Innovation is swimming in uncertain waters

Innovation is very often swimming in uncertain waters that rise and fall just like the waves in a sea: they are choppy, demanding and exhausting to fight against. As uncertainty constantly arises as we discover more, expend more energy, the very nature of our original starting point set down in a well-thought-out, well crafted strategy actually begins to suddenly drop. Then we are left with more ‘open-ended’ questions than answers. Welcome to real innovation where faith and belief play an important part .

There often seems to be constantly arising critical unknowns and sometimes all you are left with as your innovation emerges is just actually and simply a new starting point. A new starting point as the concept is so different to cause you to rethink dramatically. Innovation and its journey of discovery takes you into so many new areas you never expected, when you first thought of the idea or concept. What do you do? Do you abandon this or press on? What helps us maintain a commitment and a course?

The increasing demands made by innovation

Innovation demands increasingly from us.  So you have to be far more ready to adapt, to be agile, and to be ready to experiment, explore and learn. This makes innovation even harder to get right. You are often caught in a fog of possibilities. Everything simply hangs off a given hypothesis and needs to be proven in its delivery.

When innovation is at the heart of your strategy, you need to zero in to the best possible execution strategy, a clear business model and constantly review this as the innovation iteration is taking place to align the idea/ concept to what you understand the market needs, not what you do, what they want. This is a constant re-iteration process that needs to take place, unrelenting. Seek clarification and validation becomes a mantra.

The ability to move an idea to implementation- with increasing agility– is what will distinguish the successful organization from the less successful. The ability to execute well remains a critical gap of performance. Innovation requires a deeply embedded set of capabilities. Innovation is high maintenance but also offers high reward so are we equipping ourselves to extract the best from the best?

With the increasing complexity within markets, the global pressures of greater breakthrough or disruptive innovation, and the increased emphasis on business models, are causing increased problems that we need to grapple with. Complexity at every stage of the innovation process calls for a higher level of getting organized, keeping discipline and executing effectively than ever before but also staying real agile.

Consistent questioning is required

You have to question constantly on the best way to deliver your innovation. This is why constantly evaluating your existing business model is becoming more critical today than ever. You need to evaluate the best approaches to market not rely just on the existing ones if you want to maximise your innovation returns. If you compromise anywhere along the innovation value building chain you need to be absolutely sure you know why.

Embedded innovation capabilities are essential- no question

Innovation today requires a deeply embedded set of capabilities. It needs to rise above the something we presently have, into a key organizational capability. The mindset for many executives today is wedded to an outmoded view of innovation that it is synonymous with everything ‘creative’, in other words invention. It is not, it is applying those ideas on a sustaining basis. This is where many seem to fall down time and time again. Successful implementation across the whole innovation process demands institutional capability- leadership, infrastructure and processes- that need to be sustained constantly in a encouraging climate of trust.

High maintenance but high rewards

Today innovation needs to be recognised as something that is high maintenance but also offers high reward to the ones that get this right. The ability to move an idea to implementation- with real agility and constant adaptation – is what will distinguish the successful organization from the less successful. The ability to execute innovation across the whole innovation process remains a critical gap of performance and we need to move beyond this failure within organizations.

We have to recognize that innovation is mission critical. Your innovation promise needs to be highly ‘tuned’ in the best possible ways to extract the value. Innovation cannot be devolved down the organization and expected to work; it has to be well orchestrated. It needs more than a life jacket thrown over the side, we need to develop and hone the skills needed to swim in these rougher times.

Appropriate Innovation Makes Good Sense.

Innovation should always deliver on a specific purpose or promise, often it simply doesn’t. It needs to be suitable to our needs; it needs to resolve a given job-to-be done.

In the developed world we are consistently over-delivering innovation for many and there is a given cost to that, which we all pay for even though we often don’t really need it in the first place. Take for example, the software provided by Microsoft for its windows application, in its office versions, they all are over specified for our personal needs. The majority of these ‘sit’ on our computers taking up space and never used. This continued requirement which we are forced to constantly upgrade requires us to seek more computing power yet it is really inappropriate for most people’s needs.

