Heat-seeking innovation

I’ve been listening and watching some of the discussions coming out of the World Economic Forum and the value is worth the investment. I’ve saved the $40k that it is estimated to attend this annual event and I can certainly find the time to absorb what is being said in my own environment. Perhaps the messages are more salient because of this, I don’t know, as I’m highly unlikely to be attending this forum as you have to be invited.

So what has caught my attention is not surprising for its relevancy, to what I do and think about, around the issues of innovation and its ability to lead us out of our present adversities The one discussion that was valuable on this involved a panel that spoke at length about risks in uncertain times. It was headlined as “Leading through adversity” but focused on the uncertainty being faced and where innovation can help in reducing unfamiliar risks and giving us some clarity.

Watch the debate here http://tinyurl.com/a6lqm5h

There were lots of discussions on different types of innovation from Professor Clayton Christensen’s emerging view we have three types of 1) empowering innovation, 2) sustaining innovation and 3) efficiency innovation. Another panellist Anand Mahindra spoke of two types of Pioneering cutting edge and the “More for less” movement found in frugal innovation thinking as the two that need us all to think through. Both good contributors to where innovation needs to fit but our difficulties persist as we all do not share a common language.

The Chairperson of Bains & Company, USA Orit Gadiesh kept reminding us that fear comes in two different forms: “uncertain”- that tends to freeze us until we resolve some of that uncertainty and “unfamiliar”- where many CEO’s and organizations are presently grappling with. Both are presently “scaring us to death” to quote Clayton Christensen in dealing with the “unknowns”.

Two comments sparked a thought- one by Martin Senn, Group Chief Executive Officer, Zurich Insurance Group, Switzerland was his “interconnectivity of risk” and the other one was dealing with the new issue on the block everyone is thinking through “Market transitions” and the effects in each economy on job and wealth creations started by John Chambers, CEO & Chairman of Cisco.

Preparing for innovation for the future.

These two comments lead you to begin to think about Innovation for the future. We are going to continue to live in unpredictable times and there is an awful lot coming towards us in new business model designs that are going to radically alter the competitive landscape.

We sense entire industries are being threatened. Toppling giants send shock waves throughout the world and certainly the corridors of our business leaders.

This continued uncertainly, this dealing in the unfamiliar, this feeling of something coming from nowhere made me think of “heat-seeking innovation”.

So for a little bit of fun I took a look at some of the comparisons between heat seeking missiles and applied those to heat-seeking innovation. Ok, a little “left field” but it became interesting, so stay with me for a few moments of wanderings. Too much listening to our leaders in Davos perhaps?

Stretching your thinking around heat-seeking innovation

So, I’m stretching our thinking, ignoring much within the design of heat seeking missiles but looking at some of the commonalities surprisingly around us in different ways that we need to build into our innovation capability, building for future innovation to respond too in far more smarter ways.

Heat-seeking innovation relies on piecing together considerable data, rapidly absorbing the individual values to ‘react’ to the unfamiliar and continue to manage the constant and familiar.

Let me explain some parallels with heat-seeking missiles.  With so many new business models occurring, they are out to destroy what is already in place and part of the incumbent CEO’s role is to avoid this fate or be the one to bring the new business model to fruition. They need to ‘seek’ more and ‘risk’ more.

As the name implies heat-seeking missiles home in on the hot areas of a target, the parallel is that our innovation needs to do the same job. Home in and do the job, disrupt (destroy) the existing and gain the advantage through new business models, products and services.

Heat seeker innovation requires us all to get a whole lot smarter.

We need to get a whole lot smarter with our innovation efforts, we need to build innovation systems that are “smarter” in discriminating targets and resisting the jamming effects, internally and externally often deployed to try and influence and alter their mission. We need to use the heat map to focus in and cut out this ‘background’ clutter. We need to stay the innovation course.

Firstly we need innovation combustion

It is the amount of innovation heat, the energy feeding into the system, to quote from one article on heat seeking missiles: “the energy is in the form of a crystal lattice of vibrations that vibrate along the chain”. The more heat one omits you achieve a continuous band that raises the (innovation) temperature and increases the thrust and combustion.

