Navigating the future landscape by developing adaptive innovation skills

So where are we focusing upon to make sure we are developing the right proficiencies and abilities we will need to manage our innovations of the future?  For me innovation capabilities and competencies needs to be far more adaptive and aligned to the different emerging skills we should be bringing to bear, so we are able to find better innovating solutions for our collective futures.

The issue is this: if we do want to reshape much of what we are struggling with today – poor growth, diminishing futures, disconnected communities, stagnating economies or ones struggling to emerge from devastated and austerity measures inflicted upon them – we do need to change our skill sets to reflect a more realistic and up to date need to navigate and transform knowledge to tackle these. Often our present skills are not equipped to manage in these more “disruptive” environments.

I wrote in a past post about “Learning to absorb new Knowledge for Innovation and the ability to understand Absorptive Capacity and how it works. Recently I followed that up with two recent posts about our pressing need that Jobs can be created but our skills do need very much adapting and refining, from where we are at present. One post was “Innovation Job Chasing- A Race Needed to Win” and the other was its precursor “The Present Innovation Jobless Era We Face.”

Our real need is to put in place those stronger adaptive skills  as our foundations so we can be better equipped to compete in the growing innovation race we all facing at personal, community and national levels. We need to equipped differently to meet the tougher global conditions that will be with us for our lifetimes, irrespective of our present age.

Competition won’t go away; it will only increase in its intensity.  To meet this we need to be far better equipped to be ‘innovation-ready’ in our skills. What forms a better ‘innovation ready’ skill set?

So what are those future skills we should be working towards to group around?

There was a report published in 2011 by the Institute for the Future (IFTF) and sponsored by the University Of Phoenix Research Institute to understand the skills workers will need over the next decade in our changing world, based far more on technology and its continued advance.

The report “Future Work Skills 2020” looks initially at what it feels are the six drivers that are shaping our landscape and then the ten skills they see as emerging that need to be where we place our future focus upon. These are:

Future Skills Set

  • Sense-making: the ability to determine the deeper meaning or significance of what is being expressed
  • Social intelligence: ability to connect to others in a deep and direct way, to sense and stimulate reactions and desired interactions
  • Novel & adaptive thinking: proficiency at thinking and coming up with solutions and responses beyond that which is rote or rule-based
  • Cross -cultural competency: ability to operate in different cultural settings
  • Computational thinking: ability to translate vast amounts of data into abstract concepts and to understand data-based reasoning
  • New-media literacy: ability to critically assess and develop content that uses new media forms, and to leverage these media for persuasive communication
  • Transdisciplinarity : literacy in and ability to understand concepts across multiple disciplines
  • Design mindset:  the ability to represent and develop tasks and work processes for desired outcomes.
  • Cognitive load management: ability to discriminate and filter information for importance, and to understand how to maximize cognitive functioning using a variety of tools and techniques
  • Virtual collaboration: ability to work productively, drive engagement, and demonstrate presence as a member of a virtual team.

A call to action

As the report authors of Anna Davies, Devin Fidler, and Marina Gorbis suggest, the results have clear implications for individuals needing to learn these skills. They will be asking from where will these come? From the educational institutions that need to grapple with changes that are occurring fast. Also it is the actions both  in business and at government level on how they will encourage and develop the strategies and policies fast enough, so as to offer the incentives to drive the changes needed. It is how quickly we move towards any organized ‘grouped’ learning of new skills can we begin to build within these new groupings.

All institutions certainly do need to provide the leadership to embrace the shifts needed in a constantly changing set of lifelong learning. It is recognized increasingly that skill renewal is constant to meet tomorrow’s ever changing global challenges.  A place where skills are far more heavily reliant on technology and we are able to manage these constant changes effectively. So as the knowledge that is emerging gets translated into new values offering new opportunity, learning and growth. We discover, absorb and translate.

Teaching both hard and soft skills that reflect tomorrows needs

The underlying need is to teach skills that promote quickly in response to changing conditions that will include a higher emphasis on critical thinking, depth of insight and the analysis capabilities to ‘translate’ the information or data emerging from multiple sources.

Equally the soft skills, so often ignored as crucial become increasingly relevant. The ability to collaborate and network, to read social cues, not ignore them as not important to me and respond with this much higher level of adaptability. I wrote about “Recognition of better soft skill taxonomy for Innovation some time back that has a useful way of grouping soft skills.

My summary

Predictions can always be difficult but the impression I gained from looking at the suggested ten future skills suggested by IFTF is that they do seem to make for a solid basis for us to gather around.

What of course we need to do is to develop what ‘lies underneath these ten skills ‘to allow us all to become more ‘innovation ready’ in our skills needed to survive. These might give us that better chance to thrive in the future and find fresh innovating opportunities because we are better equipped in relevant skills.

The burning issue is that our window of time to change and incorporate these into our organized learning is shrinking at ever faster rates. We need to move from recognition of these skills into the setting about of building them far more systematically.

We need to build our future innovation capacities on more relevant skills that are based more on what we need to have within our ‘natural’ skill base based on today at least, and not ones still based on 20th century practices.

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The Business Model, a Canvas for Innovation’s Convergence

So where were you when this Business Design Summit was happening? Did you miss it? Well kick yourself if you are remotely interested in where innovation is evolving too. I missed going as it was a sell out fast but I watched the live streaming.  So I had a more detached view but let me give you the flavor of what is bubbling up around the Business Model and its Canvas where a new (and older) generation of innovation ‘tool-smiths’ are all converging in a growing community.

