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Thursday, April 29, 2010

Setting Big Things in Motion

by Braden Kelley

Setting Big Things in MotionI had the opportunity to attend a Biznik Innovators event featuring John Hagel III (JH) and John Seely Brown (JSB) earlier this week and thought I would bring you some of the highlights and a video interview with John Seely Brown.

Here are some of the key insights:
  • Don't focus on employee satisfaction. Often the most passionate people are the most frustrated. In the typical organization about 20% of the employees are passionate and 80% are not. This percentage is inversely correlated with corporation size. - JH

  • "Extreme performance only comes from people who are passionate." - JSB

  • Compactness Theorem - Kids need to link, then lurk, then join - JSB

  • Spikes are places where you have a concentration of people focused on the same thing. When it comes to spikes in today's flat world, you can either go there, or try to pull them to you or pull them together. - JSB

  • John Hagel told a story about Chris Anderson, Wired magazine editor and his side-project - Drone aircraft - and how he found a guy to be his CTO who knew more than anyone else about drone aircraft - only to find out he was a 19-year old high school dropout from Tijuana. He never would have found him via a traditional search.

  • It would be helpful if we changed education system for the new world, but change can start without it - JH

  • John Seely Brown talked about how construction contractors are actually good examples of 'pull' because of the underlying trust networks.

  • The process of idea appropriation is very social and the best ideas do not always win. - JSB

  • Our identities are shifting from consumption to creation. Who has used what you've created? What have you learned from it? - JH

  • It used to be that what was important was 'What I own and control', but now 'I am what I build, share, and what others build on' - JSB

  • Firms are focused on scalable efficiencies and need to switch to scalable learning. - JSB

  • Handling exceptions is an opportunity for all employees to be creative - JSB

  • Passionate people who leave organizations are incredibly important to innovation ecosystems. They often help start the next wave of innovation. - JSB

  • 75% of business change initiatives fail. Most that succeed are threat-based. - JH

  • Business relationships must create mutual value or they end quickly. - JSB

  • You can't control serendipity but you can shape it. - JH

John Seely Brown elaborates on the principles of the book in the embedded video.

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Braden KelleyBraden Kelley is the editor of Blogging Innovation and founder of Business Strategy Innovation, a consultancy focusing on innovation and marketing strategy. Braden is also @innovate on Twitter.

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Innovation - Science or Alchemy?

by Jeffrey Phillips

Innovation - Science or Alchemy?Fair warning: today's post is a philosophical debate about the direction and focus of innovation as a tool to create new products and services. Too often we in the innovation space take for granted how different and unique the tools and processes we bring to bear are for many in corporate settings. We also don't always understand how these tools and methods depart from the traditional, comfortable methods of many of our clients.

We stand today, 2010, at a crossroads from an innovation perspective. Innovation is going to become either a reputable science or a disreputable side show, and there are two constituents that will direct the outcomes. Innovation consultants and others who offer innovation services are one group that will dictate how innovation is eventually accepted and perceived, and our prospects and buyers in firms large and small are the others. In just a short time we'll all have to agree that innovation is a science, with repeatable experiments that create real results, or innovation is alchemy, a mystical philosophical magic that promises gold but delivers lead.

Alchemists, you'll recall, were (to some extent still are) people who seek to convert base metals to gold. They worked in secret, always on the brink of discovery of a chemical compound that would instantly create riches from the most common metals. The problem with alchemists is that they consistently overpromised and underdelivered. They cloaked their methods in mystical thinking and secret formulas. They often substituted small amounts of gold that they possessed to demonstrate the ability to convert base metals, and then demanded greater and greater compensation to convert more metal into gold.

We as innovation consultants and practitioners, in partnership with our clients, need to establish clear understanding and expectation about the "art" and "science" that we propose to do. Like alchemists, we propose to turn simple insights and ideas into winning new products, services and business models, faster and more effectively than firms have done in the past. We employ radical tools and creative thinking in ways that are new and different from what many in corporate American have experienced, and there are many within corporate America who believe we in the innovation space are charlatans, out to make a quick buck rather than create a true innovation science.

In some cases those feelings may be correct. When IBM runs an advertisement that shows a team lying on the floor in the dark "ideating", people may believe that seems odd and strange. While I've been in the innovation space over six years, I've never had my clients lie on the floor in the dark. Perhaps that is valuable, or perhaps IBM was making fun of these uncertain approaches. But when we as practitioners introduce radically new ways of creating insights or ideas, we need to also demonstrate the value proposition and the outcomes. Recently I saw that Imaginatik has released the ability for its clients to capture ideas using mobile devices. This has both a positive and a negative connotation. If we are capturing ideas on the go because people are now more mobile, then that's reasonable. If we are promoting that technology because "you just never know when someone will have a good idea" then that suggests that innovation is unmanageable and is a black art after all, which could only contribute to the thinking that innovation is alchemy.

We need to demonstrate that innovation is a repeatable process, a science, based on useful tools and techniques and linked directly to important corporate goals and strategies. Innovation is simply a tool to accelerate the development of valuable and useful products and services, and a method to identify emerging opportunities or threats, hopefully before they are realized. What alchemists understood was that kings needed wealth to cement their power and project force, so they attempted to create a simple, easy way for kings and rulers to acquire gold, knowing it was a sham. What innovators need to understand is that executives need new products, services and business models to sustain competitive advantage, and we need to demonstrate our methods are more science than alchemy.

Our buyers need to help as well. Rather than consider innovation a sideshow where everyone will run around wearing funny hats and talking about outlandish concepts the firm can't possibly accomplish, people within the corporation need to clearly state corporate objectives and strategies and determine which efforts can be accelerated by placing their best thinkers in a process that accelerates idea generation. Sure, we may occasionally use mystical tools like creative thinking and idea generation, but those tools are harnessed to an important end goal and used within a repeatable innovation process. If our buyers approach innovation as an impossible last resort to change the business, rather than a respectable business method to improve and change the business, then we and they have already failed. An innovator cannot create interesting, useful ideas that will be implemented in a business, any more than alchemists can convert lead into gold, if the participants in the business aren't committed to the tools, don't believe change is possible and remained locked in old ways of thinking.

To create an innovation science, two things have to change. We, the innovation practitioners, must demonstrate the tools we use are practical and reasonable, and our methods are repeatable and deliver value. We need to strip away any magic and demonstrate the value of the methods, tools and processes we use. This doesn't mean that we don't on occasion use a wide variety of tools and techniques that a firm finds uncomfortable or different. The definition of insanity, according to Einstein, is doing the same things over and over again and expecting different results. We need new ways of thinking to solve new problems, we just have to demonstrate that they work and are based on science and process.

The second thing that must change is that our buyers and business partners, the people within businesses who need innovation, must change. They must understand that innovation isn't a black art or a side show, but a process that requires commitment, communication, cultural change and, yes, some new methods and tools. Until innovation is viewed as a consistent, repeatable business process that happens to have some interesting tools and techniques, and not a brief interlude by a "tin hat" brigade, innovation will be viewed as more alchemy than science, and most reasonable people should be expected to reject alchemists.

As I wrote earlier, innovation as a strategic tool for growth and differentiation, stands at a crossroads. In the next few years it will either be accepted as a reputable science and incorporated as part of any operating business model within larger corporations, or it will be regarded as an interesting sideshow, more alchemy than science, and while possibly valuable, too strange or different to be adopted consistently. How this gets resolved is based on the results we innovators can deliver, the tools and techniques we use and the expectations and commitments of our clients to adopt the thinking and methods we recommend.