Perhaps with cloud computing we can see more ‘stripped down’ versions from Microsoft in the future that reduce the initial purchase price, give us a basic kit to work within and through the use of cloud computing as and when we need additional software, we can go and download it by paying an ‘appropriate’ fee to either use it as a one off or to download it onto our computer. We achieve less clutter on our computer, faster start up and performance times, latest applications and a better way to manage our personal needs in a constantly tailored way, appropriate innovation.

Appropriate innovation is possible to be applied increasingly on many products and services with a different thinking of product or service final delivery. It is actually going on in many ways today but it has not been perhaps focused upon enough, in a way that leads to a transformation to meet the times we live in. These need to be more thrifty, tapping into a market need of more inexpensive alternatives that deliver to people the appropriateness at the involvement level they want or can afford to get the job done .

The internet can play an increasing part in this as it can allow us to tap into what we need when we need it. What needs to happen is this philosophy of appropriateness needs to be adopted by more firms and this ‘mind shift’ might lead to significant growth, adjusting there ability to deliver over specified solutions into ones that simply ‘do the job’- a present problem we need to tackle in developed countries, not just developing countries. We need to draw more people into usage, thus growing markets, extracting greater potential and achieving deeper market penetration.

Appropriate Innovation is not new, in actually comes in a number of well articulated guises already.

Clayton Christensen outlines his thoughts on disruptive innovation and he has written extensively about this approach. He argues by doing a clear jobs-to-be-done analysis you can spot market opportunities, not just for segments of under-served but those that are over- served that are ripe for disruption and new products or services that meet that ‘sweet spot’. We tend to see this more for developing countries but increasingly I would argue we need to apply this thinking to developed markets that are presently bogged down with little growth and market stimulus.

A second aspect of appropriateness has been discussed by Vijay Govindarajan as reverse innovation. He points out the rise from globalization, that organizations are applying reverse innovation by taking products and services developed specifically for the developing world that can become the new oxygen for future growth globally.

He argues “many western multinationals with all their resources, technical superiority, and established global present are being beaten to the punch. In the developing world, local competitors are often at the forefront of economic expansion. They are very different organizations in very different places, in very different industries. yet all are leaving established multinationals in their wakes- not just in emerging markets but also in developed markets.”

He states “that the biggest opportunity for multinationals in the next 25 years is to focus on the vast segment of unserved and underserved in poor countries.” Reverse innovation is not only required to capture growth in emerging markets; it will fuel future growth of multinationals in their home markets. It does this through a more appropriate innovation approach, aligning clear, specific needs and tailoring products and services to meet those. VG defines reverse innovation as very simply, any innovation likely to be adopted first in the developing world whereas a  disruptive innovation has a particular dynamic that endangers incumbents but both have ‘appropriateness’ to meeting need.

Recently the consulting company, A D Little, was discussing the future of innovation management and within one of its five concepts to watch it introduced frugal innovation. It sees new segments, new needs emerging that require a more radical new low cost. This frugality and affordability will alter the mindset of many. Present societies regarded as affluent will need to adapt and reduce down on their current expectations and fit their circumstances accordingly with ‘appropriate’ innovation that serves their specific needs.

Frugal innovation can be interchanged a lot with reverse innovation. Frugal innovation brings about a rethinking of the nature of innovation. Instead of “more” it is often striving for “less”, using clever technology to create greater simplification with a huge potential across many fields of product and service to allow society and individuals greater engagement at an appropriate cost.

There is a huge potential in considering these three concepts

If you take an argument of VG’s that there are three primary situations of 1) income gaps, 2) infrastructure gaps and 3) sustainability gaps and seeing we are increasingly suffering from these in the developed world as well as the developing world, they can really offer rich opportunities to view innovation through new lenses of appropriateness

All three concepts match to appropriate innovation- matching appropriate needs and innovations and aligning them to give a real growth potential.