In Berlin, held at the Classic Remise Berlin on 19th & 20th April 2013, around 250 people gathered around the Business Model and started to bring together the converging aspects required in any Business Models design in tools, concepts, and methodologies.

Lucky for many that were unable to attend, the wonderful thing was that the summit also was live streamed and had a dedicated hashtag of #bdsummit. I watched it and got very caught up in the event. They plan to release the presentations and I think a whole lot more from this summit in outcomes through most probably the toolbox center to build better Business Models.

This summit became the place of the innovation ‘tool-smiths’ to meet and exchange so as to begin the forging and crafting of the new tools needed for innovation. These are aimed to help us in today’s and tomorrows world where innovation is more central within business strategic thinking.

Firstly, the Business Model meets one of today’s need

Unless you have lived under a rock, in a hermit’s cave or on a beach disconnected from the world, anyone remotely interested in innovation will have had business model innovation seared into their thinking.  Then you would be aware of the Business model canvas and the book “Business Model Generation” by Alex Osterwalder and Yves Pigneur and a core team of leading exponents, that included Alan Smith, Patrick van der Pij and Tim Clark and co-authored by 470 Business Model Canvas practitioners from 45 countries.

The Business Design Summits Objectives

The Business Design Summit had as its primary question: “Are the Business Tools you are using relevant for today’s world? It went on to ask “If you want to teach people a new way of thinking, don’t bother trying to teach them, instead, give them a tool, the use of which will lead to new ways of thinking”.

So this was a summit of different concepts, tools and a host of the forward thinking people within the world of innovation offering the parts that are converging. The different speakers offered a rich diversity of ideas, suggestions and examples to stimulate your thinking. Each speaker contributed a tool and suddenly we had born a whole new community of “tool-smiths” crafting away within innovation.

The speakers included at the Summit

These included Alex Osterwalder, Yves Pigneur, Patrick van der Pijl, Lisa Solomon, Lisa Chen, Luke Hohmann, Mark Johnson, Stefano Mastrogiacomo, Dave Grey, Karl Landart, Henry Chesbrough, Muki Hansteen-Izora , Steve Blank and Rita McGrath. Regretfully I missed one or two of the speakers as I got sidetracked within my day.

The visuals produced as these sessions developed were stunning.

Example of a visual recording, this is by @HolgerNilsPoh: A Business Opportunity Canvas by @mukiz from the #bdsummit

Apart from Holger Nils Pohl working away, I think there were lots of visual and graphic recorders busy capturing what was presented in terrific event maps. Each of these contributed and made it a visual feast. These visuals significantly improve ways to teach. More and more in our daily work, visual thinking will play an increasing part on the new tools needed in understanding increasing complexity and being quickly able to visualize it in today’s world and become part of our tool box for determining the next steps.

Some “stand outs” that I gained

It is hard to suggest one part was better than another, it was this convergence that made the event come together but for me the timely reminder by Mark Johnson on the strategic importance of the jobs-to-be-done cannot be ever understated. Jobs-to-be-Done are central to arriving at the value proposition as they should “inform” on the needs of the customer that present the new innovation opportunities, perhaps also needing new business models.

The second was Luke Hohmann and his innovation games, something I will need to explore a whole lot more. His tag line of “The Seriously Fun Way to Do Work—Seriously”.  This offers online and in-person games to help organizations to solve problems across the enterprise by using collaborative play to tap into true innovation.

Lisa Solomon who did such a fantastic job of being a main facilitator to much of the summit. She introduced her forthcoming book around Strategic Conversations and spoke about her work and teaching around innovation, leadership and design.

Of course, Alex Osterwalder had his usual high octane mix of presenting, tweeting, facilitating, just physically driving the summit along. He must be shattered after events like this, energized for what’s ahead but drained in the immediate aftermath. He was everywhere, the Innovation puppet master pulling all the strings of a well orchestrated summit.

Yves Pigneur did such a great job, introducing the BM Canvas but also in both wrap ups of “three minutes” to summarize each of the days sessions. The way he did this has some real lessons on how to recall and conclude succinctly.

Dave Gray and his evolving cultural mapping tool is yet another topic I need to climb into more following this appetite teaser “as a tool, the hammer sees everything as a nail… culture itself is a tool” where he introduces the tool steps of Evidence, Levers, Values & Assumptions. This seems a more diagnostic tool and I feel will develop the more this is progressed, improved and used.

Then the whole topic of where large corporations need to fit into this business model movement with the challenges and emerging issues discussed by Karl Landart and Henry Chesbrough. This is where the Business model canvas has to deepen its presence. The Business Model Canvas has still not fully found its way into large corporate culture, certainly not easily into the boardrooms. Time, short attention span and limited patience are real constraints. Should it- certainly yes, how it is going to happen is a real challenge.

This whole area or corporate challenge needs some real intellectual capital in solving this as it is a necessity for BMC to really take hold in large corporations. By the way, this was the best presentation in my opinion I have heard from Henry Chesbrough and I was intrigued by his emerging thoughts on providing a Corporate Conflict Detector.

Muki Hansteen-Izora( @mukiz) of Intel talked through their internal tool, a first in a public forum, the Opportunity Identification Tool or Canvas- the opportunity space is bringing their perspective into a conversation, developing up the essential components, and getting these rooted and traceable.

The summit finished with a conversation between Steve Blank and Rita McGrath around “the end of competitive strategy” Both are real influences within innovation, firstly they talked through the new playbook for strategy and where so much is due to change. The sum of this was that Organizations are still awfully reluctant to give up power, we simply can’t continue as we are, as all our ground is eroding and that long term quest for finding sustainable competitive advantage is rapidly disappearing .