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Jeffrey PhillipsJeffrey Phillips is a senior leader at OVO Innovation. OVO works with large distributed organizations to build innovation teams, processes and capabilities. Jeffrey is the author of "Make us more Innovative", and innovateonpurpose.blogspot.com.

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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Silos and Innovation - Break Down or Work Around?

by Stefan Lindegaard

Silos and Innovation - Break Down or Work Around?"How do you break down internal silos in order to improve at innovation? Open innovation - or any kind of innovation - suffers with silos. What are your insights and experiences on this issue?"

I posted these questions in the 15inno by Stefan Lindegaard group on LinkedIn about a month ago. We got 28 comments with lots of great advice. (Click on Discussions in the group if you want to read this). I have been looking through these comments a couple of times as I wanted to write a blog posts with an excerpt on this.

This has not yet happened and one reason is that I have begun thinking differently about silos and their impact on innovation.

Perhaps we do not have to break down silos to drive more innovation. Perhaps we should just accept the silos and work around the issues they can create on innovation. Perhaps open innovation will change things by itself.

Let me share some thoughts on this.

The smart people with drive and energy - and an interest in innovation - that I meet are most often attracted to great ideas and initiatives with a potential to really make a difference. Often, they do not care about the nitty-gritty kind of incremental innovation which proven and time-tested processes in silos also can take care of by itself.

We all know that corporate executives also crave for innovation that can really make a difference and as they begin to accept the loss of control and potential side-effects (check this blog post on open innovation side-effects) that are related to open innovation, it becomes easier for smart people from different parts of a company as well as for external partners to gather around the ideas that can really make a difference.

Why? A key reason is that we are getting more and more tools and solutions that allows us to innovate across corporate as well as industry boundaries. Just take a look at these initiatives: InnoCentive@Work, Intuit Brainstorm and Inno360. The latter is a software developer working with still un-identified open innovation leaders to develop the next generation open innovation platforms.

When corporate executives willingly accept more experimentation and a fair amount of failure on the innovation process itself, they will begin to understand that innovation delivers best when different business functions - and external partners - come together to develop products, services, solutions and processes that meet the needs of users and customers. This mindset change can be re-enforced by the above technology development.

We also have to remember that innovation can be radical in many different ways. It does not only apply to market approaches or technologies. Innovation can be just as radical with regards to the internal processes.

This is what this is really about and as with any kind of initiatives with a radical, disruptive or breakthrough potential, we need different approaches and setups that provides protection from the bureaucracy and corporate politics we have to deal with in any larger organization. So if companies really want to embrace open innovation, they will have to make organizational adjustments.

I believe this development will reduce silo-related obstacles on innovation although it will take several years before most companies reach this level of innovation maturity. Until then, it might still be relevant to check out the advice given in the LinkedIn discussion that inspired this post...

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Stefan Lindegaard is a speaker, network facilitator and strategic advisor who focus on the topics of open innovation, intrapreneurship and how to identify and develop the people who drive innovation.

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Why Crowdsourcing Often Fails

And what you may not know about crowdsourcing

by Idris Mootee

Why Crowdsourcing Often FailsInnovation is hard. It is not about getting the idea at all, it is about managing ideas. So you've have a few great ideas, so what? There is a lot of art and science behind moving ideas along corporate decision chain as well as in managing the unknowns. I remember I used to teach an in-house program for my strategists on "managing the unknowns." These MBAs would struggle with not finding enough data points and get stuck in the innovation process. How often do these big world-changing ideas come from people with MBAs?

But then there are so many ideas such as Google, Twitter, Facebook, OnStar, Kindle, Blackberry and the X-37B space plane launched this week... that turned into innovations that change the way we work and play forever, stirred new competition, and created new wealth. The future is never about the future, it is about now.

What changed our life, work and business? I will say automation, digital technologies, social media, modern medicines, jet engines, fast food, mass manufacturing, the marginal productivity theory of wages, consumerism and modernism. Many of these ideas grew in a world with fundamental economic convictions, namely the mass-production and mass-consumption of goods.

But these assumptions are fast changing. Spend a few days around the world stopping over in Shenzen, Shanghai, Mumbai and Seoul and you know what's really happening out there. Companies are getting desperate and now reaching out to suppliers and customers for ideas. Some even go to the extreme of sourcing ideas from everyone - the crowd.

There's this naive belief that the crowd is smarter than individual. This is a dangerous theory. Engaging suppliers, advanced users and front-end employees are good practices, but not letting them do your job.

There is one recent book about crowdsourcing suggesting that companies should stir things up. Just look at the current state of US politics, and ask yourself, is that what you want to happen for your company?

Furthermore, let me tell you the secret of success for open innovation (this is a better word than crowdsourcing). It is not the ideas, the breadth of the ideas, the quality of ideas, etc. It is about building a team that believes in it and is empowered to make it happen. Crowdsourcing and futurecasting are all great tools to help you get inspired, but they are not innovation. The most important part of innovation is the managing, mobilizing and aligning the ideas to strategic intent. At idea couture, we have the toolkits and processes and have repeatedly applied them effectively in large organizational settings. Unfortunately that's not something we can share here.

Another way to explain what I am trying to say - Karim R. Lakhani, a pro at Harvard Business School, calls what most people refer to as crowdsourcing "broadcast search." A problem statement is broadcast along with associated incentives, and people with expertise apply their talent to solving the problem. I like the term virtuoso search better. But, whatever term we use, let's not call it crowdsourcing and pretend that 10,000 average joes invent better products than Steve Jobs.

The example of Cambrian House provides learnings for everyone. It was a very innovative idea. They were followed by the Kluster, CrowdSpirit, CrowdSpring, and FellowForce. Cambrian House was a pioneer in putting crowdsourcing to work. The company doesn't really exist today and the technology was sold to another company for a fraction of the original investment. This other company now offers their technology solution as a software service.

Cambrian House's CEO Michael Sikorsky reflected on Tech Crunch a few years back about lessons learned (excerpt):

Indeed, our model failed. In short: we became a destination people loved to bookmark more than they loved to actively visit (our traffic pattern was scarily VC-ish). The limiting reagent in the start-up equation is not ideas, but amazing founding teams.

A key assumption for us, which proved out NOT true: given a great idea with great community support and great market test data, we would be able to find (crowdsource) a team willing to execute it OR we could execute it ourselves. We needed amazing founding teams for each of the ideas - this is where our model fell short.

What we learned: it would have been better to back great teams with horrible ideas because most of the heavy lifting kept falling back on us, or a few select community members. A vicious cycle was created leading all of us to get more and more diffuse. Hence: the wisdom of crowds worked well in the model, but it was our participation of crowds aspect which broke down. Trying to find people willing or capable to take on the offspring (our outputs) of the CH model was hard and/or incredibly time consuming.

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Idris MooteeIdris Mootee is the CEO of idea couture, a strategic innovation and experience design firm. He is the author of four books, tens of published articles, and a frequent speaker at business conferences and executive retreats.

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Importance of Trust and Transparency to Innovation

by Geoff Carss

Importance of Trust and Transparency to InnovationThere is lots written about how hard/challenging/difficult transformation/change/innovation are in companies - the bigger the more difficult - but there are two key issues which don't get raised enough (in my view).

Hard decisions and transparency

First - hard decisions. A couple of years ago I attended a Financial Times Innovate conference in London. The speaker that stood out was Syl Saller - the Innovation Director at Diageo (it owns Guiness, Baileys, Smirnoff etc) and her honest insights into innovation and change in global companies. Syl described a series of key meetings about what they were going to invest in to support the growth of new global brands and what they needed to stop in certain countries where investments were being made in local brands. The (relatively) easy bit was where to invest - the (really) hard bit was agreeing on what to stop.

