Shaping the Future of Innovation

by Paul Hobcraft

Shaping the Future of InnovationRethinking innovation after a week where I have argued for a more common approach to innovation (see some of my recent posts )- as one that can be well structured and managed – I’d like to look a little beyond here in this post. I do fear if we don’t radically rethink innovation we are in danger of missing out on much that is coming towards us.

If we do not adopt and gain a clear understanding of (basic) innovation, its structure, process and differences in approaches we need, we will certainly struggle to move beyond the basics to the ‘promise’ that innovation is offering.

I would like to offer some of the factors that will be shaping innovation’s future; many are presently taking place but in pockets of expertise and experimentation.

What is holding innovation back?

Firstly we do need to provide some ‘bunker busting’ of the different silos of resistance:

  1. The internal functions that are presently closed off from each other
  2. The different management layers failing to communicate and talk to each other
  3. The inability to combine ‘multiple aspirations’ of suppliers, internal experts, clients and end customers on a common platform
  4. The continued weakness and recognition by middle managers of innovations value and worth.
  5. The need to break up those clusters of knowledge built by increased specialization, so the expertise can be more openly shared.
  6. Bridging the field, middle management and top executives understanding to narrow internal differences of interpretation.

Spotting some of the trends that are emerging to challenge us even more.

  • Innovation is not the preserve of the (selected) few but the domain of the community.
  • The need to move on from the reliance of symbolic projects to justify innovations existence.
  • Recognizing innovation is traversing functions, entities and boundaries faster than ever.
  • Open Innovation is moving out of the R&D Lab and moving very fast across an organization for a more Open Enterprise approach
  • Collaboration is formed at the hip with Co-creation.
  • Design comes increasingly to the fore
  • The shift to ‘open’ workbooks that offer specific step-by-step guides, latest thinking to be shared and freely contributed too.
  • Platforms and ecosystems are emerging to manage complex innovation challenges
  • The power of social innovation, bottom of the pyramid thinking is ‘hot’
  • Reverse innovation and its ability to be rescaled to adapt across different markets is equally a valuable source of growth within organizations. Scaling becomes important.
  • We need to “reconnect to dominant economic activities of the larger society”, add a ‘higher’ purpose into our innovation activity. Scoping is equally important.
  • There is a growing hope we are in the final death throes of the organization, of moving even further away from the linear process that has dominated much of the 20th century thinking.

The implication coming from these trends

  1. Innovation used to be about product, technology and R&D but it is now about value and anything that carries value; it is about creativity and entrepreneurship and it is even more tied to a clear vision so it does become a vital part of the culture of the company.
  2. We are going to have to learn to collaborate across the entire value chain but this is complex and often time-consuming. It will challenge everyone but it can be very rewarding…in faster and more relevant innovations but only if this coordination can be leveraged effectively.
  3. Defining value at the customer point and not within an organization in the R&D lab, as has been the past practice is a significant shift. The increased focus on the consumers unmet, unarticulated or required needs by making customers central in the web of co-creators and co-creation activities that need to be orchestrated within organizations and their partners.
  4. We have seen some really dramatic shifts in research techniques to know more of what ‘pulls’ and ‘connects’ with consumers – open innovation helps in delivering on this understanding. Equally customers are looking to become more engaged and involved in their products and services. Managing the dynamics and implication of this is hard.
  5. The shift in emphasis to the customer makes a really compelling case for trend spotting, scouting, aligning and recognizing behavioral changes so as to make insights a real core of your business, more the source of those ideas than leaving ideas simply emerging from within an organization.
  6. The value and growing appreciation about offering different Business Models within any assessments of innovation is showing increased willingness to separate and develop more ‘spin offs to encourage the concepts to flourish is more frequent. Even in large organizations they are showing more commitment to separating off to allow new identified opportunities to bear fruit and be more focused, so as to deliver the ‘seen’ result. This growing willingness is altering the competitive landscape even more.
  7. The constant ’quest for growth’ will need an even deeper connection between Marketing and Innovation as they will continue to be two ‘twins’ as the strongest drivers of margin and revenue growth.
  8. The recognition that adopting someones else’s best practice is not the ideal way to go, it has been the ‘lazy man’s’ solution needs even more challenging. Defining your specific emergent or good practices that fit your culture and context are clearly better. Your context, your culture, your resources are uniquely different and other peoples ‘best practice’ is not the right starting point.
  9. The art of spending wisely between experimentation, trial and error internally and learning from external expertise for understanding innovation needs to be worked upon as it seems it is not being well managed . It is not in the right balance as external expertise has failed to provide leadership and internal expertise has not been as deeply established as it should be. Greater expertise needs to be injected into the equation.
  10. Building a more robust ‘activity system’ into managing innovation, beyond just simply pipelines and portfolio’s needs thinking through. It requires a more open logic model to be articulated and built around by many people contributing to allow for more early ‘open’ thinking and flexibility of end results beyond just product moving through the innovation system. also there is an the increased need to reposition your firm as a “fast discoverer” using rapid, low cost experimentation needs to be built into this innovation activity system.
  11. External parties are seeking more involvement in a ‘joint’ innovation processes and development, they are increasingly reliant on each other to become a critical contributor or component provider to resolve more complex problems and understanding these mutual dependencies are important to be recognize more.
  12. There is an increasing need to manage a diverse group of collaborators across a common process which might not want or need the same end-result but do need each other to ‘combine’ for a given result, so as to benefit their individual businesses to then deliver different outcomes than existing solutions by working through a common platform (Apps are a good example here)