Transient short term competitive advantage is taking the place of sustainable competitive advantage. This will become a “big idea” and influence our future in how we set about dealing with this. Rita is about to launch her book around this whole area in the coming weeks and I feel will “rattle a few cages” in a few boardrooms, when they read it I suspect.

Steve worked his usual magic of weaving both the start-up and established organization into much of this conversation. He provided numerous examples, spoke of the different “epiphanies” he has had on his customer process and where the link comes together in his work and the Business Model Canvas. Always throwing in the amusing story but always underscoring a powerful learning outcome.

Between Rita and Steve there was such a wonderful conversation between two deeply experienced people, full of knowledge to share, stories to tell and ways to bring these together in practical ways that you could relate too.  A great, great finish.

Are tools or ideas enough?  The world is moving really fast

My growing concern is not the enormous energy being invested in new tools and methodologies; these are good, really good, my concern lies still in the iteration process. The issue is do we crowd source these more and more, with growing built in bias, to keep improving on them as soon as an idea hits us or do we slow them down from “just being put out there” (alpha versions) to being better “beta” versions? I’m not sure when the right time is to release tools.

We have to remember Alex’s original foundation for his Business model canvas was a PhD and that was incredibly well-grounded and why it has taken hold to such a level. Steve Blank’s customer work has integrated his enormous set of experiences and lots and lots of experimentation but that comes in a fairly unique package.

Just having tools for tools sake is not the ideal place to go but tools, well thought through, placed out in the broader community to be experimented with, reiterated and improved is highly valued and needed. Finding the balance is going to be the key from all these tool-smiths.

Congratulations to the organizers of this Summit  

The Business Design Summit brought together an enormously talented group- could it have looked out into the future more, could it have debated more instead of the “tried and tested” listen and group work? Perhaps not, the group needed to begin to work together, to find a greater common language. To have this streamed was incredible and valued by us that were not able to attend. I offered this tweet to Alex:

Alex terrific day tweet.
But I do have a “what if” as my wish?

We do need to plot all the tools into the Business Model Map so we can have a more comprehensive roadmap of what tool or methodology fits where and why. I’ve love that to emerge from this summit. We really need a “live” mashup of all that is going on in a “dynamic” business model canvas environment so a growing community can all provide the next generation. I think this is where the summit has begun to provide a real momentum – the shifts we need to make “to teach people a new way of thinking.”

The next summit will be tentatively in Berkeley late this year or sometime next year.

amended version 27th April 2013

Innovation is like a Rainbow

Last week I was driving home after a round trip of 700 kilometres and as I got caught up in some evening traffic, the sun and the rain played that magical trick of offering up a rainbow to the ones in that right position to see it. There was the actual end of a rainbow for us to see and it triggered two thoughts – the mythical pot of gold if you actually get at the rainbows end, and then my later thought “innovation is actually like a rainbow in so many ways”

Rainbow Innovation

The Rainbow Effect

They tell us you can never reach the end of the rainbow because the rainbow is a little like an optical illusion. The rainbow is formed because the actual raindrops act like thousands of little prisms that refract and reflect the sunlight towards you. So when the sun combines and those millions of raindrops have this light hitting them and split the colours for your eyes to see the effect.

Even when you change your position, the angles change and you see the rainbow at new angles of these little prisms. The ability to see the rainbow is that you have to be always be that certain distance away, even as you try to move towards the rainbow, it stays that distance away from you, so you can never get to the end of that rainbow. I just think for many of us, that innovation is often just like that! So it got me thinking.

Innovation is like a rainbow

The rainbow never touches the ground and there is no end to it, it sort of dissipates and that also sounds just like innovation as well, we often lose the focus or the original intent in the final product. Innovation, as we know,  is made up of a lot of activities, a rainbow of different often colourful activities, that need to be combined together for the end result but they do need the right conditions to produce this.  Yet to gain from “this rainbow effect” of lots of ideas, like the rainbow you need to narrow the funnel of precipitation to get a desired result. Sounds a little like a narrowing innovation funnel or staying very focused.

Funnily enough, like the rainbow, you think you have arrived at the end but you have actually not, in your innovation activities, to get to that pot of gold. Unfortunately the “beneficial effect” has seemingly moved on or simply disappeared so you have to continue the search for your innovation rainbow elsewhere.  The one you originally saw was a while ago, conditions so quickly change and you just have to keep on adding to what you have achieved and keep searching for the perfect innovation end that seems never to come.

Why, simply because you just can’t get to the end, it is always changing, something takes over, the world never stays the same and always, yes always, depending on the right conditions, you just need to keep chasing as you see a new end but it just keeps that tantalizing distance away from you. Just like the rainbow, it fascinates you, it keeps you involved and moving towards a clear target.

Can we ever complete the full circle required from innovation?

As rainbows are made in the sky they actually never touch the ground, you think they do but they don’t. Rainbows are actually complete circles but you never see the whole one as horizons seem to get in the way. Again I think innovation has this in common. You never can achieve the “full holistic” effect of innovation we are often arguing for, as absolutely necessary, (for the pot of gold perhaps) because something always gets in the way.

What we can only achieve is to urge people to rise above what they are working upon so they can appreciate the arc of innovation better, like the rainbow. The higher we can rise up, the more of the circle we can see and attempt to make all the necessary connecting points.