Being a big company metrics drive behaviour so country managers, who ran the local P&L made local decisions to meet their revenue/profit targets. This was counter to growing global brands which, by implication, meant focussed investment in some geographies and lowering investment in others.

The hard decision was working with a country manager to free up local marketing spending for bigger projects - but that meant a country manager may miss their targets - which could impact their careers etc - so 'deals' had to be done - based on trust - such is the reality of big companies - and having worked in IBM for 6 years, these issues are a function of size and reach and really hard to mitigate.

Second - transparency is a killer. An organisation kicks off a transformation or change program - gets consultants in to design and initiate. Consultants leave after the first phase when all kinds of projects have been initiated - and the whole thing stalls as most people go back to their day job and the rate progress is no longer as apparent. In many cases this may be due to lack of visibility rather than actual progress as people are spread across different countries and business units and are trying to manage via conference calls, spreadsheets and monthly powerpoint slide packs.

This lack of transparency can cause confusion, reduced alignment and additional work which in turn makes decision making slower, harder and interventions less effective.

The above is one story, but every CXO and middle manager I know can tell similar ones, regardless of the sector, geography, company culture, etc. Having ways to surface these debilitating and often invisible organizational dynamics is incredibl important for management.

So what are you doing to drive transparency, trust, and hard decisions in your organization?

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Geoff CarssGeoff Carss is VP Sales & Marketing at element8 software. I was previously with Ernst & Young Consulting and IBM Consulting, but I now enjoy working with clients and partners explaining the new ways we can help their organizations transform.

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Monday, April 26, 2010

Crossing the Re-invention Gap - Newspapers

by Adam Hartung

Crossing the Re-invention Gap - NewspapersIs news dying, or are newspapers dying? That's a critical question. Most of us know the demand for news is not dying - and if you needed reinforcement a recent McKinsey & Company study verified that the demand for news has increased (McKinsey Quarterly "A Glimmer of Hope for Newspapers"). And a lot of the increase comes from people under 35 who are escalating their news demands. Of course, most of this increase is coming from the web and mobile media.

Too often, however, we don't see our business growing. Instead, Lock-in to old definitions make us think our business is shrinking when it is actually doing the opposite! And that's the Re-invention Gap. Manufacturers of small printing presses said demand was declining in the 1970s, when in fact demand for copies was exploding. Only the explosion was from xerography instead of presses. So A.B. Dick and Multigraphics, small offset press manufacturers, went out of business when demand for the output of their product was exploding! The market shifted, but it kept growing, and they missed the shift.

Today we see this behavior in most news publishers. Those who print newspapers and magazines are talking about how horrible business is. Only the demand for news is growing more quickly than ever. It's just not demand for print, which arrives too late for many customers. And because print is too slow a distribution method for these customers, advertisers are abandoning print as well. But only if you're Locked-in to printing do you say the market is horrible. Because with demand for news growing, if you reposition yourself to serve the growing part of the market you should say business is great!

Tribune Corporation, owner of The Chicago Tribune newspaper is still in bankruptcy. And its future relies entirely on how well it will serve the needs of on-line news readers. According to Crain's Chicago Business, in "Former Sports Editor Bill Adee Steers Chicago Tribune's On-line Strategy" print advertising revenues fell by 9% versus last year in the most recent quarter. And according to a quoted investment banker, nobody would have much interest in the value of a print newspaper. That business is destined to keep declining.

But simultaneously the volume of on-line ads tripled! And that's what a business has to do to cross its Re-invention Gap. It has to move from the old business into the new business - from the declining elements of its business into the growth elements.

What most businesses do wrong is try to apply their old business model to the new business. The old Success Formula has Lock-ins to metrics, schedules, processes, frequent decisions, decision-makers, strategic plans, etc. which the leadership tries to apply to the new business. For example, most newspapers are used to selling ads for several thousand dollars, based upon the number of subscribers. These are pretty large price points. But on-line, ads are sold per page view or per click. Now we're talking pennies sometimes. And to make money, you have to get a lot of views. Likewise, newspapers work on a 24 hour cycle of news accumulation and publishing, whereas the internet is 24x7 with the opportunity to change headlines and what's reported continuously. If a newspaper tries to apply the old Success Formulas related to sales, pricing and editorial process they fail.

And that's why crossing the re-invention gap requires a big Disruption. You have to get the organization to understand that while you are managing the old business, it is destined to eventually go under. So you have to be prepared to Disrupt the Lock-ins, to discover a new way to do the business. And that can only happen if there is a White Space team dedicated to building a business the way the new marketplace will pay for it. Totally separated from the old business. And exactly the opposite of what Tribune is doing by placing the team in the middle of the old newsroom!

At Tribune, one of the big problems is not only the ad pricing model and news scheduling, but the fact that the leadership is still trying to drive content like they did at the newspaper. Over a decade ago Tribune took a direction of accumulating less news on its own, and as a result it republished lots of content. But now on the internet republishing (or content aggregation as it is called on-line) is far less valuable because readers can go to the source. There are thousands and thousands of aggregators - making competition intense and profits negligible. Why page view a Chicago Tribune web page that's feeding info from the New York Times or Marketwatch or MSNBC when you can go directly to the New York Times or Marketwatch or MSNBC and get it yourself - possibly with other interesting sidebars? Succeeding in the new market requires developing an entirely new Success Formula - which Tribune Company has not done. It's still trying to find that magical "leverage" which will allow it to preserve its "history" (its old Success Formula) while tiptoeing into the new marketplace.

I don't know any newspaper or magazine publisher that has really attacked its Lock-ins, really Disrupted, or set up a true White Space team to explore how to make money in the growing new news market. News Corp. had the chance when it bought MySpace.com, but failed as it destroyed the MySpace business by "helping" its leadership. This market requires understanding how to get the news and report it cheaply and very fast, to computer and mobile device users. That is necessary to obtain the traffic which would be valuable to advertisers. And simultaneously the new team must package ad sales so as to maximize revenues from page views. Most are far too reliant on single ad sales, and not effectively linking the right ads to the right pages to generate more click-throughs as well as views.

The Re-invention Gap
Re-invention Gaps emerge because we let Lock-in blind us to growth opportunities. We define the business around the Lock-ins (such as printing a newspaper) rather than defining it around what the market wants (news). Then when revenues stumble, starting a growth stall, the energy goes into preserving the old Success Formula (and its Lock-ins) first with cost cuts, and later with efforts to "synergize" or "leverage" the old Success Formula into the new market. And this never works. The growing part of the market is entirely different, and requires developing an entirely new Success Formula. That's why even in growing markets businesses fail, unless they commit to Disrupting the Lock-in and using White Space to move back into the growth Rapids.

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Adam HartungAdam Hartung, author of "Create Marketplace Disruption", is a Faculty and Board member of the Lake Forest Graduate School of Management, Managing Partner of Spark Partners, and writes for "Forbes" and the "Journal for Innovation Science."

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There is No GPS for Innovation

by Stephen Shapiro

There is No GPS for InnovationOK, after 2 weeks of sleep deprivation due to manuscript deadlines, I am now back in action here. The final version of the manuscript went to the publisher on Saturday. I then played Personality Poker in Memphis with nearly 100 representatives from Penguin's gift sales on Sunday. These individuals sell books into non-traditional bookstores, gift stores, hospital gift shops, department stores, casino, and similar places.

Last weekend, I played Personality Poker with a couple hundred people at a conference in Canada.

After the event, over a dozen of us decided to go to dinner together. Half the people fit into taxis. After the taxis departed from the hotel, the remaining individuals went in two cars, one of which I drove. We had the address and a map. I, being Mr. Technology, plugged the address into the GPS. The other individual had the map, but also relied on directions he received from the front desk. I didn't bother getting directions since I had the navigation system.

