Client Engagements – Full of Whipped Cream and Lumpy Gravy

So why did I call this blog post “client engagement- full of whipped cream and lumpy gravy?” Often both are ‘heaped’ onto the poor (final) solution found underneath the client- consulting engagement process. Both are layered on to mask the truth that the ones responsible don’t really understand how to make this process really work.

Managing innovation suffers from this an awful lot. We do need to understand all the ingredients that make up innovation, often we just try to’ top’ them off, failing to understand everything that needs to become part of the final solution.

I’m sure many of you have witnessed or been involved in poor client- consulting engagements. Often the root cause of poor end results within this process stems from a poorly structured engagement briefing process – my lumpy gravy. This creates the effect of creating many problems in delivering back not the best advice or solution to the real problem, offering up the lashings of whipped cream to cover up the bland solution dish underneath.

The engagement process does still rankle for me as it causes many of the difficulties and tensions within the emotions that many projects seem to swing through –  trusted and distrusted — loved and despised — all in equal measure where many variations could be reduced with a little thinking and challenging.

Avoiding some of the pitfalls

So I thought I’d take a  look at some of the problems within the client – consulting engagement process that can mask what is really lying underneath.

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Shifting attitudes, think responsibly.

ask questions figureHow do we engage within our own internal organizational communities? How do we communicate our sense of purpose to the outside world? How do we integrate all the activities we are (or should be) undertaking as responsible leaders?

Are we working towards understanding the material sustainability issues better and linking them to financial drivers and where we fit within these complex issues?

There is such an increasing need to develop or simply updating our business language to build stronger cases for change, improvement and broader community engagement but these still seem to be missing. How are organizations aligning their organizations not just with their own strategies but those in the wider world that contribute into a more sustaining future? We are needing to answer a fair few of these questions in my opinion.

The lack of engagement, of common understanding

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Finding our true purpose

Finding True PurposeDon’t let anyone tell you it is easy to run your own business, it is far from that. I thought I’d write about what and where it has meaning for me in this “finding our true purpose”. Here are some of my thoughts, some a little raw, others well-baked, even some half-baked!.

Running your own business is full of uncertainty, doubt and risk. Equally, though, you have a level of independence and this does permit you to respond quickly. It can offer higher degrees of flexibility, allows you to pursue what you think clients really want, not what others above you are imposing as template solutions, or their personal views. Finally, you can explore the options to deliver, as in my case,  services, in your own unique style that often work far better for clients needs.

You are not accountable to anyone, apart from the wife and the bank manager, always looking a little harder at you, that small business owner needing to deliver. In between these two ends of independence and the uncertainty from the dependence a few clients you might be relient on constantly moving the goal posts, there are quite frankly, lots of raw emotions. The best part, for me, is a growing confidence that I am operating many times in the ‘zone’ of client needs, that they require out of innovation. The downside I have to admit is there is an awful lot of hard work that needs to go into this so as to get you there.

My Business Model gets a constant bashing.

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Innovation can be so remarkable if we can fully embrace it

What is so remarkable about innovation is that it can be highly dynamic.  It’s a task that anyone could do, given the time, education, clarity of purpose and commitments from our organizations, those that recognize the true understanding of the contribution all their people can potentially make towards innovation.

Today, too few people are actually allowed to work on innovation activities, yet the outcomes are ones that everyone wants, and certainly want to be part of. We all want that sense of belonging, of working on or in something that is exciting, dynamic and forward-looking. We really do need to find ways to allow innovation to be part of each person’s daily jobs. Having a sense of purpose to improve or change something through innovation is such a powerful enabler.

Getting from where we are today, seemingly bogged down in many of the legacies of past innovation understanding, seems to me something we must tackle sooner than later also. There is no time like the present to overhaul the existing innovation thinking and upgrade it with a faster, more focused innovating machine that yields greater returns due to this overhaul .

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The transforming tide in digital for innovation.

Digital Discovery 2Can you imagine the CEO sitting opposite the consultant, explaining the organizations present difficulties to regain growth, no matter what they are doing through the existing practices and the assorted business approaches they have taken for many years, they still seem to be ‘treading water’ or even losing ground. They are beginning to worry seriously about their future.