The important point of appreciating innovation is that we all value the innovation effects differently. It is like appreciating a rainbow, when we stand in different positions we see often different effects of a rainbow, just like for innovation – no two pairs of eyes can see the same, each observer can see a slightly different rainbow, even if they are standing next to you as what makes ‘it’ up,  as it is always in constant motion. The effect is different for each of us.  It constantly changes, just the same as innovation – it is unique in its own way to the individual that ‘sees it’, yet we can see the rainbow effect in its own unique way, similar but different for each person but it is the same rainbow or is it?

Observing and absorbing needs a ‘prism effect’ to be dispersed

I also think innovation is made up of a broad spectrum of refractions, the passing of light (insights) from one to another and in our reflections in its activities and impact, just like rainbows. Reflective prisms are used to reflect light, in order to flip, invert, rotate, deviate or displace the (existing) light beam. This seems a little bit like brainstorm techniques.

Innovation needs to work along the absorptive capacity process where we acquire, assimilate, transform and exploit, where the focus is on the “dispersing” and “adapting” insights into future impact outcomes that then accelerate innovation. Is this perhaps like a rainbow? When a shaft of sunlight enters a drop of water, a part does not pass through it, it is reflected and then emerges back from the side it entered and this process, repeated over many times becomes a ‘primary mechanism’ that transforms into something different and you begin to exploit its effect, you take advantage of “the innovation rainbow effect.”

You suddenly see everything in clear, new colours. Those magical moments when you have clarity and like innovation the effect suddenly takes hold and you are amazed at the unexpected turn in events.  From this point on, you ‘push’ to change the existing for something new and hopefully preferred, something that you believe gives perhaps a greater value than the existing.

Is innovation an illusion – both deceptive and never-ending?

So we will never reach the rainbows end, we will ever reach innovations end?  Or will it always stay at a ‘respectable’ distance, just like the rainbow where innovation is also an optical illusion I wonder? Just out of reach. Just like our rainbow, it will always be a certain distance away from you and as the conditions change, you lose sight of the innovation rainbow. You can either seek it out or wait for those conditions again, perhaps like innovation, those conditions are hard to sustain, we need to keep moving, waiting for the right conditions again to get the benefit. Innovation needs the right conditions to come together, so does a rainbow.

Creating the right conditions and being in the right place is more than luck

Creating those conditions is both made up of luck, being in the right place at the right time but also knowing what needs to be in place to achieve the “effect”. A rainbow needs light, water and air to produce the right atmosphere and conditions. Don’t we start looking for a rainbow when it rains and the sun shines together? Well, innovation is just the same, we need certain conditions like culture, processes, directional energy and equally all within the right environment to allow it to happen. We look for these as well.

Just remember, like the rainbow there is no end to it, it just needs the right conditions. The pot of gold, well it is at the end, can’t you see it? I can – it’s all been told.

“At the end of a rainbow

You’ll find a pot of gold

At the end of the story

You’ll find it’s all been told”

          Nat King Coles song “At the end of a rainbow”

Innovation Job Chasing – A Race Needed To Win

There are times when we all have to “up our game”. We are entering one of those periods where we have to relearn how to compete, how to win. The world is in the throes of some dramatic changes and the innovation gloves have to come off. Innovation capacity in many countries needs a new, more robust solution.

I wrote about “The present jobless innovation era we face” raising up the theory that Professor Christensen points towards, that we are working on the wrong types of innovation to create jobs. We are measuring our businesses in financial metrics that were more designed for periods of scarce money supply and not what most of our companies have today, cash in abundance, sitting on their books and a world ‘awash’ of cheap money. Professor Christensen calls this theory of his “the Capitalists Dilemma.”

Risk-aversion is dominating our Western thinking

The present situation is that we are in a period of risk-aversion where the innovation ‘bets’ are more incremental, more short-term pushing for greater utilization of existing assets that are designated by Professor Christensen as “sustaining or efficiency” innovations. He believes we need more “empowering innovation” – those that create jobs and invest capital across longer-term horizons than today.

In Professor Christensen’s original article he had published in the New York Times in November 2012 he believe the solutions are complicated and he has looked to “seed the discussion”. Firstly he rightly points out that the “challenge is not framed properly” as he suggests “even if there is robust growth there won’t be (necessary) job creation”. He argues Governments can’t dictate. I believe there is continued risk of even more exit of the migratory capital to lower cost countries and projects where the conditions seem more attractive unless the ‘dynamics’ surrounding the need for innovation plus jobs can change significantly.

We certainly need “innovation + jobs” and not exported!

In my view and to a large view until we focus on all the factors that need to promote innovation plus jobs, our economies in the West will never recover that sustaining ability. A place where capital is deeply invested again, so  it provides growth ‘within our borders’  that can, over time, allow us to return to prosperity.

We need these “sustaining and efficiency innovations” as they liberate capital but it is in providing the right conditions for this capital ,plus all the idle cash today that is simply sitting on businesses books, to be moved towards this “empowering innovation” we need for job creation.

Professor Christensen ‘floats’ three places to start in making changes within our economic  systems to allow innovation activity to break free and become job creators. To change the types of metrics we use, to move these into more people orientated ones. Secondly, to change the capital regimes that shift the thinking on investment incentives, where longer term productive investments held can make that horizon shift due to these tax incentives put into place for investing in longer term, bigger budget innovation. Thirdly is changing the politics where consumption has dominated into different “empowering” decisions. I’ll come back to this another time. My feeling is, as these stand they are little too “apple pie” for me – sweet, initially satisfying but not enough.