Some of my worries and the possible obstacles we need to resolve

  • The constant urge to keep trying to force change and disruption on the client with new products and services they find difficult to adopt in their “steady state” life.
  • There is a movement that disrupting is the ‘only’ appropriate solution to change existing market or segments. If this momentum is allowed to flourish and take hold the outcome for many firms will be fraught with many dangers that do need deeper reflection and clarification of the risks before they embark on this approach.
  • The consistent difficulty of failing to create a listening culture around intellectual mobility that often lies within organizations to discover, transmit and transform ideas into competitive advantage.
  • The inability to understand the tools to keep finding those real opportunities to smooth out the inevitable disruptions we all face in either significant life events, managing day to day or other inevitable disruptions in day to day life to make it easier and incredibly rewarding for the discoverer .
  • The balance and current distinctions between older techniques, more structured repositories, file orientated management, document based with the newer ones of browser-based, Web 2.0 approach that is more online often free-flowing, simultaneous wiki-like collaborations that many will have to become accustomed too.
  • The issues of strategic alignment to innovation folks should understand their corporate strategies and how closely innovation is linked, or should be linked, to strategy
  • The right timeframe for innovation is what: next quarter, next year, in three years, and in what period? When is a corporation going to learn innovation does not conform to the annual financial calendar, it needs to account for this differently to allow innovations to move with its natural discovery to delivery cycle, not often being shoehorned into a unnatural calendar that limits the original concept and compromises the potential result that could have been delivered for perhaps more game changing innovation.
  • The question still remains on when innovation will be totally embedded in the psyche of the corner office and given the C-level focus it really requires to move from emerging to emergent.
  • The transformation of newly generated ideas into concrete results that can be well measured and clearly seen as making the essential growth contribution so often talked about but never quantified. This needs more working upon to resolve to show the real value innovation brings in new wealth creation and growth for countries, organizations and society.

Innovation can be remarkable if we want to embrace it fully

What is remarkable about innovation? It is highly dynamic. It’s a task that anyone could do, given the time, education, clarity of purpose and the understanding of contribution. So often today, only a few people actually are allowed to work on innovation activities, often in opposition to the corporate culture objectives, yet the outcomes are ones that everyone wants and they should therefore, be allowed to have innovation as part of their daily jobs. Having a sense of purpose to improve or change something is a very powerful enabler to build innovation into the lives of everyone.

Getting from where we are today, seemingly bogged down in many of the legacies of past innovation understanding, the reluctance not to adopt a basic common approach to innovation as a minimum is going to continue to limit all the ‘promise’ that is surrounding innovation. Recognizing some of the above trends and the implications that are coming rapidly towards is like an express train that will speed pass as we are not yet fit to travel. We do need to rethink innovation fast or it will never achieve its real potential and we will be left simply standing on the station as the train rushes past.

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Paul HobcraftPaul Hobcraft runs Agility Innovation, an advisory business that stimulates sound innovation practice, researches topics that relate to innovation for the future, as well as aligning innovation to organizations core capabilities.

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