The consultant has heard this already so many time before  across many worried organizations. He looks right into the CEO’s eyes and (sort of) snarls back: “You can run but you can’t hide”. This was a famous quote attributed to Joe Louis before one of his boxing fights back in 1946.That might get a CEO’s attention! We are in a digital transformation evolution.

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A time for new innovating buttons and threads

Buttons and thread Ten years ago I was in a collaboration effort with one of the major consulting firms on a concept called “button and threads”. It caught my imagination and a number of important people in the Singapore authority  the Economic Development Board , those responsible for providing the focal point in economic development where business, innovation and talent are nurtured. The “button and thread” concept was considered, partly for its simplicity in concept but its significant underlying value.

Regretfully the proposal died around the boardroom which was such a pity as it would have been years ahead of others. The idea was the more buttons you had connected, the more threads were created. It was through the integration of technologies and market creation, the missing ingredient is the means of designing them to help shape (and speed up) more effectively business evolution.

The idea was working on harnessing the intelligent use of the growing connections through better ‘adaptive’ agents to co-evolve, building connected relationships, adding to better judgement and decisions, positioning the organization into far more adaptive enterprise working in a thriving ecosystem.

At the time I wrote ““The existing dilemma is how to find, attract and build new sources of competitive positions within an innovative eco-system. This is how to set about and organize the environment to capitalize on the existing (and new) resources within a rapidly changing opportunity environment those investors will prefer to existing eco-systems?

Moving into Nodes and Networks

Network and Nodes 1Recently I remembered this “buttons and thread” concept and if we replace this with “nodes and networks” it brings it right up to date.  The initial idea was well ahead of its time, to be honest I don’t think the technology or networking practices were yet in place to validate the concept but today it is totally different.

So ten years later what is different? The time has finally arrived

The question often asked is “as we embrace new ideas, new methods and new processes for innovation and for accelerating growth what’s going to hold them together for extracting and providing new value? So we seem to be moving from “buttons and threads” to “nodes and networks”

There are some exciting activities working on ecosystems, connections, harnessing people and their sources of knowledge to generate the potential for greater innovation activity. As we achieve improved visualization-driven methods for analysis, and work through the methods and how they may be applied in the context of innovation ecosystems, it makes for a ‘sea change’ of our need in understanding. I’m only picking back up and re-learning and discovering some interesting areas of activity.

I’m going to summarize just a few

These are just the tip of the innovating iceberg that make this a very exciting time were innovation will evolve in dramatic new ways.

Open Data Institute launches global network of big data innovation nodes

The ODI was founded in London in December 2012 with the aim of incubating start-ups and researchers fostering innovation through the use of publicly available data sets like those that can be accessed via data.go.uk, a UK government-funded initiative to make over 9,000 data sets collected by public sector organisations available to the general public and research communities. Just three days ago this was described:

http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2013/oct/29/web-inventor-open-data-institute-new-global-network

Just one year after its foundation in London, an organization created by Sir Tim Berners-Lee and Sir Nigel Shadbolt to stimulate economic, environmental and social innovation through a system of open data sharing and analysis, has announced rapid global expansion of its ambitions.

“We have borrowed from the design principles of the web itself to bring people and organizations together, and will use open data both to collaborate with each other, and as the primary output of the network,” Starks said, in a nod to ODI co-founder Sir Tim Berners-Lee, who invented the Internet while at CERN, The European Particle Physics Laboratory in 1989.

CEO Gavin Starks said: “I have been amazed at the energy and enthusiasm of people looking to align around a global network of ODIs … the speed at which we have been able to collaborate, and the shared thinking about the approach and the scale of the potential. We have borrowed from the design principles of the web itself to bring people and organizations together, and will use open data both to collaborate with each other, and as the primary output of the network.”

Berners-Lee and Shadbolt described their motivation for the ODI: “We recognised there was a great opportunity to enhance transparency, improve efficiency, and create social, environmental and economic value. The best way that open becomes the new default is demand: from businesses and organizations, both public and private, from individuals and corporations. There is nothing so powerful as an idea whose time has come.”

The newly announced open data network will extend those efforts to 13 new regions and cities, where organizations and joint-ventures between universities, NGOs and the public sector will come together to form “nodes” – research and innovation hubs facilitating research and collaboration on technologies using large publicly licensed data-sets.