Barriers and resistance

For all three concepts there is a real need to change the existing mindsets. You must overcome resistance to shifting power and control away from headquarters, from a selected few and they must be willing to reshape the organizational models  to be a more flexible one.You must overcome the initial resistance to prioritizing an investment that does not initially seemingly serve what you think are the interest of your mainstream customers. Each can cannibalise on existing concepts and this is a tough path to travel and break out but there is even more a pressing need to ‘go where the growth is’.

Appropriate Innovation is a real way forward to grow business.

The organizations that learn to shift towards “bottom up” innovation could provide the impetus needed to develop successful innovation-for-development strategies that meet appropriate customer needs. This is the approach to start.

People are often impatient; they don’t want to wait for solutions that are not appropriate they are seeking ones that fit their pocket, fit their needs. To discover these untapped new markets although it is not so clear cut initially is to perform a very precise jobs-to-be-done market analysis to discover these underserved needs.

To meet this need we should create a culture of inventing more convenient, lower- cost, appropriately specified, perhaps more on-demand products and services. In this way we can attract a larger population to tap into a greater market potential of appropriate services and products/.

There are plenty of people  who would be happy to purchase a product with less (but good enough) performance if they could get it at a lower price but where these is still going to be a reasonable margin for the providers. There are increasing ways to deliver ‘stripped down’ versions of nearly everything. We just need to learn what is appropriate, a move to greater simplicity and delivering appropriate innovation to meet given needs.

Is innovation today expected as the panacea to solve all our problems?

I am getting increasingly disturbed. This week two people I know and respect have been talking about the innovation effect. Is innovation the business process re-engineering of our decade; is it part of a bubble like the the boom. Is innovation simply a fad and fashionable to talk up when we are in the present economic uncertainties? Is innovation durable or will executives move on to new ‘feeding grounds’ as they smell that possible wind of change?  Yes, possibly, I hope not. Innovation is still a very furtile feeding ground.

Innovation is meant to be the catalyst of fresh jobs, new growth and leading us all out to the promise land of wealth and security. Can we place such a burden on the slim shoulders of innovation?

Politicians here in Europe and America are using the past tool kit of tried and tested methods to kick start their economies, restructure the mountains of debt we have accumulated and generally stimulate growth. Our economies remains stuck, entrenched and resistant, even some are about to possibly plunge even further back.  So it becomes “time for playing the innovation card”.

Is innovation leading us to the promised land of milk and honey?

I think we are all getting a little cynical about leaders’ motives and intentions when leaders attempt to deliver inspiring messages, many people react with scepticism, question whether leaders are just trying to work them or us even harder. It often leaves a bitter taste, not a taste of future promise.

Work for many has changed in its central position. It has moved from having a higher meaning and purpose as it is increasingly felt as individuals we are not really making a difference. Ah but through innovation you can, goes the mantra.

The problems today are very structural and systemic. We are all being measured against past performance, against other people, against other organizations, against other countries, the messages are unrelenting. Our solution is to become more innovative. Often these are one shot solutions. Do they advance us, most probably not much but we need to be measured. Do all these one shot activities help us or are they simply short term?

We have also lost identification with our public leaders and our institutions. We increasingly see them as obstacles to progress; we see them as not very innovative.

Overload and the crisis of no time to focus

Today we are bombarded with information, with knowledge, with data 24 hours of constant streaming if we want it. We have difficulty in switching off. We constantly look for all those breaking innovation and wealth creating opportunities. Regretfully we are on a horrible treadmill and asking innovation to help us get off it is not a solution. It helps, yes possibly.

Steve Deming wrote a series of articles on his Forbes blog, start here about the sorry state of innovation. It is depressing reading. It does seem innovation is not succeeding. Can we change this, he thingks it is, yes possible but we have to radically change our thinking about innovation and its part to play in the bigger scheme of things.

The EU announces a state of innovation emergency

This week the European commission issued its Innovation Union Competitive Report, it is long, detailed but thankfully has an executive summary. Start here The upshot of the report, the headline is “Europe’s innovation emergency”. Innovation performance needs major improvements in many areas if (note if) the Europe 2020 strategy is to deliver on its promises. I don’t want to sound cynical but I just get the feeling of “no chance” will we deliver on the promises with where we are and what is facing us.