Getting your jacket off

Let’s firstly go where the jackets have already come off with a far more substantial set of proposals to “win” this innovation race. Rob Atkinson of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF), a Washington DC-based technology policy think tank along with Stephen Ezell have explored this innovation dilemma in their book “Innovation Economics- the race for global advantage” (released in September 2012) and offer a web site on this whole area www.globalinnovationrace.com

Within the book, the web site and ITIF they outline the arguments for significant innovation change and provide many sensible solutions to win the innovation race. They have put these under the eight “Is” needed and cover each one in a chapter. These are under the following (organizing) headings:

  1. Inspiration. Setting Ambitious Goals
  2. Intention: Make innovation-based competitiveness a National Priority
  3. Insight: Improving understanding of innovation performance
  4. Incentives: Encouraging innovation, production and jobs IN the United States
  5. Investment: More public funding for Innovation and Productivity
  6. Institutional Innovation: Doing new things in new ways
  7. Information Technology Transformation: broaden the IT transformation base
  8. International Framework for Innovation: Everyone plays by the same rules.

Key digital platform technologies are places for real job creation also

They (ITIF) also suggest there are at least six key digital platform technologies today that need significant longer-term capital investment. These are broadband- the critical enabler, next-generation wireless communications that speeds it all up, health IT for easier access to a comprehensive view of patients, intelligent transportation systems for real-time intelligence, a smart electric grid to ‘sense’ location of power, contactless mobile payments to use their cell (or mobile) to pay across society. They quiet rightly suggest without Government help to catalyse deployment of these platforms progress will be slow.

Then we have “Innovation Economics” as a growing doctrine

The book and Wikipedia I would think have the same source but the Wikipedia source does provide a terrific outline of this growing doctrine that is suggested should reformulate conventional economics theory so that knowledge, technology, entrepreneurship and innovation become positioned at the centre of a model, and not independent forces trying to influence it.

This Wikipedia source goes through historical origins, offers the innovation doctrine as a more advanced theory, provides evidence and the geography associated with many successful innovation efforts, that are deliberate concerted efforts by combining markets, institution and policy-makers and use the geographical space. This then finishes up with worldwide examples and countless references.

Competitiveness and Innovative Capacity

In January 2012 a report came out from the U.S Department of Commerce in association with the National Economic Council entitled “U.S. Competitiveness and Innovative Capacity. This report may be a long read of 160 pages but lays out many ways of “Moving Forward” across a well laid out set of the parts that make up the innovation context

These steps suggested include 1) rising to the challenge, 2) the keys to innovation, competitiveness and jobs, 3) Federal support for research and development, 4)Educating our work force, 5) Infrastructure for the 21st Century, 6) Revitalizing Manufacturing, 7) The Private Sector as the Engine of Innovation to offer a fairy comprehensive evaluation of the issues, challenges and investment opportunities to bring about a more “empowering innovation”.

Again within this report in their “Moving Forward” suggestion lies ten recommendations or factors that are suggested as ways for the United States (or even Europe) to regain a pre-eminent capacity within innovation.

It is a race each country engaged in innovation activity will want to win as this building of innovation capacity is the bedrock of economic growth and future prosperity. Otherwise, if we fail to grab this fully, we will face continued decline, short-term disruption and long-term stagnation.

Jobs can be created; our skills need adapting and refining

Of course everyone will continue to need a basic education or knowledge but they will need sharpening the skills and their motivation more. When we lack motivation, we lack that curiosity that becomes so important to innovation. The intrinsic parts of being curious, persistent and willing to take risks needs to be instilled far more into our education and thinking.

The call for education reform is gathering but we need to be careful in the rush to ‘reform’ we don’t “throw the baby out with the bath water” in our haste.

I was reading and storing away for future reference an article “What 100 experts think about the future of learning” that again places learning into its multiple parts: of using technology, sharing education openly and differently, where creativity and innovation fit to foster a new spirit, the internet and new media and its potential impact on teaching and learning, leadership, educational technology , the brain and psychology, technology education, different teaching methods and our institutions. The list does provide a fairly comprehensive view for the impact of learning in the new ways we need to move towards.

Need a job? Invent It.

Thomas L Friedman offered a view in a New York article piece “Need a job? Invent it” suggesting these are dangerous times where high-wage, middle-skilled jobs – those sustaining our past economies – are in the past. These have become only high-wage, high-skilled to recalibrate this middle-class and their dependency.

The article further explores the view of Tony Wagner, a Harvard education specialist, that we need to send out every child as “innovation ready”, ready to add value to whatever they do. Wagner argues “the capacity to innovate – the ability to solve problems creatively, or bring new possibilities to life – needs these skills of critical thinking, communication and collaboration and are far more important to meet today’s challenges than academic knowledge”.

So who is doing this right out there in the world? “Finland is one of the most innovative economies in the world,” Wagner said, “and it is the only country where students leave high school ‘innovation-ready.’  They learn concepts and creativity more than facts, and have a choice of many electives.

Who is putting in place those stronger foundations within this innovation race?

I finish here on the competition and it is everywhere. Not just in a region of one country, or on one continent but across the world. The race is truly on, on who organises the relevant conditions to allow innovation to thrive, to offer the place where “empowering innovation” and where jobs are part of the equation.

