Preparing Ourselves for Innovation Standards

There has been  going on for a good few years, the continued debate around finding and adopting a set of standards for innovation. I blow a little hot and cold on this, this is not dependent on the time of day but the very “force” that is pushing any agenda along on this. Far, far too much of those that push for standards have often very narrow agenda’s, where this fits their commercial purpose but often you gain that feeling that these are not as aligned to the broader innovation communities as they should be.

There are two camps- the ones that relentlessly drive towards standards and those looking to have a more “open” view looking to ‘simply’ achieve a common language.

Are standards the real drivers of innovation?

There are seemingly many ways to innovate and is it just a little simplistic to standardise innovation and reduce it down to a set of basic common parts? Innovation comes more from evolution, revolution, radical and disruptive forces being applied, will these benefit from having innovation standards or be constrained. Would ‘standards’ be like the basic diploma like an architect for instance, who is taught the theory of the basic principles but who can see well beyond and challenges those existing boundaries and accepted norms, and in so doing pushes design into a new future but still draws down from this their initial ‘qualification?’

Innovation often arrives from the need to rapidly respond to crisis, it can need to bridge and move across disciplines and concepts, it might emerge from the intersection of ideas, concepts and cultures ( The Medici Effect reference) or it can draw from business, science, art and politics. How do you attempt to standardise, let alone capture for these? Continue reading

What is top of your mind? Mine’s innovation

I’ve been watching the debate for the Presidency of the United States and thankfully the second one became a more ‘alive’ one, where you felt some real tensions on different issues. One of the most central discussion points was around jobs- creation, partly from bringing them back to America, and unleashing the Entrepreneurs from all that ‘crushing’ burden of bureaucratic ‘red’ tape but lacking in real specifics.

Innovation I noticed came to the rescue as that ‘certain’ word needed to be played, like a cloak you can hid behind, so the person waving its potential in magic dust will make us all feel happy,  that it will solve most of our problems. Apple was raised in the questions asked and how can the jobs overseas be brought back to the USA?   President Obama stated some of the jobs lost will not come back, those that are low skill, low wages and he wants to achieve high skill, higher earning jobs. I’m sure both candidates would want that and both know certain jobs will never come back.

Will Apple invest back in the United States in manufacturing unless there is a fundamental change in policy or consumer sentiment? They are more likely to invest on consumer sentiment than just policy alone, if it changed and suddenly there was demanded “I want home-made products, made within the US 100%” stamped upon them. Customers voting with their feet and wallets can deliver more than policy incentives alone. Pride of ownership might even replace status in ownership. Continue reading

What is the missing cost of not innovating?

We can often be asked “what is the ROI on this particular innovation or alternatively, on our innovation activity?” This questioning increases particularly when there grows even more uncertainties in marketplaces, when you are forced into making tougher investment decisions, in allocating resources, in adjusting a strategy to meet changing circumstances. Then you get the “well, what’s the payback period then?” Often we struggle to offer a half-decent reply as most innovation has stayed mired in incremental approaches and so becomes fairly complicated in identify the new part from the old that is already the invested part, or it remains uncertain, as it is often exploring the unknowns.

Perhaps we should reverse this question or be ready to ‘gazump’ it and beat them to the question before they ask. Two specific ways to think about this come to mind. The first was suggested in a post back in 2005 by Ruth Ann Hattori called “the cost of not innovating” and I like this one. The other came from a post by my innovating friend and collaborator, Jeffrey Phillips “what are the opportunity costs on not innovating?”  Jeffrey is still not residing on a tropical beach as he still has not got the complete answer to that one. Both are tough questions but well worth reflecting over. Continue reading

Making innovation practice spread

Recently I have enjoyed reading Peter J Denning’s thoughts around innovation. He is Distinguished Professor of Computer Science and Director of the Cebrowski Institure for information innovation at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California.

He discusses adoption, team practices, ubiquity, networks, language actions, the practice of innovation and other related topics. All are stimulating and worth finding the time to read but one caught my eye and I’ve gone back to it at least four, maybe five times. It intrigues me.  It is entitled “The idea idea” written in early 2011 and asks the question “What if practices rather than ideas are the main source of innovation?”

I think we all agree “ideas pervade our professional work” and as Professor Denning points out “we borrow them, we apply them, we solve problems with them, we create new ones, and we try to foster more of them in our teams”. We do put a disproportionately greater emphasis on ideas yet as he points out, all these great ideas and the energy applied to them we still end up with really poor adoption rates, he suggests our success rate in business are around 4%.

All of this ‘idea’ energy seems to be wasting so much time, resources and money. He puts this so well “we are idea rich, selection baffled and adoption poor”

The whole thrust of the article is perhaps that innovation is not ideas generated and I agree so much on this, but practices adopted. We need to spend more efforts on the skills and adoption of new practices and as he suggests “as the framework for new practices” Continue reading

The Flickering Light of Social Innovation

Without doubt one of the most exciting areas of innovation, social innovation, that is developing initiatives that are attempting to tackle the real societal issues, has had a very tough time in the last year or so.

The need for social innovation and where it is contributing and aspires to resolve, has not gone away but it does seem to me, some of the energy and passion seems to have drained away in this time. Perhaps, in recent weeks, there are some signs of some emerging initiatives that are beginning to be ‘rekindle’ this social innovation flame but it seems in such incremental ways. Surely what is needed, is making bold leaps at this time not token gestures? We need to mobilize with a real intensity around many of the present social ills we are facing.

Recent losses in the movement for social innovation

Firstly for those involved in the social innovation movement the sad loss of Diogo Vasconcelos, who tragically died last year took away the champion of social innovation. Equally the move of Geoff  Mulgan from being the CEO of the Young Foundation into a broader CEO’s role at Nesta, where they certainly have shifted their recent focus in helping people and organizations bring great innovation ideas to life has altered where the emphasis needs to be placed for innovation in general, less so for social innovation.

This focus has been through providing investments and grants to mobilize research, explored through networks and building the skills necessary as the UK’s innovation foundation. Continue reading

Seeking engagement through innovation to galvanize growth

We need to become really worried over our potential to re-galvanize growth across many of our economies. There is this growing feeling that in Europe, perhaps even the United States, we are in for a prolonged drawn out ‘slump’ with the possibilities of a Japanese-style lost decade.

Crash austerity programmes are compounding deeper economic problems and we need to find ways to create more demand, yet it does seem our current approaches are placing increasing constraints on solving this growth need. Of course, the public debt to GDP for many countries is alarming but if you can’t fix the problems with achieving growth, you just get further into debt. It seems as the predicted ‘inflows’ continue to fall below the forecasted ones you are forced into borrowing more to even support the existing environment. This adds further struggles to hold onto some of the essential services we require to function and we seem to continue downwards in a collapsing spiral.

We are suffering from those evil twins, a lack of fresh investments and bold innovation, which are failing, by not doing the essential job of promoting growth, of leading demand, of creating the new wealth we desperately need.   The scale of our needs requires a different type of engagement, up and down our society; we need a new set of norms otherwise we will continue to witness some extremely painful adjustments across large parts of society.

Engagement means different things to different people

Continue reading