  • Innovation delivery is tied to Innovation Union and as most people know Europe loves the idea of union. The problem today is there are many worrying signs that the dream of EU ‘Union’ is about to implode with the public financial crisis, that is not going away with the heavy dose of austerity measures needed by most. Excuse me, but how does innovation flourish in austere times, usually not very well actually. So innovation is becoming the whipping boy. Yes probably.
  • The EU report suggests we need to be more innovation ‘smarter’ by focusing on specialized areas of activity. The difficulty for me is many of these offer limited jobs and simply chase the ‘smarter’ qualified person. So we get some wealth creation but for a narrow band of (lucky) people and have we not just been through one of those bailouts for the banking sector? So more of the same solution as policy suggestions for innovation. Yes probably.
  • We are asked to invest more in research and innovation. The EU is slowly advancing towards a target of 3% of GDP to invest in research and development. The problem I have with this is this:  there are so many reports disputing this R&D focus is the real growth area, it should be in entrepreneurial start ups. I tend to feel this seems to generate more jobs but start ups are having extremely hard time raising money from the financial institutions. We have not yet achieved a structural change to a more knowledge-intensive economy.
  • We are also told we have weak framework conditions that are preventing our knowledge to flow and be transformed into marketable products and services. The developed world is most likely continuing to lose ground in the exploitation and translation of innovation.
  • Many commentators have spoken of a new deal, to get the many back to work. This is based on knowledge and being innovative. The reality is our education system; many within our work forces are not as equipped as they need to be to make this knowledge intensive switch. We will have to wait for significant changes in our education direction, significant upgrading and retraining of many knowledge unskilled people to make this critical change. Yes probably.

Innovation can be the growth stimulus, not our current tired formulas of financial bailouts as the approach.We need stimulus not proping up the weak.

Is innovation our stimulus? Innovation remains often abstract, certainly over used, and not well understood by most people on its full force and ability to deliver but can it, when it often stands on its own and everything is expected from it?

Innovation is expensive to do well. It is now global and access to knowledge is essential; Innovation can also be very slow and incremental but it can be disruptive, revolutionary and amazingly quick in generating growth and jobs. Innovation is a community endeavour, it dies in silo’s and we need to increasingly find ways to wire and connect ourselves even more to leverage the collaborative nature innovation requires.

Innovation requires resurgence and deep commitment

If innovation can be our answer then it needs a clear resurgence. Innovation needs a place at the top table of politicians, businesses and society and not just used as the star attraction, called upon to divert our attention from all the issues that are around us. Innovation can lead us out of this mess but it has to be ‘front and centre’ in its importance but it has to be fully understood. Is it by many at this time abstract and lacking the defining meaning of why innovation should be treated with importance?

Innovation to become part of real sustaining policy needs to be re-thought. Innovation by its nature needs to be nurtured by the process of discovery, the linking of insights for creation and exploitation of new ideas by entrepreneurs and business alike and translating them into a new end result.

Innovation is uncertain, lets simply recognize that and move on

Innovation is by nature radically uncertain, it is very unpredictable, although Governments believe they can capture innovation activity but they don’t. We need to encourage experimentation and ideas even more; luckily we still have our creativity even if we don’t have access to the means to deliver on it. This is where we should be spending our money, not in bailout of old institutions or 20th century industry models but on experimentation and exploration of the new work factory, collaborative innovation sharing, to solve our societies and planets big issues with inventions that generate a new deal that transform us away from current dependencies the planet is rapidly depleting.

A new melting pot of delicious innovation stew

We need to find a new ‘melting pot’ where innovation forms the central ingredient but it really does need plenty of other components or constituents to be readily mixed together to produce this elixir of new jobs, growth and wealth creation, it can’t simply stand alone. It needs to change from the whipping boy to the poster boy but it needs a sea change in our thinking or it does go bust and fail to deliver on all those promises being made today.

Innovation needs attachment

So is innovation dead, is it about to go bust, to end up as another nice idea?  I hope not, it is durable but in a different form than we currently frame it in. It is time we put innovation really to work but it has to be ‘attached’ to something specific to thrive and grow upon. It can have durability if we understand it better and invest in it. It needs to be fixed firmly onto something else. We do need to do this mind shift in innovation understanding now though, we just can’t simply keep talking about it as the ‘magic’ dust you sprinkle around.