There are examples in Europe- not just in Finland, Norway, Sweden but in Switzerland, parts of Germany, regions of Italy, Spain, France, Ireland and the UK. They benefit but equally suffer from centrally driven policies ‘handed down from Brussels at the EU level or constrained in “restrictive” thinking at National level. Many of these “selected” places are simply “pockets of innovation” and lack this cohesiveness and coordination to really accelerate innovation into far more “empowering”to benefit society as a whole.

The BRICS of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa are the emerging group are all developing or newly industrialised countries, distinguished by their large, fast-growing economies. These are the emerging new superpowers where they are experimenting but laying in the necessary building blocks to support and accelerate innovation. They are sucking in the capital and provide the horsepower in people, both those that have gained from a focus in high skilled areas and those with basic education. These combine in that drive to move up the social scale. Ambition is a highly motivating force and those within the BRICS have it. They are searching for advancing their global innovation advantage and know what it means to them personally and collectively.

Coming back to Professor Christensen he suggests the Chinese and Taiwanese in one interview. “Because they measured return on invested capital, every semiconductor company in the U.S. except Intel decided to outsource their microchip production. All that production went to Taiwan. Morris Chang [who pioneered the $28 billion semiconductor foundry industry] now owns half the chip production in the world”. When Professor Christensen asked him why he wanted chips on his balance sheet, he said, “Because I measure profitability in cash, not ratios.” I don’t see why American companies can’t think that way.”

Technology Convergence – What’s your plan?

Lastly in our lightening round-up of emerging innovation power spots, one that we all really need to take seriously, South Korea. This came from Rohit Talwar, CEO of Fast Future under Technology Convergence – What’s your Plan?

I leave it in its entirety, as it states so clearly the organizing power of a country that is determined to win a larger part of the innovation race and is intent to achieve it:

I have just returned from South Korea where I was delivering a keynote speech to a cross-industry forum on how to prepare for and benefit from the opportunities arising from industry convergence. South Korea has made a major strategic commitment starting with government and running through the economy to be a leader in exploiting the potential opportunities arising from the convergence of industries made possible by advances in a range of disciplines.

These include information and communications technology, biological and genetic sciences, energy and environmental sciences, cognitive science, materials science and nanotechnology.  From environmental monitoring, smart cars, and intelligent grids through to adaptive bio-engineered materials and clothing-embedded wearable sensor device that monitor our health on a continuous basis – the potential is vast.

What struck me about the situation in Korea was how the opportunity is being viewed as a central component of the long-term future of Korea’s economy and how this is manifested in practice. Alongside a national plan, a government sponsored association has been established to drive and facilitate cross-industry collaboration to achieve convergence. In addition to various government-led support initiatives, a range of conferences are being created to help every major sector of the economy understand, explore, act on and realise the potential arising out of convergence.

I am fortunate to get the opportunity to visit 20-25 countries a year across all six continents and get to study and see a lot of what is happening to create tomorrow’s economy. Whilst my perspective is by no means complete, I am not aware of any country where such a systematic and rigorous approach is being taken to driving industry convergence.

Those who study Korea know that this approach is nothing new for them – long term research and strategic planning are acknowledged to have played a major role in the evolution of its knowledge economy and rise of Korea and its technology brands on the global stage. Coming from the UK, where it seems that long-term thinking and national policy are now long-lost relatives, I wonder why it is that so few countries are willing to consider – or capable of taking – such a strategic approach.”

To sum up our need for Innovation Job Chasing

Until we see a change that indicate a longer-term view of profitability and start measuring innovation differently we are stuck far more in the present jobless innovation era I outlined in my last article

Yes, we do have a “Capitalist Dilemma” but it runs deep in its fault lines and its many weaknesses nicely highlighted by Professor Christensen but for me, any current dilemma needs deeper evaluation today, not in 12 or 18 months’ time.  We need to look far more boldly at the Innovation Solutions and the economics and knowledge creation within this. In all real honesty, it  is urgent and vital for each countries race for global advantage and future prosperity we become organized and see that “empowering innovation” and job-creation become more central in our thoughts and future decisions.

Can we really overcome the barriers to innovation we have, as each of our developed countries are so mired in old style legacies. We need ones that can still take making profit into the equation but in different ways to ‘release’ capital funding that does bring jobs fair and square back into the innovation solution we actually need, to solve growing societal challenges? Ones that seek collaboration across all sectors of society, who recognize much needs real change.

These need long-term investments and all  the relevant parties working on solutions. At present far too many are playing the waiting game and that has to change. It does seem many are also simply “re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic” who will be overtaken by events and not providing real solutions of a current problem.

Graham and Cathryn Quote

The Present Jobless Innovation Era We Face

Over the last few months I have kept going back and forth on Professor Clayton Christensen’s paradox he has named “The Capitalist’s Dilemma.” This ‘hit the world’ when he wrote a piece in the New York Times last November, 2012. I gather this has been one of his best, if not his best read article ever.

As I’m sure you are aware Professor Christensen must be regarded as if not the top, then one of the top experts, on innovation. For me he sits at the top, so when he explores a theory, you stop to think about what he is trying to explain. It takes some of us mere mortal awhile to grasp and relate to these ideas and theories.

Theories into solutions sometimes is a long wait for wrong reasons

Firstly an aside, I need to get this off my chest. Although I suspect a book will eventually emerge, perhaps only next year 2014, far too often this is a little later than preferred or when really needed. The ‘currency’ or present day relevance often suffers from this parallel world of academics, moving on a much slower level. They are still working within the publishing strictures and structures where a book has to be firstly written, reworked, proofed by editors, printed, bounded and distributed.