I was the first car out of the parking lot. After exiting the hotel, I turned left, just as the GPS told me to do. The other car followed, but not for long. David, the other driver flashed his lights. I kept driving. After a minute I realized David was no longer behind me. Instead of believing that I might be going in the wrong direction, I just assumed that the GPS was taking me there via a shortcut.

After taking a series of turns - left, right, left, right, left, right - the final turn led us to a dead end. In fact, this road was nothing more than a large pile of dirt. So much for taking a shortcut.

Since my technology was not going to get us there, we needed to rely on the map. Unfortunately, the map provided by the hotel only had the restaurant marked off. The hotel was not to be found. The reason we could not find the hotel on the map was because the map did not extend far enough to include it.

There we were, in the middle of nowhere, with a map that told us nothing - and a GPS that told us even less.

This got me thinking.

How often do we drive our innovation programs the same way I drove to the restaurant that night?

We create our plans for innovation and we start driving. There might be signals along the way (like the flashing lights of the car behind us) that something is not right. In the case of innovation, it might be signals from the customers, buyers, or vendors telling us we are going the wrong way. But all too often, we continue to drive forward, arrogantly believing we are right and that those signs are all wrong.

No matter how great your plans are, you need to keep your eyes open. Look for signs. Don't assume others are wrong. Maybe your blueprint/map is incorrect.

Or, as Scott Cook from Intuit so eloquently said, "For every one of our failures, we had spreadsheets that looked awesome."

There are no accurate GPS systems in the world of innovation. Your ability - and willingness - to adapt, evolve, and change your plans is critical to a successful innovation program.

If you don't watch out for the signs and you blindly follow your plans, your innovation program will probably lead you to a huge pile of, um, dirt.

P.S. We did eventually get to the hotel. We did what any sane person would do... we asked for directions.

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Stephen ShapiroStephen Shapiro is the author of three books, a popular innovation speaker, and is the Chief Innovation Evangelist for Innocentive, the leader in Open Innovation.

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SCAMPER Your Way to Increased Innovation

SCAMPER Your Way to Increased Innovationby Paul Sloane

One of the most popular creativity methods in my Ideas Workshop is SCAMPER. It is a productive and versatile technique for generating innovative ideas for your product or service. It forces you to look at your offering from seven different perspectives. SCAMPER is an acronym and you ask the following types of question when you use this tool:

  • Substitute: What elements of this product or service can we substitute?

  • Combine: How can we combine this with other products or services?

  • Adapt: What idea from elsewhere can we alter or adapt?

  • Maximize or minimize: How can we greatly enlarge or greatly reduce any component?

  • Put to other use: What completely different use can we have for our product?

  • Eliminate: What elements of the product or service can be eliminated?

  • Rearrange or reverse: How can we rearrange the product or reverse the process?

Here are some examples of how the SCAMPER verbs work for innovation:
  • If you were making spectacles then you could substitute plastic lenses for glass (incremental innovation) or you could substitute contact lenses for spectacles (radical innovation).

  • A mobile phone was combined with a camera and then an MP3 player.

  • The roll-on deodorant was an idea adapted from the ballpoint pen.

  • Restaurants that offer all you can eat have maximized their proposition.

  • A low cost airline like Ryanair has minimized (or eliminated) many elements of service.

  • De Beers put industrial diamonds to other use when they launched engagement rings.

  • Dell Computers and Amazon eliminated the intermediary.

  • MacDonalds rearranged the restaurant by getting customers to pay first and then eat.

Luciano Passuello has posted a section of his blog on SCAMPER together with a SCAMPER random question generator and a SCAMPER mindmap. If you want to use this tool in your next brainstorm meeting, then these resources are highly recommended.

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Paul SloanePaul Sloane writes, speaks and leads workshops on creativity, innovation and leadership. He is the author of The Innovative Leader published by Kogan-Page.

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10 Ways to Help Left Brainers Tap Into the Best of Their Creativity

by Mitch Ditkoff

10 Ways to Help Left Brainers Tap Into the Best of Their CreativityIf your job requires you to lead meetings, brainstorming sessions, or problem solving gatherings of any kind, chances are good that most of the people you come in contact with are left-brain dominant: analytical, logical, linear folks with a passion for results and a huge fear that the meeting you are about to lead will end with a rousing chorus of kumbaya.

Not exactly the kind of mindset conducive to breakthrough thinking.

Do not lose heart, oh facilitators of the creative process. Even if you find yourself in a room full of 10,000 left brainers, there are tons of ways to work with this mindset in service to bringing out the very best of the group's collective genius:

1. Diffuse the fear of ambiguity by continually clarifying the process

Most left-brain-dominant people hate open-ended processes and anything that smacks of ambiguity. Next time you find yourself leading a creative thinking session, make it a point to give participants, early is the session, a mental map of the process you'll be using. Explain that the session will consist of two key elements: divergent thinking and convergent thinking.

In the divergent segment, you'll be helping people consider non-traditional approaches. In the convergent segment, you'll be helping people analyze, evaluate, and select from the multiplicity of ideas they have generated.

If participants are going to get uneasy, it will happen during the divergent segment. Your task? Periodically remind them of where they are in the process. "Here's our objective," you might say. "Here's where we've been. Here's where we are. And here's we're going. Any questions?"

2. Get people talking about AHAS! they've had in their own lives

No matter how risk averse or analytical people in your sessions may be, it's likely that all of them - at some time or another - have had a really great idea. "Creativity" really isn't all that foreign to them (although they may think it is). All you need to do to get them in touch with that part of themselves is help them recall a moment when they were operating at a high level of creativity.

Get them talking about how it felt, what were the conditions, and what preceded the breakthrough. You'll be amazed at the stories you'll hear and how willing everyone will be, after that, to really stretch out.

3. Identify (and transform) limiting assumptions

One of the biggest obstacles to creativity is the assumption-making part of our brain - the part that is forever drawing lines in the sand - the part that is ruled by the past. Most people are not aware of the assumptions they have - in the same way that most drivers are not aware of the blind spot in their mirror.

If you want people to be optimally creative, it is imperative that you find a way to help them identify their limiting assumptions about the challenge they are brainstorming. "Awareness cures," explains psychologist Fritz Perls. But DON'T get caught in a lengthy discussion about the collective limiting assumptions of the group. This is often just another way that left-brain dominant participants will default to analyzing and debating.

Instead, lead a process that will help participants identify and explore their limiting assumptions. Then, time allowing, help them transform each of these limiting assumptions into open-ended "How can we?" questions for brainstorming.

4. Encourage idea fluency

Dr. Linus Pauling, one of the most influential chemists of the 20th century, was once asked, "How do you get a good idea?" His response? "The best way to get a good idea is to get lots of ideas and throw the bad ones away."

That's why "Go for a quantity of ideas" is the first rule of brainstorming. You want to encourage people, early and often, to go for quantity. This will short circuit participants' perfectionistic, self-censoring tendencies - two behaviors that are certain death to creativity.

5. Invite humor

The right use of humor is a great way to help people tap into their right brains. Indeed, "haha" and "aha" are closely related. Both are the result of surprise or discontinuity. You laugh when your expectations are confronted in a delightful way.

Please note, however, that your use of humor must not be demeaning to anyone in the room. Freud explained that every "joke" has a victim and is used by the teller to gain advantage over the victim - a way to affirm power. And when a group finds itself in the realm of power (and the yielding of power), it will undoubtedly end up in left brain territory.

You don't want to feed that beast.

