The shaping of innovation- future directions

Rethinking 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 feel needs to be discussed next. 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’ of advancement that innovation should be offering.

I would like to offer some of the factors that I feel will be shaping innovation’s future; many are presently taking place but in pockets of expertise and experimentation, that we have to investigate more to understand the implications further.

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.

Somehow we do need to break these pockets of resistence down to allow innovation to move on.

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 growing 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.

What are the implications of not advancing in innovation understanding?

  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 – and where more 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 mental shift will be hard for many.
  5. The shift in emphasis to the customer and their unmet needs makes a really compelling case for increased trend spotting, scouting, aligning and recognizing behavioural changes so as to make insights a real core of your business. Understanding the true source of those ideas is a very different skill set than developing ideas simply  that are emerging from within an organization.
  6. The value of different Business Models to apply within any assessments of innovation is showing increased willingness to develop more ‘spin outs, to encourage the concepts to flourish.  Even in large organisations they are showing more commitment to separating out promising concepts to allow these newly identified opportunities to bear fruit and be more focused, so as to deliver the ‘identified’ result.
  7. The growing willingness to explore Business Model Generation as a deliberate policy  is altering the competitive landscape even more in the chase for growth. Establishing the right approach and business proposition design is becoming a must have skill in evaluation and execution.
  8. 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.
  9. The recognition that adopting someones elses 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.
  10. The art of spending wisely between experimentation, trial and error internally, and receiving knowledge from external expertise for understanding innovation needs to be brought into a better balance . Presently it is not, as external expertise has failed to provide decent thought leadership and internal innovation expertise has not been dedicated as it should have been on implementing the levers of innovation and achieving alignment within the organization. Greater depth of expertise needs to be injected into the equation to gain a deeper understanding of innovation management.
  11. Building a more robust ‘innovation activity system’ into managing innovation that goes beyond just simply pipelines and portfolio’s, needs thinking through. It requires a more open logic model to be articulated and built around.  Many people are contributing more insight today to allow for more early ‘open’ thinking. The pipeline needs a higher level of flexibility and diversity of end result options, and this needs to move beyond just product moving through the innovation system.
  12. There is an increased need to reposition your firm as a “fast discoverer” using rapid intelligence to built into this innovation activity system.
  13. 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. There is a growing understanding these mutual dependencies are important to be managed better than at present.
  14. 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 concept to be realized. This new complexity of managing for different end results will be a significant challenge to identify and manage these differences across a common platform approach.

Some of 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 or recognize as really necessary.
  • There is a movement that disrupting is the ‘only’ appropriate innovation 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. Managing disruptive innovation really does need deep reflection and clarification of the risks before anyone embarks on this approach.
  • The consistent difficulty of failing to create a listening culture around intellectual mobility and social platforms still lies within organizations to discover, transmit and transform ideas into competitive advantage. Managing this new source of intelligence is proving difficult for many to understand.
  • The balance and current distinctions between older techniques of 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 is a tough area to balance.
  • The issues of achieving a strong strategic alignment by the innovation folks needs to be better understood and managed within organizations.
  • The right timeframe for innovation is what:  next quarter, next year, in three years, 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 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 if it was to be allowed the ‘right’ time .
  • The question still remains on when innovation will be totally embedded in the psyche of the corner office and that the C-level focus innovation really requires to move from emerging to established as a dedicated function.
  • The transformation of new concepts into concrete results that can be well measured is still a challenge to achieive. Innovation needs to show it can clearly make the growth contribution so often talked about but often difficult to  quantify. We do need to show the real value innovation brings in new wealth creation and growth for countries, organizations and society to advance innovations standing.

Innovation can be remarkable if we can 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 their contribution. Today, only a few people actually are allowed to work on innovation activities, yet the outcomes are ones that everyone wants and we do need to find ways to allow innovation to be part of each persons daily jobs . Having a sense of purpose to improve or change something through innovation is a powerful enabler.

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. Recognising 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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