The Challenges of Real Change Required by Innovation Consultants

Recently I was reminded of an article by Daniel Krauss, writing on the Forrester blog site ( about the “Path to Revolution In Management Consulting” which lead me to reply to his question of “what constitutes a management consulting firm 2.0?”

I’ve adapted my view here to reflect where it becomes even more relevant to the innovation consulting companies that I feel are in general struggling in today’s environment, for multiple reasons.

The challenge today lies for many in that they are not providing real consulting value to clients, and unless this will change it will continue to erode the clients confidence in these service providers.

In many ways, the consulting industry specializing in innovation is its own worst enemy. They are resolutely staying very internally driven, self promoting, still trying to convey the story of mastery, when clearly this is lacking and due to this failing the client. The client is increasingly requiring more organic or holistic solutions not a piecemeal of innovation offerings. These separate pieces often don’t dovetail into one complete innovation system because they are supplied by a variety of different service providers, all having their own ‘pet’ approaches.

Why is it when many clients who are actively working on innovation challenges have moved to a more open collaborative platform for obtaining and underpinning their own internal knowledge for product development? Clients have embraced (sometimes admittedly  reluctantly) into entering strategic partnerships in supply chain, purchasing, HR management and a host of IT related activities, in research and development.

Clients are pushing even closer to engaging the final consumer within the understanding of meeting their needs, or working to discover the ‘unmet’ needs. Yet the innovation consultants are still a different story of being closed up, reluctant to open up and gain from more divergent thinking on the problems these changes are causing to clients.

Consultants are far too cautious for their own good

Consultant firms on the other hand are moving far too cautiously to any form of collaborative form, they tend to bring ‘experts’ in for ad hoc, one-off assignments when they need deeper expertise. Wherever possible consultants want to manage as much as possible internally to ‘keep’ the fees generated inside. This is not a recipe for building lasting relationships that have mutual value in growing understanding. They stay in-breed and are not reflecting the commonly held view today, “that all knowledge does not reside within its own walls”; they still reluctantly hang on to the closed system of inventing only inside here. This you see in the host of variations on what is claimed as their versions of “common innovation” theme for processes, systems, idea management etc., and often ‘mutton simply dressed up as lamb’.

I see an awful lot of clients experimenting and learning internally and due to this becoming extremely selective for the use of any outside advice. For many of the innovation consulting firm this means they are often far too busy catching up, lagging in their own emerging practice and due to this ‘lag’ have lost any thought leadership position in many things relating to innovation. To overcome this you need to be engaged, to be able to piece together fragments of information to gain the insights that independence can offer.

This requires dedicated experience and constant involvement in broader innovation understanding not in the way it is going of specialization, who let slip the critical insights as it is ignored as it did not apply to their narrow area of knowledge. Sadly general well experienced innovation practitioners are thin on the ground. You do need to search hard for these but they are available. Also large consulting practices can’t afford to have more than a few experts scanning this innovation terrain.

Exceptions and Client Needs

Of course we have notable exceptions; the value in what Bains, McKinsey, Booz and PWC has is often in their access to C-level people and their ability to provide reports on best practice to help in benchmarking industries and practices around organizations current thinking of innovation. The conclusions though are often are not translated into practical solutions, they remain research findings. These help all of us involved in understanding emergent innovation practice to relate and absorb the findings but these on there on are not enough of the answers clients are looking for from external service providers. They want to connect the thinking to improving practice.

Clients often lack real deep insight or draw out the implications from these emerging practices, they want to work more alongside others in experimental practice spaces to truly figure out how to respond to them or understand the implications to their own business. It is only part of the innovation knowledge puzzle for the client. They need to constantly look elsewhere to piece this together, if at all they can, as so often the reporting looses much of its value as it is not translated into suggested solutions if the consulting industry fails to provide these services or knowledge laboratories.