Instead, set the tone by telling a victimless joke or two, or by your own self-deprecating humor. But even more important than "joke telling" is to allow and encourage a free flowing sense of playfulness.

6. Do the right brain/ left brain two-step

Brainstorming for 3, 4 or 5 hours in a row is unusually exhausting, resulting in the "diminishing returns" syndrome. Creative thinking, like life itself, follows natural laws. Day is followed by night, winter by spring, inbreath by outbreath.

That's why the design of your creative thinking session needs to alternate between the cerebral and the kinesthetic - between brainstorming and some kind of hands-on, experiential activity. By doing this two-step, participants will stay refreshed and engaged.

7. Periodically mention that chaos precedes creative breakthroughs

Left-brained, logical people are rarely comfortable with ambiguity, chaos and the unknown. It seems messy. Disorganized. Downright unprofessional. Indeed, much of the Six Sigma work being done in corporations these days is to reduce variability and increase predictability.

Paradox alert!

If you want to get really creative, you will need to increase variability and help participants get more "out of control." Picasso said it best, "The act of creation is first of all an act of destruction." Tom Peters said it second best, "Innovation is a messy business."

So, when you sense that your session is filled with ambiguity-phobic people, remember to mention how it's normal for ambiguity to precede a creative breakthrough. You may even want to mention how you will be purposefully infusing the session with moments of ambiguity, just to prime the creative pump.

8. Establish criteria for evaluation

The reason why ideas are usually considered a dime a dozen is because most people are unclear about their process for identifying the priceless ones. That's why a lot of brainstorming sessions are frustrating. Tons of possibilities are generated, but there is no clear path for winnowing and choosing.

Let's assume, for example, that the session you facilitate generates 100 powerful, new ideas. Do you have a process for helping participants pare the 100 down to a manageable few? If not, you need one. Ideally, the criteria for selecting ideas will be clarified before the session and introduced to participants early in the session.

Please note that there is some debate amongst brainstorm mavens as to when to offer the criteria. Some say this should happen at the beginning of the session (to help assuage the left brain need for logic and boundaries). Others suggest delaying the identification of criteria until just before the idea evaluation process. Either way will work. Your call.

9. Be a referee when you have to

No matter how many ground rules you mention about "suspending judgment" or "delaying evaluation," you are going to have some heavy hitters in the room just waiting for a moment to doubt your approach or "the process."

Indeed, one of the favorite (often unconscious) strategies of some left-brainers is to debate and question the facilitator every step of the way. While you want to honor their concerns and right to speak their truth, you also want to hold the bar high for the intention behind the brainstorming session - and that is to challenge the status quo, entertain the new, and create space for imaginations to roam.

Don't be afraid to be firm with participants who want to control the session. At the very least, ask them to suspend their need for "convergence" (i.e. evaluation, judgment, decision making) to the end of the session when there will be plenty of time to exercise that very important muscle.

10. Consult with the tough people on the breaks

Every once in a while, a really opinionated person shows up in a session - someone who is probably very smart, competent, experienced, with a big BS detector, and just enough arrogance to make you feel uncomfortable. These people can really affect the group, especially if they hold positions of power in the organization.

In the best of all worlds, these people would always be on your side. They won't be. Be careful about playing to these people in a neurotic attempt to get their approval. You won't get it. But DO seek them out on breaks and engage them. Get them talking. Pay attention. See if you can pick up any useful feedback or clues about revising your agenda or approach.

Even though you wouldn't choose to be trapped on a desert island with them, these folks may turn out to be a huge blessing - because they are carriers of a particular sensibility that needs to be honored. More than likely, some of the other people in the room are feeling the same thing, but have been too polite to show their true colors. So, don't be afraid of these people. They can be a very valuable resource.

* Excerpted from 32 Ways of Working with the Left Brain, part of Idea Champions' Platinum Innovation Kit

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Mitch DitkoffMitch Ditkoff is the Co-Founder and President of Idea Champions and the author of "Awake at the Wheel", as well as the very popular Heart of Innovation blog.

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Specialized Incubators will Spur Middle East Innovation

by Kamal Hassan

Specialized Incubators will Spur Middle East InnovationThis is part two of my series on business incubators. See part one here.

In other parts of the world, innovators have complete access to business and societal needs and they come up with ideas to fulfill these needs with innovations. Their ideas turn into businesses with the help of incubators.

In the Middle East, lack of research on business and social needs means that many entrepreneurs go into business without specific goals in mind - which results in undifferentiated businesses that don't offer new value.

Here is where incubators in the Middle East can take a different approach. In addition to providing the general support that start-ups need, if each incubator focused on a specific business, social or environmental niche, it would add much needed direction to the process. These specialized incubators could conduct scientific and market research in their niche, and provide complete transparencies and opportunities for entrepreneurs to come up with ideas that solve specific problems.

For example, what if we had an incubator that focused on water shortage issues? One problem this incubator could tackle is the amount of water it takes - 140 liters - to grow the beans for only one cup of coffee! Coffee consumes two percent of the world's water, yet the answer is not to cut coffee consumption, but to decrease the amount of water needed to produce coffee beans. Imagine the innovative solutions that could be developed by an incubator full of entrepreneurs focused this problem.

By creating incubators that work with entrepreneurs on the front end of innovation, sharing research and information so that problems can be addressed in the open, we not only create innovative businesses, but also contribute to the welfare of society.

To make such an approach feasible, we also need to address a few other areas.

One, incubators need to staff appropriately for the niche they are in. Depending on the focus, this could include scientists and engineers, teachers and educational experts, manufacturing and supply chain leaders - whichever fits the needs of the specialized incubator. Office support staff, including business development and marketing, may also need specific expertise. An incubator that tries to specialize without recruiting specialized talent will not provide adequate support for the start-ups there.

Two, the approach to incubator funding needs to change. Instead of giving money to start-ups and letting them decide how to spend it, incubators need to hand-hold new businesses to help them spend it wisely. Too many new businesses make mistakes in this area, investing in costly research without projecting return on investment, or approving expensive marketing campaigns to outdo the competition. It's the incubator's job, as an experienced business advisor, to keep start-ups from making such financial blunders, and instead use their funding to acquire the talent and infrastructure needed to support the start-up once it leaves the incubator.

Three, start-ups need to have exit plans and incubators need to encourage start-ups to leave the nest. An incubator's profit typically comes from start-ups exiting the incubator through a sale - a merger into a bigger company, an acquisition by a private equity or venture capital fund, etc. - or through a public offering (listing the business on the stock market). Without a solid plan for incubators to profit from their investments in start-ups, many incubators will fail, and those that stick around will become money pits. Yes, the venture capital and private equity market in the region is small, but there are many companies from outside the region who would likely invest in our start-ups if they were truly innovative.

In my opinion, we have enough general business incubators in the Middle East. What we need now are specialized incubators that work with entrepreneurs to create new value for business and society. Incubators can foster innovation if we structure them correctly and incubate real innovation instead of falafel shops.

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Kamal HassanKamal Hassan is President and CEO of Innovation 360 Institute, and is responsible for leading the company's global operations and customer acquisition.

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Sunday, April 25, 2010

Incubating Innovation in the Middle East

What Business Incubators in the Middle East can do to Contribute More to Innovation

by Kamal Hassan

Incubating Innovation in the Middle EastHave you noticed that business incubators are popping up in the Middle East like falafel shops? The Entrepreneur Business Village in Dubai. The Bahrain Business Incubator Center (BBIC). The BankMuscat Business Incubator. iPark in Jordan. Ibtikar incubator in Abu Dhabi. And nearly every country in MENA has a technology incubator.