As you might guess here, I just wish some of these breaking theories that emerge from the academics could be sped up, they are seemingly just caught up in the dogma of rigour, validation and peer review. Weighed down in this legacy they often fail to provide the valuable insights that can alter the present day where the theory or dilemma has arisen. That valuable thinking to address the very problem we need a solution too is today not having even further debate after a book comes out, sometime in the future. We need to begin to travel the road, not just survey it!

Actually it is rather ironic in one of Professor Christensen’s own theories, the disruption theory, that this is one of the real challenges within the publishing industry,  of being “disrupted,” as they fail to deliver in this faster world in the new alternative mediums many are looking for,  that he of all people chooses the old slower avenue of a printed book. Still he chooses to use this medium, such a shame when he expands on the very theories that explain much of what is presently going on today.

The world has sped up and I would urge Professor Christensen to get out of one of the very traps he has previously identified, and explains so well to others, for himself.  I would suggest his insights and suggested solutions are applicable to today’s problems and need exploring now. Can we afford to wait?

So what makes “the Capitalists Dilemma” so relevant today?

The basic concern today in most developed economies is the lack of real growth and the worrying concerns that each capital stimulus round seemingly does not offer that number of new jobs you would expect.  Old ones are being constantly being stripped away at a much faster rate. We are seemingly caught in a broad jobless economic recovery.

At the heart of this dilemma seems to lay the issues of the type of innovation being employed, the way we measure profitability, where this capital is being invested to offer increased returns and the lack of political and leadership will, or understanding, to change this.

Again when you read the article Professor Christensen talks of a doctrine of New Finance, taught over recent years by him and countless others in Academia, of failing to catch up with the new realities and teaching theories we need to operate in a changing world. One of those is the need is to ‘account’ more in creating new jobs and people (gainfully) employed do not seem to be as much within any capital equation. Our new norm is certainly bringing increasing financial returns but without this job creation.

We seem to be faced with focusing on jobless innovation outcomes that are measured by magnifying each dollar invested by the classic ratios of RONA (return on net assets), ROCE (return on capital employed) and I.R.R (internal rate of return), used more when capital was scarce and costly so you husband resources.

Today capital is abundant and cheap – no, really!

Today capital is abundant and cheap, new skills are becoming scarcer, education is lagging the new knowledge economy need and we are applying these old rules of measuring outcomes in the wrong way in our changed world. Professor Christensen argues that successful companies are making the right economic decisions within the wrong situation or economic needed times. Capital is not scarce, it is abundant, yet it seems we are investing in the wrong types of innovation. We still are measuring capital as though it was scarce when it is not.

Companies continue to drive assets off their books, they choose innovations that provide fast returns, they continue to outsource and they consistently keep the time horizons deliberately short for improving the rates of return and constantly higher dividends in focusing on the quick wins.

The politicians have not grasped the need to change the thinking to invest in longer term innovation that makes for more breakthrough and radical innovation activity. Those that employ more people, kick starts new economic activity with fresh investment, new equipping to supply these new activities, and finally also attempt to reposition dividends in their longer-term value for the recipients.

Awash with money

In the Economist there was a recent article “A world of cheap money”  stating: “The message from the rich world’s central banks is clear: the era of ultra-loose monetary policy is here to stay.”

The Economist goes on to state: “Unfortunately, the effect on output has been more muted. America’s GDP is showing signs of accelerating. But Europe’s economies are flat or shrinking. Overall, rich-world growth is likely to be barely over 1% in 2013, little better than in 2012″

“Given the gap between financial froth and feeble growth, are central bankers doing the right thing? Supporters argue that cheap money is essential for economic recovery, particularly when (as in Europe and America) austerity-minded governments are tightening fiscal policy. Critics counter that low rates simply pump up asset bubbles, distort financial markets and risk inflation”

Clearly “monetary policy should not just operate in a vacuum” and it is Professor Christensen’s insight on where innovation is playing it part, or not in most cases, that can hold one of the real keys for rethinking how we measure success. Let me explain if you have not read his thoughts on this.

There are three types of innovation in his view where jobs occur or are lost.

These are summarized by Professor Christensen as:

Empowering innovations: these create jobs, because they require more and more people who can build, distribute, sell and service these products. Empowering investments also use capital — to expand capacity and to finance receivables and inventory. Empowering innovations are essential for growth because they create new consumption.

The second type is “sustaining” innovations: these replace old products with new models. They replace yesterday’s products with today’s products and create few jobs. They keep our economy vibrant — and, in dollars, they account for the most innovation. But they have a neutral effect on economic activity and on capital.

The third type is “efficiency” innovations: these reduce the cost of making and distributing existing products and services. Taken together in an industry, such innovations almost always offset the net number of new jobs, because they streamline processes. But they also preserve many of the remaining jobs — because without those, entire companies and industries would disappear in competition against companies abroad that have innovated more efficiently.

Efficiency innovations also emancipates capital. Without them, much of an economy’s capital is held captive on balance sheets, with no way to redeploy it as fuel for new, empowering innovations until it is released.

His view here is: “as long as empowering innovations create more jobs than efficiency innovations eliminate, and as long as the capital that efficiency innovations liberate is invested back into empowering innovations, we keep recessions at bay” and suggests we are today not doing that.

The innovation machine is out of balance today

Today, our innovation activities are out of balance. I can strongly relate to this on where organizations are spending their innovation dollars: in short-term fixes, incremental thinking and efficiency relating projects, not on deepening innovation capacity.

