive at a position about where your team should be investing the majority and the minority of your innovational time and energy, you’re well on your way to right-sizing your iZone investment. And when you begin to reorient your schedules and efforts around those convictions, you’ll be well on your way to becoming a 4D innovation team.

IMPORTANT NOTE: The time you can invest toward these 4 iZones is merely a slice of the overall time you have in a work week to devote toward innovation endeavors due to the other essential operational tasks that demand your attention. In other words, if you only have 5 hours per week to invest in innovation, your percentages are applied to that 5 hour period, not your entire work week. And every team and organization needs to decide what your innovational time pie slice is and should be. And the leadership needs to go so far as to declare the expectations here—making sure your team is crystal clear about how many hours a week or month you are giving them catalytic permission to innovate.

Keep in mind there is likely a seasonal aspect to these proportions, so you may need a different iZone blend or mix if you’re a start-up or a turnaround or if you’re in a season of crisis or major transition. You’ll likely want to revisit your current iZone mix every several months to ensure optimal progress.

Finally, one of the best ways to ensure that your team/org is not short-changing the time invested in Game-Changing innovation would be to declare a small team of top leaders who are chiefly (but not totally) responsible to make regular (biweekly or monthly at least) slack in their schedules for Game-Changing innovation thinking, discussion, debate, discovery, and learning. Then, at the right time, they can bring their best ideas back to the appropriate team for further refinement and more traction. This way, the smaller team ensures that the larger organization is continually fed with the “bluest sky” ideas and the source is top leadership, so ownership is strongest.

CAUTION: to protect this team from being considered as the elite innovator SWAT team, which could engender animosity from others not included on the team, it may be helpful to include other people from other parts of the organization from time to time.

What do you think about this approach to stewarding your time and energy for innovation? Do you have any success stories to share around right-sizing your time and energy investment around innovation? Any further insights or cautions you can share?


  1. Dave

    Great stuff!

    Reminds me of Kim’s and Mauborgne’s Blue Ocean Shift helping teams innovate in a way that delivers a true leap in VALUE.

    Their tool, the pioneer-migrator-settler map is divided into three segments:

    1) Pioneers: businesses or offerings that represent value innovations. They don’t have customers, but fans offering unprecedented value. Very similar to the “game changing.”
    2) Settlers: businesses or offerings that offer value imitation, small changes to converge the rest of the industry. Similar to the “incremental.”
    3) Migrators: An in-between strategy that provides value improvement over competition, sometimes even best in class, yet void of innovation value. Similar to “breakthrough.”

    An organization will find itself extremely vulnerable if it doesn’t have something in the “pioneer” or “breakthrough” pipeline, living on fumes from its past success.

    Overall, a successful process of innovating towards those larger markets demands what they call an “earn the right to grow” approach, realizing multiple ideas have to give freedom to take root or die, and for the organization to be okay with that.

  2. Marcus Bieschke

    Dave, thanks for this robust reply! In future posts, we’ll continue to add texture that allows us make even more and more distinctions of kinds of innovation, giving us the gift of greater sophistication. But I really like the Blue Ocean Shift model you share here as it relates to personalizing innovation moves.

    It reminds me of Kelley and Littman’s book called “The Ten Faces of Innovation” where they offer the following helpful personality styles of innovation:
    1. The Anthropologist
    2. The Experimenter
    3. The Cross-Pollinator
    4. The Hurdler
    5. The Collaborator
    6. The Director
    7. The Experience Architect
    8. The Set Designer
    9. The Storyteller
    10. The Caregiver

    Which would you say you are? And how about your collective team?

  3. Greg Davis

    At the risk of focusing on semantics I suggest any type of innovation group focus on the problem or opportunity before any focus on “ideas.” Many people gravitate toward a solution before they truly understand the problem. I have seen many good solutions or ideas go nowhere because they didn’t completely solve the problem. I am not saying to ignore ideas, but before you spend time on developing an idea be disciplined to spend time on truly understanding the problem to solve or opportunity that sparked the idea. Then, when implementing initial ideas continue to learn about the problem and refine the solution.


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