It's not a bad thing at all, as long as we keep the supply in line with the demand. What concerns me, however, is the assumption that an influx of incubators will somehow increase the region's innovation capabilities. It won't - unless we structure them correctly and incubate real innovation instead of just another falafel shop.

Innovation is an Art and a Science

Like art, innovation requires creativity, which incubators such as The Shelter in Dubai try to encourage. However, the process of creating a work of art is different than creating an innovation. An artist can sit down in front of a canvas and make something beautiful, or at least unique. The result doesn't have to be good in the technical sense, or make the artist famous. It just has to fulfill the vision the artist had in mind.

Innovators, on the other hand, require the end result to meet certain criteria. It must solve a problem, create new value, work better than other solutions, and be affordable and, ideally, sustainable to produce. Remember, we're talking about innovation, not invention. Inventions can afford to rely on creativity with a bit of problem-solving thrown in. Innovation cannot.

None of this is meant to disparage artists or inventors, only to remind us that innovation must go beyond creativity to be successful. Similarly, new businesses must go beyond being part of an incubator to earn the title 'innovative'. If the business doesn't offer something different and of value, it's not innovative, it's just another start-up.

A recent Zawya article on the obstacles facing small businesses in the Gulf underscores this point:

"The average Saudi small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) only survives for seven years. This is due not only to the return of foreign managers to their home countries, but also to the lack of differentiated and specialized products and services, which renders companies vulnerable to market changes."

Of course, there are other reasons that start-ups and entrepreneurs struggle to survive in this region, which only makes it more imperative that the struggle is worth it. If our incubators are merely supporting the business effort, without taking steps to ensure the effort adds real and sustainable value to the region, they are only doing half the job.

Technology Parks are not Incubators.

Technology Parks Feed Incubators with Ideas.

With all the so-called incubators popping up here, we are starting to resemble California's Silicon Valley 20 years ago. This area is now is home to such global giants as Google and Apple, and dozens of other technology companies that started out with innovative visions and managed to make them real.

For many people, the success of Silicon Valley is the ultimate innovation success story. While there are great lessons to be learned from Silicon Valley innovators, I think the lessons often get lost and the conclusion people come to is that "technology equals innovation."

Technological advances are often innovative, but it's not the only industry that can and does benefit from innovation. So I am concerned when I see that most of the incubators in the Middle East (or at least the ones that are supposed to increase innovation) are really technology parks, not incubators. What's the difference?

First, incubators are dedicated to small, early stage companies; technology parks typically house companies of various sizes and maturity, and even government and research facilities.

Second, incubators are designed to provide a temporary space for new businesses; technology parks boast more long-term projects and participants. The technology park business model is to host (lease offices) for big R&D and technology companies as long as possible. Incubators, on the other hand, focus on providing support for start-ups for a certain period of time before pushing them toward the door, which supports the incubator business model of keeping new businesses, and revenue, coming in.

Much like a premature baby grows and gets stronger in a newborn incubator, the point of a business incubator is to make a new business strong enough it can leave the incubator and survive in the 'real' world. For the start-ups in our regional incubators, what is the survival plan? I am not sure I see exit strategies for many of them.

So, what's the problem with incubators in the Middle East? They may work well for new businesses, but there is no guarantee the new businesses will offer innovative products, services or business models. On the flip side, technology parks work well for innovation, but typically on a large scale, which doesn't engage many entrepreneurs. They also limit innovation to technological advances, which is only one area we need to innovate.

In my next post, I'll explain how business incubators in the Middle East could better support entrepreneurs and innovation in the region.

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Kamal HassanKamal Hassan is President and CEO of Innovation 360 Institute, and is responsible for leading the company's global operations and customer acquisition.

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The Jobs Machine

by Kevin Roberts

The iPad has hit shelves this month, and looks to be leaving them just as fast. A Steve Jobs' quote I relate to is "real artists ship". It goes to the heart of making things happen. We're seeing some encouraging signs in the global economy, (including bellwethers like Swiss watch sales) but an overall recovery will be slow and bumpy. At Davos in late January, Obama's chief economist, Larry Summers, said: "We are in a statistical recovery but a human recession." The social shock waves caused by downturns roll out devastation. Take down-under - at end of 2009, New Zealand unemployment was the highest in a decade. A major 2009 spike in violent crime was fueled by family violence, up 18.6%.

I see creativity and innovation as the two powerful engines that will deliver a sustainable recovery. We need a recovery that delivers real jobs within a frame of sustainable living, and we have to breed attitude that delivers this. Reasonable people see a lot of doom and gloom, but, luckily, our fate is not in the hands of reasonable people. George Bernard Shaw said this:

"Reasonable people adapt themselves to the world. Unreasonable people attempt to adapt the world to themselves. All progress, therefore, depends on unreasonable people."

Unreasonable people have a fantastic record of innovating and cooperating to help get the world out of seemingly intractable places. We have faced huge challenges and prevailed over and over again. I am enough of a radical optimist to believe we will continue to do so.

One example: in the 1970's and 80's, bookshelves brimmed with bestsellers predicting that the world would run out of food by 1990. Given the limitations of our knowledge and imagination at the time, it was a reasonable proposition. Well, that's not how it played out. The Green Revolution allowed us to double food production, thereby eradicating famine in many parts of the world. There are still stubborn pockets where failed states can't feed their people, but agriscientists and innovators have brought about huge advances.

There is no short-cut to prosperity. We are in reset mode. Every business owner and leader needs to steer their organization in ways that add value to the world, not just to shareholders. Every field of enterprise needs to harvest courage and unleash the unreasonable power of creativity. We need bigger ideas, delivered. Here's to the crazy ones, and more jobs.

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Kevin RobertsKevin Roberts is the CEO worldwide of The Lovemarks Company, Saatchi & Saatchi. For more information on Kevin, please go to www.saatchikevin.com. To see this blog at its original source, please go to www.krconnect.blogspot.com.

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Six Factors in Emergent Innovation

by Hutch Carpenter

Six Factors in Emergent InnovationIn discussing employee-driven innovation, having a technology platform to deliver on objectives is a key part of a company's strategy. Hard to get everyone tuned in when you rely only on email and conversations with your cubicle mates. But that's just one factor. There are many other considerations for companies seeking to vault to the top of their industries through greater innovation.

One set of characteristics are what I term factors of 'emergent' innovation. I use emergent here in the sense of conditions which let good ideas find their level inside a company, regardless of source. Think of this as an alternative to R&D-led innovation, or innovations decided solely in the executive suite and cast down for implementation by the troops.

Of course, there are more than six factors to emergent innovation. For instance, the actual process of turning someone's idea into an innovation project has several factors of its own. But these six are a good start.

This post is long. The links below will take you directly to a specific section.
  1. Healthy use of doubt
  2. Rough alternatives
  3. Experiments
  4. Resource margin
  5. Positive deviants
  6. Diversity of viewpoints

So what are these factors?

Healthy Use of Doubt

"In creative thought, doubt is good. Doubt produces creative efficiency."

David Kord Murray, "Borrowing Brilliance" (page 167)

Doubt is a word pregnant with different connotations. It can have a strong meaning of, "I don't believe you." In terms of working on innovations, that meaning has the potential to undermine collaborative work.

But in the quote above from David Kord Murray, it has a more productive meaning. 'Doubt' refers to continually challenging existing practices to determine how things can be done better. These may be company practices, or your own. As Murray explains it, without doubt you are implicitly accepting that current practices are the best they can be. You get locked in on one way to do things. Yet, as has been documented, the rate of change in global markets is accelerating. Locking into the one best way to do things becomes a recipe for a declining business.