Clients are forced to seek out for themselves, through informal groups or ones organized by industry necessity to piece together their understanding, a little like a patchwork quilt. Where is the previously respected “trusted” adviser, the consultant within this, often sidelined or desperately trying to muscle into the discussions for their own gain? The value of taking and translating all these disparate reports into new suggested models of practice seems not to be important.

Why are consulting firms not working methodically through the “collective” summary of these reports and then distilling them into emerging ideas as a development engine? It does seem this “connection” to much knowledge is not being valued and pulled together and the ability of having these dissected and  interpreted,  is lacking by most consultants, even the ones providing the reports, so clients are left to interpret it themselves. This can’t help the client/ consulting equation and many mistakes can be made in wrong interpretation as environments and circumstances are usually unique. This is where external advice can score significantly in explaining differences and providing appropriate solutions that still merge in the emerging practices but to fit that specific client’s situation.

The absence of the large consultancy in innovation forums – why?

Why is it that the larger consulting practice is often absent from forums, conferences and internet live exchanges? Also due to their increased absence, others are gratefully filling this space but perhaps not as well. I’m not talking about the software solution providers here; I’m talking about the strategic consulting heavyweights. This has some advantage for the ones filling the space but without the large consulting companies driving innovation insight as they do have the global insight and resources; most innovation consultancies hang onto existing, tried and tested methods using existing tools and techniques and don’t push the boundaries. They are often not in the position to do this. So the reality is, Innovation is not evolving as well as it should do, as it presently does not have this ‘bigger muscle’ to drive and push for change often generated by the big consulting houses. They presently seem to be highly selective on their innovation focus and that is more constraining to all and not helping advance the practice of innovation management like it could be.

Global consulting practices are being driven more by the numbers, by the ability to utilize and leverage pieces of work to obtain a return. It is less in consistent, ever-present engagement in all avenues of social dialogue, consulting has become more of a “roll up your sleeves” and pitch in to help. This lack of reflective consulting between where the collective presence of consultants, clients and employees engaged in innovation can regularly meet to explore more of the “what if?” is not helping consulting firms, or clients in interpreting the sets of front line signals and turning these into consulting opportunities on shifting many current established practices, processes or methods. We are losing innovation opportunities as we fail to translate these ‘signals’ and advancement in leading practice.

The move of clients building their own internal innovation capabilities

Lastly in this critique, clients are increasing building up their own internal-in-house innovation consulting capabilities, not just in execution but in design work. This denies consulting the necessary working practice, or playing time to experiment, to explore, to learn and translate this to the benefit of many.

These shifts, along with others that make up an increasingly long list are eroding the position of the innovation consultants. I think there is a time for a sea-change to take place.

So let’s firstly summarize the bigger challenges in innovation consulting:

  1. Clients are facing an increasing fragmenting industry of many niche consulting players. This is becoming more the ‘boutique’ service providers who have limited scale and global practice but is really matching the clients’ ideal profile of global span and support? It is a constraint that requires clients to continue to build internal capability with its different but perhaps similar cost profile.
  2. The inability to provide broad innovation experience or capabilities. This is another negative working against many consulting firms. Many of the partners have been out of their respective industry for a number of years and fail to appreciate the real ‘heartbeat’ that someone closer to it can detect, they have been removed from day-to-day activities far too long and often the pace of change is hard to keep up with. They are increasingly reliant on others to form opinion and does that replace their experience that got them to where they are?
  3. Forward thinking innovation centers within consulting are rare. There is so little contribute into the fresh knowledge stock, always needed by consultants to present their constantly updated “case of relevancy”. Often research is simply a re-hash of older material. A new solution has to be found to strengthen the innovation knowledge stock.
  4. Sophistication & specialization is highly sought after but expensive to keep around. Having this expertise sitting on the bench within one consulting company is regarded more as a cost liability and not as a valuable asset.
  5. Strategic understanding in fast changing, complex markets and organizations is extremely hard for outsiders (consultants) to grasp in the detail required. To be able to contribute into clients that are facing complex problems and to navigate these ‘fast flowing rapids’ needs a real sense of the pulse. All these are within the challenges to be resolved within the consulting industry.
  6. Limited experiments are currently being undertaken in the innovation consulting practices. The focus is far more relating to taking best practices and applying them to as many clients as possible. Critical thinking in innovation is hard to justify. Experimental innovation is something clients are very unwilling to pay for yet they actually should be crying out for this, so as to gain competitive edges from these insights. This is a huge challenge to overcome. Trust and reputation as thinkers in innovation helps but there is equally a reversing on offering the same advice to all, willing to pay. Some client/ consulting advice should be mutually exclusive.
  7. Partners need to change their remuneration models that drive the consulting business. They focus in industry specific domains in general yet clients are seeking beyond their own borders increasingly to gain fresh insights and competitive advantage. Are innovation consulting companies leveraging across industries enough? A traditional breakdown, of which consulting company is best known for, and used to solve specific problems, continues to reinforce expertise and limit broader advice. This is not serving the clients well, although it is ‘claimed’ consultancies reach across industries for insight and possible application. This does need greater cross-fertilization focus as it is potentially very valuable. This lack of active search across industry is a vicious circle that needs breaking into more, so as to expand capability and capacity and offer broader innovation practice techniques and options for clients to explore.