All sources of energy (our people) emit the potential for innovation activity. The more you ’emit’ you achieve growing propulsion in new innovative energy so the more you vibrate (with innovation) the higher the intensity. You need to build the innovation engine that allows the energy source to propagate (our people and their ideas and actions) and champion its value and source of future growth.

Controlling the burn

Propulsion needs a controlled burn time. To get a better speed, to move organizations forward faster levels of heat-seeking innovation, there is a need to have a combination of proximity and impact infusing. Here the CEO needs to lay down all the “guidance systems”, provide the positioning of targets and issues the necessary commands (the innovation strategy aligned to corporate goals) to achieve the desired flight path. Getting close to our customers, our markets and having available core capabilities to deliver desired results does need a certain closeness and determination to infuse the parts.

There also needs to be in place optical filters which I gather for heat-seeking missiles are made up of absorption filters that have wide bandwidth (scanning and assessments) and interference filters that design down to extremely narrow bandwidths (clear innovation focus) and both require good transmittance (communications) and reflecting unwanted energy (a design of a common language and intent) instead of absorbing it.

Reject what is not relevant to getting the heat seeking innovation away (good governance and project management). In other words stop unnecessary interference which comes from our own reflection (dogma’s and mindsets) and laser in on what secures your future. Push through the “flak.”

What we need to set up is targeted directional information to accelerate this impact infusing.

So we need to ensure the following to be put into place for optimising our heat-seeking innovation (missiles) to become operative and deliver their full impact.

We need seeker types

We call these innovation scouts. These are the source for detecting new innovation, targets to zoom in on, seek out their heat and these targets allow up to home in on to defeat with countermeasures, provide the information to avoid, possible seek and destroy as threats, or rapidly learn from as these take evasive actions to improve our own innovation efforts.

We need scanning patterns and modulation

As we build our own capabilities in innovation it is the space in front of us becomes the one to scan for new targets (core, adjacent or new spaces). We need to amplify the signals (weak signals offer tomorrows innovation). The more we ‘do’ innovation, increase its frequency, the better we become at hitting the right targets more accurately.

Cooling effect

Heat-seeking missiles need to lock into increasing lower level signals and often the heat being omitted by much within the system can overpower the weak signal. We sometimes need to cool our systems to lock into these targets (portfolio pruning), especially over longer time frames and horizons (the three horizons of innovation)


Heat seeking missiles have their seekers mounted on a gimbal. This allows the sensor to be pointed at the target while the missile might not be. Like missiles innovation cannot always be pointed at the target, we need to explore other trajectory paths, but at a given time we lock into the target (innovation value chain) and begin to control the direction innovation points in its execution and delivery. The interesting point is the gimballed seeker needs to be able to track the target independently (stay true to course) until you make that decision to lock in and fully align in the final execution.

Hitting the target

We all like to take the most direct path to the intercept, to deliver innovation. Newer missiles are smarter and use the gimballed seeker combined with what is known as a proportional guidance in order to avoid oscillation (our fear and doubts) and stay locked into the best, most efficient intercept path.

So maybe there is sufficient with heat-seeking missiles but in our approach to innovation I would argue we need to develop up a greater ‘design capacity’ for heat-seeking innovation so we can zero in on all that threatens us. We take design to a greater height, take out what is currently known and leave us with the blue sky and the dawning of a new age, simply flying into the “unfamiliar and unknowns” this debate at Davos triggered in my “time out” moment.

Why have some guys in white coats just arrived at my door?

OK, I’m returning to my innovation real world but this had some heat omitting fun for me. I need to watch for others to home in and comment on this. Time for some evasive action and drop below the visible spectrum where heat is generated, and stop emitting useless radiation and all this background clutter to return to the serious job on hand, building our organizations capabilities.

Although I do like the idea of “heat-seeking innovation”. Now let’s take the medication I’m being offered by these guys.

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