In his book "Borrowing Brilliance", Murray relates that Albert Einstein had an apathetic relationship to his first Theory of Relativity. Why? He maintained a healthy use of doubt toward it, knowing there was more to be done. He didn't settle on his first theory, and eventually came up with his better second Theory of Relativity.

One note about the term 'healthy' here. Doubt is a mental framework in which you look at things and consider how they can be better. Doubt should not become a systemic condition that causes people to stop efforts on current projects, as in "we're doing this wrong, so why bother". It'd be wrong to assume everything a company does is poor and must be scrapped. Or that every individual opinion must be acted upon.

Rough Alternatives

"A Stanford study investigating quick executive decision making noted that fast decision makers (a necessary component of agility) operated as though they had a rotating radar antenna; constantly refreshing context and identifying alternative paths of action. Their speed came from having rough alternatives at hand if conditions changed."

Christopher Meyer, LinkedIn discussion

Intuitively, this concept makes a lot of sense. While it may seem obvious, it's not for those working in the trenches. The general approach is selecting the course of action, and execute like hell. Go big or go home.

And that 'execution' mentality is right. It is appropriate to aggressively execute on an initiative once a decision has been made. That's how companies get ahead.

Meyer's comment from the LinkedIn discussion above gets at an aspect of company strategy that's growing in importance. Be ready to pull the trigger on an alternative when conditions change. Which means having a set of rough alternatives ready.

The notion of 'doubt' in the previous section is useful here. Again, not 'doubt' in the sense of undermining efforts to see a particular course of action through to success. Rather, maintain a healthy perspective that even as you're working on one way to do something, there likely are better ways still, undiscovered.

Maintaining a set of alternatives is applicable to all parts of an organization. Senior level executives, mid-level managers, project leaders and anyone doing their job. I'd argue that people in the trenches are closer to the reality of how an initiative is faring, and have a sense of rough alternatives. Enable these individuals to share what they're seeing.


"The cost of experimentation is now the same or less than the cost of analysis. You can get more value for time, more value for dollar, more value for euro, by doing a quick experiment than from doing a sophisticated analysis. In fact, your quick experiment can make your sophisticated analysis better."

Michael Schrage, Research Fellow at MIT Center for Digital Business

Once a proposed idea has been identified as having merit, it needs to be put through its paces. This historically was challenging, due to constraints on building out prototypes or simulating new features. But the world has gotten more digital, and as such much more can be tested than historically has been possible. In a Wall Street Journal article by the quoted author above, Michael Schrage, Google is noted for its ongoing experiments with search results. This isn't surprising of course. Google exists in a digital world.

But what about non-digital firms? Wal-Mart regularly experiments with signage, displays and shelf layouts to gauge the effect of different ideas. Tesco experiments with different factors that determine when another checkout lane should be opened.

Even in the realm of healthcare, experiments are being conducted. Not drug trials, but improvements to processes. Kaiser Permanente operates The Sidney R. Garfield Health Care Innovation Center. The Center "brings together technology, architecture, nurses, doctors and patients with human-centered design thinking and low-fidelity prototyping and design to brainstorm and test tools and programs for patient-centered care in a mock hospital, clinic, office or home environment."

Experiments are a data-based method of testing potential innovations. But they differ from current practice for many corporations, which to rely less on your own experiments and more on the advice of well-paid consultants. Why? Dan Ariely observes the following in Harvard Business Review:

There's the false sense of security that heeding experts provides. When we pay consultants, we get an answer from them and not a list of experiments to conduct. We tend to value answers over questions because answers allow us to take action, while questions mean that we need to keep thinking.

Emergent innovation is better served by internally managed experiments, not advice from external experts.

Resource Margin

The concept of resource margin is a really good one. I came across this nice description:

"No matter how I see it, agility to me is much to do with introducing margin. What I mean by this is how much the necessary margin to have within your processes, knowledge base and human resources to allow for changes. You may have a norm for people to continuously question their processes and products, 'Only the paranoid survives', but if they have no room/margin for change, it's hard to get them to react with agility."

Jeevandra Sivarajah, LinkedIn discussion

This observation just makes sense. In a world of increased busyness, employees need that bit of flex in their schedules to explore improvements to something: processes, products, customer service, etc.

Google, of course, is famous for its 20% time. Employees have the freedom to set aside their daily work and invest some cycles on exploring something new. 3M has long had a similar policy.

Now for companies, I can see the math here... employees only working 4/5 of their time on core daily tasks needed. Means you need to hire 5/4 number of employees, or an extra 25% headcount. Economy is still wobbly, hmmm...

The reality is that innovation is a core part of companies' growth. Which company doesn't see that? Sure, there are firms devoted to be fast followers rather than innovators. But most companies thrive-or-suffer based on their innovation performance. Note, innovation is not just slick new products.

Employees should have innovation as part of their core jobs. In other words, sure they need to file their TPS Reports and process N number of transactions. But part of their day includes thinking about improvements and bigger ideas, socializing these ideas, researching them, figuring out experiments for them, etc.

Alternatively, companies can set up special ideation events. Maybe employees don't have the time or wherewithal to pursue an innovation all the way through. But others in a company will, and they will benefit from hearing the crowdsourced ideas of employees.

Resource margin plays an important role in emergent innovation.

Positive Deviants

I really love the juxtaposition of 'positive' and 'deviants'. Two words that are often at odds. But they work well together. What is a positive deviant?

"This initiative is an example of 'positive deviance', an approach to behavioral and social change. Instead of imposing solutions from without, the method identifies outliers in a community who, despite having no special advantages, are doing exceptionally well."

Rebecca Tuhus-Dubrow, The power of positive deviants

As someone who has worked in large organizations, the observation that there are people with different, smart approaches is one I wholeheartedly endorse. Seen it plenty of times, from my work with headquarters, in-store and warehouse personnel at Hecht's Department Store to my days of investment banking with Bank of America.

Here's a good example. The sales crew at Spigit do a good amount of outbound marketing to prospective customers. As anyone who has used email for this knows, it's hard to figure out what works in terms of email subject lines and email body. One of our sales guys came up with a totally different subject line, certainly different than anything I would have come up with. And it works. The open rate is much better for his subject line. No paid consultants needed - someone figured out a way that works.

What's particularly appealing here is that these innovations arise from the everyday work and problem-solving people do. This is the benefit of tapping this amazing resource: employees' ingenuity and problem solving acumen.

Leveraging the 'found' solutions inside an organization is part of emergent innovation.

Diversity of Viewpoints

Ideas benefit from a diversity of viewpoints. Professor Ron Burt studied something called 'structural holes', and employees who broker them. Think of structural holes as gaps between groups of people in an organization. These gaps prevent people from accessing one another's feedback, perspective and expertise.

"People with connections across structural holes have early access to diverse, often contradictory, information and interpretations which gives them a competitive advantage in seeing and developing good ideas. People connected to groups beyond their own can expect to find themselves delivering valuable ideas, seeming to be gifted with creativity. This is not creativity born of genius. It is creativity as an import-export business."

Professor Ron Burt, Structural Holes and Good Ideas (pdf)

Professor Burt's empirical analysis identified exposure to a greater range of perspectives as a key element of generating higher quality ideas. I particularly like this part of his observation: "diverse, often contradictory, information and interpretations."

That's right. Disagreeing perspectives are good for innovation. Not a chorus of 'amens'. Contradictory knowledge and perspectives as productive innovation friction.

For companies, these collaborative networks are a form of crowdsourcing. Sourcing ideas from around the organization, and more importantly letting others with interest provide feedback and ideas for refinement.

Emergent innovation benefits significantly from emergent perspectives gathered from around the organization. Note that email and over-the-cubicle-wall conversations are limiting factors on innovation. Hard to get a diversity of perspectives with those as your only sharing modes.