All these are within the challenges yet to be resolved within the innovation consulting industry.

A bolder, more open collaborative model is required.

  1. Consultant companies should become the host and be the potential ‘orchestrator’ built through platforms for the ‘best’ to gather and collaborate.
  2. Clients are learning how to collaborate, to network, to leverage and tap into outside domains, I think consultants must make this fundamental shift- embrace the old (consulting) enemy, their competitors, and seek the places of complimentary knowledge that when combined can offers clients the very best, not the reworked second best.
  3. There are growing sources of advice alternative- clients are recognizing this and seeking it out. The growth of niche consultancies, the use of academics, and the ability to reach out and pay for the top expert in their field excludes the specialized consulting firms more often than not. Thought leadership is not residing ‘within’ but outside and consulting needs to find more imaginative ways to pull in this expertise to add the value clients want in diversity and understanding.
  4. Clients are increasingly willing to bring together diverse advice. The consulting company that provides a platform/ conduit for a community of experience extracted from a rich diversity of backgrounds to work together on bigger than usual challenges I feel would be appealing to clients. These collaborations do not have an in-built expensive overhead to support or a forced umbrella identity.
  5. The appeal of bringing together experts that can come together and work on specific complex problems and then disperse has great value. It is through these expert interactions it can offer a different approach than we are seeing today. These ‘event’s’ or challenge outcomes can then be broken down into the ‘discrete’ parts necessary to drive solutions and can be parceled out to increasingly specialized firms that work on the part within the value solution that contributes to resolving the complex problem.
  6. The need today is to have real access to great quality thinking and this does not reside within the walls of one consulting firm, however large in employees (often repeating the same thing).

A possible resolution or is it salvation for innovation consulting.

The resolution or (salvation) of consulting is to build transparent networks of expertise, brought together on platforms provided by the nominated host or consultant, so clients see and value the access to broader, best available expertise that is working through their own, often unique challenges, not being felt as ‘cookie cutting’ recipients.

Complexity, uniqueness and expertise need to be addressed in more customized ways and that challenges the existing global consulting model of maximizing repeatability.

A new model needs to combine the following on a given client platform, hosted an orchestrated by the lead Consulting Firm based on a reflection of today’s ability to pull in the best advisory and thought leadership to solve unique client challenges:

  1. Establishing clearly the Business Model coherence & the Challenge clarification/ analysis and ensure this is communicated across all the collaborators working on this solution platform.
  2. Providing the Platform Management through collaborative software that allows all the best parties to collaborate their ‘given’ piece and the lead consultant coordinates and extracts the best value from these parts.
  3. Open to all collaborators the strategic intention and the modularity construct so they see their contributions and part to play.
  4. Process analysis and mapping techniques that are common and freely available to all to use- a standard of tools and techniques that all participants are familiar with too leverage any exchanges or concepts between the participating parties.
  5. End to end customer and supplier interaction points, well thought-through and managed by the lead consulting party to extract the best insight, foresights and their value in unique combinations.
  6. Co-creation, co-production and collaboration being actively encouraged, integrated and visible to all to build this value even further.
  7. Provide common shared tools, standards, IP, protocols and know-how protection/ transfer and validation governance.
  8. Ability to experiment, test hypothesis, pilot and rapidly expand within the platform collaboration to advance and validate thinking and constantly search for the up scaling needed.