We are presently encouraging our managers to measure profitability based on a return on net assets, or return on capital employed. That encourages companies to liberate their capital, so they invest in efficiency innovations, which means they can make even more money with fewer resources, so why would they invest in those more-longer term capital-intensive innovation projects under “empowering innovation?”

Professor Christensen offers this thought “what the economy ultimately needs are empowering innovations—like the Model T, the transistor radio. Empowering innovations require long-term investments, which tie up capital for years and years. So companies are using capital to create more capital, and the world is awash in the result, more capital but the innovations we need to advance aren’t there”- this accumulating capital is remaining idle.

Today’s growth sustaining challenges are not framed properly

The need is to “unlock” the right type of innovation that creates a renewed, sustaining wealth for economic and industry revitalisation. There needs to be a shift from investing in efficiency innovation that tend to cut out jobs, where the focus is constantly on focusing on less capital in use and fewer people so that the extra release of capital is re-invested in more efficiency, not in disruptive or empowering innovation. The present day realities within business are how success is measures and if that is on RONA, ROCE and I.R.R then that is where the focus will remain.

Changing the existing paradigms takes time and convergence.

Empowering innovation takes time – anything from six to twenty years depending on many of the necessary long-term wealth creation factors required based on research and vision.

Two factors are well in place. We have capital, almost at zero borrowing rates, that the future net present value of any future stream of growth is identical to one that yields a return in weeks. We have a growing and compelling set of social needs to resolve many grand societal challenges that come more from empowering innovation.

Offsetting this we have a powerful set of factors to change if we see job creation as part of any economic recovery. We first have this current risk-aversion prevailing and we spend public capital on propping up ailing industries but do not pursue the alternatives with a grander vision and plan.

We are holding renovation back in some of these politically motivated decisions yet the young in most countries cannot find any jobs. We prop up banks with their bad loans yet the defaults by small and medium-sized enterprises will continue to rise. In Spain, Italy, Portugal, Greece, Ireland, and many parts of the UK, along with others all have growing at alarming rates, bad debts. So many smaller businesses are close to the ‘tipping point’ of going bust here in Europe.

A bolder innovative framing is necessary

We need bolder re-framing of our challenges, a clear recalibration of our measuring success and a set of cohesive strategies, policies and political judgements. What will eventually bring this to the boil is the unrest, unemployed, stagnating economies, risks of growing debt and loss of property and capital achieved from the past unless those in policy decision don’t ‘face up’ and make bolder, imaginative steps. Our markets need stimulating and this will either be from importing the type of goods that meet our declining economic needs as those are produced more efficiently elsewhere. Not a good prospect to face.

Lastly the very company that needs financing does not get the financing it needs. Capital is presently hoarded in the billions on pristine balance sheets of the biggest corporations; billions are inert and uninvested in private equity funds and sitting in countless private bank accounts offshore. According to one report $1.8 trillion just sits in American listed firms alone.

The missing link is between cheap money and finding ways to achieve new corporate investments in the developed  economies that need this, otherwise there continues to be growing issues of dealing in the latest crisis or further kicking the can down the road in future pay off from continuous mounting debts and a lack of addressing bad loans and all the structural problems we are not facing today except in applying ‘selective’ austerity..

So why has this caught my attention?

Simply incremental innovation (sustaining, efficiency innovation) is getting us no-where fast. You see so many people within many of our organizations, big and small, working longer hours, feeling reduced identification with what they are doing and lacking that sustaining satisfaction. There are millions out of work that could offer positive economic activity contribution.  We could have innovation that is exciting, that is empowering and this does come from working on challenging that are game changing concepts that we often suggest today as distinctive, disruptive, breakthrough, radical and certainly are empowering.

We are failing to translate today’s set of challenges because the metrics applied are inappropriate to our needs today and in the future. We are applying solutions often in their vacuum, they boost sufficiently in small ways but lack boldness, changing the dynamics and policies, the way we should be measuring and valuing success. We reflect where we are in the West – far too timid, applying often just a real hard dose of harsh austerity, minimal structural reform that have a constraint on growth as we don’t people in their rightful place within the equation, they are being progressively written out of the capital model we seem to be locked into.  We apply “selective” innovation solutions to meet mostly short-term gains.

There are different solutions that need discussion

There are different innovative solutions, those I will attempt to outline in my next article, more to stimulate and trigger awareness of alternatives for today’s more jobless innovation outcomes.

In the meantime watch Professor Clayton Christensen’s talk at the World economic forum under “an insight, an idea with Clayton Christensen”. Worth watching, believe me, and then you might be reflecting on why we do need to change that does bring that real, fresh growth from innovation that has people and jobs as part of the lasting equation, that fits more in today’s world, needing innovation to begin a stronger recovery than we have seen in a number of years.

The Cascading Effect Needed for Innovation Success

Getting innovation through any process of understanding is hard. Knowing what is required to generate innovation throughout an entire organization is even more so.

We need to deploy the cascading effect on innovation

Often we fail to understand our role in contributing to innovation, we need a cascading effect. For me the “cascading effect” for innovation is “a sequence of events in which each produces the circumstances necessary for the initiation of the next”. It is the presenting of an idea, a concept, prototype, a piece of knowledge that provides the catalyst to be exploited in a broader community as the next step and so on. It cascades. It is where we fit within the innovation web.

Innovation often has to go through a set of stage gates, or cross thresholds, set by others or judged to be the essential cross over points. When you achieve these cross over points you induce more resources, more attention and momentum. The more it successfully progresses, it eventually gains a higher resilience and then the innovation picks up more for this “cascading effect”.

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