For companies seeking to accelerate innovation, those six characteristics are a solid beginning. What do you think?

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Hutch CarpenterHutch Carpenter is the Vice President of Product at Spigit. Spigit integrates social collaboration tools into a SaaS enterprise idea management platform used by global Fortune 2000 firms to drive innovation.

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Saturday, April 24, 2010

Intangible Innovation

by John P. Benfield

Intangible InnovationThe 'obvious' value of innovation is easy to see and communicate. The unique products, business models, customer services and other 'tangible' innovations are usually enough to justify the existence of an innovation program. But what about justifying an innovation program when you don't have an existing track record? When times are hard, budgets tight and groups are fighting for survival, fledgling innovation teams and programs may be an easy target for 'right sizing'.

So if your innovation team isn't delivering the next iPod, "name your own price auto insurance" or Nintendo Wii, what value are you providing? To answer this question, we need to take a step back and look at a typical corporate culture.

The Typical Corporate Culture

Most organizations develop processes, forms and tools to drive consistency. On the surface, this seems like a good thing. But what tends to happen is that processes layers on top of processes until every action is scripted and people stop thinking. Ask yourself if the process has become a roadblock to getting things done. If it's impeding the work that it was designed to streamline, then it's almost guaranteed that it's blocking creative ideas from being acted on. It's certainly preventing people from doing their jobs in ways that "stretch the envelope" (unless that stretching is focused on circumventing your processes).

Organizations would like to think that they encourage creative thinking. Creative solutions are at least somewhat unique by definition. Since they've never been tried before, predicting the outcomes, quantifying the ROI and limiting the risk can be difficult. Ask yourself how your board would react if an associate came to the table with a weird idea that had a 50% chance of failure and no quantified ROI. Would they even take the time to listen to the potential business benefits? Now ask yourself how you reward risk-taking in your managers? Is failure rewarded as a learning exercise or punished as incompetence? Does that attitude propagate down to the people on the floor? Do you look to your internal associates for ideas or do you hire high priced consultants? All of these things add up to a major deterrent for anyone who has a creative thought. Without exposure to brainstorming, innovating and thinking outside of the box, the skills either won't develop or will wither away.

Organizations talk a good game about developing leaders and decision makers. But do your associates really have the ability to make decisions? Do they have control of budgets, deliverables and timelines or are they at the mercy of a handful of middle managers, project managers or executives that have to approve every change or decision? In an organization where the process is to defer decisions to someone else, associates never develop accountability, decision making skills or leadership skills. The ones that do develop these skills have probably done it by circumventing your existing decision making and escalation processes.

Deliberate Practice

Studies have shown that excellence in any field is a result of deliberate practice and not something determined by any sort of innate talent. On deeper evaluation of prodigies and other individuals that demonstrate exceptional aptitude in a field, it's been found that early exposure and various forms of deliberate practice were at work and not some in-born talent. With some exceptions where physiological or psychological restrictions come into play, we essentially all have the same potential for greatness. That includes greatness in areas such as creativity, decision making, leadership and other traits that we often assume you've either got it or you don't.

One of the key differences between the those that excel and those that just get by is the nature of deliberate practice. While we may 'practice' our jobs on a daily basis, most of us simply repeat the same actions, processes and procedures over and over again. However, deliberate practice differs from simple repetition in a few very important ways:

Deliberate practice has to push the envelope. If your repetition isn't forcing you to stretch beyond your current abilities or comfort zone, you'll just be reinforcing your current level of achievement or expertise.

Deliberate practice needs to include some form of feedback. You need to be able to measure (subjectively or objectively) if you're doing better. Without that feedback, you have no way to judge if your repetition is working towards a higher level of mastery or if you're practicing yourself into a hole. At some point you'll find that you need outsiders to provide that feedback. Even if it's someone with a lesser mastery than you, they'll have the advantage of seeing the situation from the outside. They'll bring objectivity that you simply can't have about your own performance. Even people like Tiger Woods, Yo-Yo-Ma or Michael Jordan that stand out far ahead of their peers can benefit from that outside viewpoint. In fact, it would be difficult for them to push their own envelopes without that input.

Deliberate practice involves lots and lots of conscious, focused repetition. If you're just letting yourself run on autopilot, you aren't pushing the envelope or paying attention to your feedback. This is one of the main reasons why people can work in a job, doing the same thing over and over again, and never become truly exceptional at what they do.

Innovation Programs to the Rescue

Innovation, by definition, requires and encourages creative thinking. It rewards the behaviors that most corporate cultures inadvertently crush or drive underground. Sanctioned brainstorming sessions, tools to capture and refine ideas and forums for open dialog create those 'stretch goal' opportunities for creativity and thinking outside of the box. Even people that say that they aren't creative can be encouraged to participate and develop those mental muscles over time. That creativity flows back into their daily jobs and encourages them to question and improve the way that they work (even if it's only at a relatively subconscious level)

The value of an idea is directly tied to business benefits. People aren't necessarily going to question the ROI or risk when they're proposing an idea that they instinctively think has value. As ideas are proposed, discussed and refined, your associates learn to quantify that hunch and to start thinking in terms of business value. Instead of a simple "no", they're part of the process for justifying a course of action. They develop a practical understanding of costs vs benefits and they push themselves into areas of financial and business responsibility that they may never be exposed to in their daily job. When associates understand business value, they begin to instinctively look at other areas of their job in those terms. This leads to questioning non-business value activities and more ideas for improvement. It also prepares your next generation of leaders by drilling into them the basics of financial decision making.

With a funded innovation program, you encourage experimentation. People will have ideas that fail at various points in the process. But by limiting the time, scope and financial investment, they can do it safely and with relatively little risk. Politically, even the failure itself carries little risk if its understood to be part of the process. It's often said that we learn more from our failures than from our successes. But associates rarely have an opportunity to take risks or accept failure without it being a career-crushing event. It's better to take those risks and learn from small projects or initiatives than to try to develop those skills in multi-million dollar projects.

Your innovation program can provide opportunities for cross-functional and cross-organizational brainstorming. The default is for projects and ideas to cross boundaries by being 'thrown over the wall' in a fully formed state. By embracing ideas earlier in the process and encouraging teams to brainstorm in a more inclusive and open environment, you'll develop stronger communications skills, a better understanding of how organizations interact and you'll develop those personal connections that may currently be nothing more than an impersonal hand-off through existing tools or processes. In addition, by bringing it under the 'innovation' umbrella, you can encourage risk taking and more open thinking than you may have in your project or proposal processes.

Finally, there's a sense of ownership with ideas and innovations. Since the expectations start low, the initiator can run with it with coaching rather than taking the idea and handing it off to some initiative manager. If done properly, these ideas can be used as an opportunity to provide on the job training and expose the initiator to responsibility and leadership opportunities that don't exist in their current role. These are skills that will help to grow your associates and may help to identify your next leaders, project managers, engineers, product managers, etc. Doing this under the umbrella of an innovation program is often much more cost effective than instituting formalized job rotation programs. Much of the value can be captured without a lot of the disruption or risk.


So even if your innovation program isn't delivering the next game changer, the existence of a formal, supported program can provide significant value by developing, growing and maturing your workforce, culture and company as a whole. While the short-term benefits may be intangible, they can have a huge cumulative effect that can radically enhance your associates, company and the way that you do business. Keep that in mind when you review your next budget.

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John P. BenfieldJohn P. Benfield is an Innovation Advocate for a global Financial Services organization. John has over 25 years of experience fighting the "Commodization of IT" and continually strives to bring IT back to the table as a true business partner and enabler of Innovation, Growth and Transformation. On twitter, John is @jpbenfield

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