Henry Chesbrough wrote recently in his “Open Services innovation” book about the commodity trap, this applies equally to the consulting industry, it is certainly not immune. There are new disruptive forces in play, these are placing limits on the existing innovation consulting model as a healthy business model. Perhaps it is near to its end, and consultants need to change their thinking and then the approaches fairly radically to stay relevant and thrive

Orchestrating a more open diversity of knowledge on collaborative platforms needs a significant change in consulting, that you could argue applies to all consulting practice. Clients demand more value and for consultants to regain their position as providers of expert knowledge they need to become the ’orchestrators’ to add value and deliver propositions that tackle clients increasing complexity in more open ways, otherwise they will face an increasing marginalized role.

(revised and updated on 19.03.2012 and re-posted)

Sustaining is Pivotal to Making Innovation Progress

The greater challenge today with innovation is to build a more sustaining framework for innovation to be consistent, like a beating heart, day in and day out.

The struggle is what constitutes the right areas to frame and build innovation capability upon? I argued last year in one of my previous blogs there was a formula. If you go to “A Formula for Sustaining Competitive Advantage through Innovation” at it introduces this. Now we need to align this further.

The Formula for Sustaining Competitive Advantage

Taking this one step further and linking it.

I have repeatedly suggested innovation needs to be dynamic, where you need to understand your fitness landscape (see blog and that relate on this ground breaking concept.

A sustainable innovative organization needs to be extremely fluid and “organic” in the way it treats innovation to foster constant creativity that is vital for the success of its future growth and wealth creation. Some thoughts:

  1. It has to work out ways to creating value, Besides encouraging ideas that can come from anywhere, inside and outside the organization it has to invest in its cultivation process, as ideas have to add value, they have to connect to the strategic need of the business
  2. Innovation is a Dynamic process: Innovation for the company is as “oxygen”, it is the life blood and this has to be delivered constantly to all cells and bodies,  not just for survival but for obtaining fitness and then begins to achieve this sustaining itself as part of a natural routine.
  3. Innovation is part of the recognition that business is not as usual, or achieved by approaching challenges in the market place through past tried and tested ways. We need to think differently to thrive let alone survive. Perspectives have to be broadened out and challenged more. The organization needs to invest in its people constantly to ensure the possibilities of achieving a healthier future. We need improved capabilities.
  4. We need inclusive thinking both internally and connecting externally. Many are realizing the incredible benefits of moving more towards insight-driven innovation that promotes, stimulates and drives the innovation process. I’ve commented on a few of these previously.
  5. Insightful-driven innovation comes from opening up to diverse views, internally and externally, and we need to ‘push’ closer to the edge of possibilities. To do this we need our people to be confident to translate what they pick up as often a ‘faint signal’ and translate this into actions and opportunities to explore within the innovation process with increasing confidence and all the best possible support.
  6. To encourage this we need sustaining and clear leadership. People want to be inspired, to understand a vision and feel they are very much part of the future. We all seek identification. Executing through a framework of activities that promote learning, improve competencies, promote latent energies and provide intensity of purpose are all far more exciting to be part of than the many remote leadership models we often see today who lack responsiveness and empathy.
  7. To achieve this new sustaining point, we need to measure innovation, not as a ‘nice to have’ but as an ‘essential to have’, a core aspect of employment. To achieve this we need to build around a ‘given’ framework, one that multiplies and leads to sustaining competitive advantage by adding II + EE + MLC + OC + RNE to equal = SCA.

The suggested organizing SCA framework has a number of sub components that make up each of its parts. I am certainly happy to expand on this through my practice on innovation. You have the contact details if you are interested. We do need to move beyond the present, more static confines of innovation.