ODI nodes will also be set up in Moscow, Buenos Aires and Gothenburg, though for the time being these three will act to communicate and amplify open data case studies in their respective regions. All thirteen nodes will sign up to an ODI charter, which codifies the organisation’s open source principles.

“The Open Data Institute – the first organization of its kind – grew out of our belief in the power of open data to foster innovation, drive economic growth and create prosperity,” said Francis Maude, Minister for the Cabinet Office and one of the leading proponents of what some are calling the “open data movement. It will help embed an open data culture in communities, and bring the economic benefits of new and innovative data-led businesses that will help the UK compete in the global race.”

http://www.innovation-ecosystems.org/nodes/

“Following the principles of open innovation, IEN invites partners – for data federation, for analysis, and for sharing best practices. A stated research objective, membership fee, or in-kind contribution, and participation agreement are required. Integrated in their focus on applied studies about innovation ecosystems, IEN collaborators include academic and professional researchers, drawing on diverse research disciplines including network analysis, information visualization, semantic data integration and mining, regional development, technology transfer, and knowledge management”.

http://www.arch.umd.edu/research/University%20Center/innovation.cfm

“In summary we are working on linking innovation, industries, the workforce and the “buzz” at the county level in a highly visual, interactive and dynamic network model, along with a suite of analytical tools that are clearly grounded in appropriate social science theory and a user interface that is accessible to researchers, practitioners and policy-makers interested in driving economic development through innovation.

A second addition that will be incorporated into the Maryland application is the integration of UMD’s Science and Technology Innovation Knowledge-Base (STICK) framework and methodology.  STICK uses a multi-level data organization framework and advanced data mining techniques to model more subtle structures of ideas and influence in the innovation network through citations, publications, events and the like.”

STICK has the potential to integrate a measure of the intangible nature of innovation – the “buzz” so to speak – into the overall model.

http://stick.ischool.umd.edu/

The value of understanding your Ontology and its relationships

“Ontology has been long used to model the nature of being and their relations. The rise of ontology building with standardized language and semantic web platform made it possible to build scalable ontologies, and conduct further analysis and inference. This study proposed and designed ontologies to model IT innovations and represent their relations with industry and academia. To understand the formulation of innovation and how it gets popular, this study also proposed to study the evolution of IT ontologies. We made two main contributions here: first, we designed the ontology to model IT innovation and main factors that influence its popularity. Second, we view ontologies as a model that evolve dynamically when new factors joining in and proposed the study of ontology evolution”

Innovation Ontology

Source of visual : http://stick.ischool.umd.edu/

Finally we have growing networks and nodes for social innovation

http://www.socialinnovationexchange.org/network-nodes

“As a global network SIX offers value by bringing together the collective wisdom of the social innovation field, and by creating an eco system where everyone can play their part in bringing the field of social innovation forward. Through SIX social innovators come together and share their experience, know- how and expertise in order to spread best practice and help each other overcome challenges. The SIX global community has become an invaluable resource for its members.

What is a SIX node?

As SIX has proved, networks for learning, sharing and collaborating can play an important role in developing a mature ecosystem for social innovation to be effective. All over the world, regional clusters of social innovation activity are developing.

A SIX node takes the global work of SIX, scales it down, and applies it to a smaller geographical area. The value of the nodes is that they enable people to network and collaborate with people closer to home on challenges that are relevant in their region, but by being part of something global simultaneously, it helps them keep a wider perspective.

A node can provide a collective identity and impetus to connect with people in the region that they would not otherwise make time to connect to”

So a new era perhaps, a new world order around understanding what offers value?

New approaches to learning that emphasize the connecting of the right knowledge nodes and navigating the network to build content with context will change the nature of innovation.

The shift to building the new innovation ecosystems for learning and forming new relationships between investors, people and companies will perhaps channel the flow of talent, information and financial resources in different ways than we measure performance today.

As one organization put it I came across in this quick review: “Leading corporate innovation executives, business network orchestrators, policy analysts, technology transfer experts and academics are invited to participate in co-creating new understanding and visions!” Let’s agree on that, as it is sorely needed!

Buttons and thread 2You do need a fine needle to thread all that is going on connecting so many buttons

I’m only beginning to pick back up my needle to ‘thread the buttons’ in better ways, so as to understand all the rapidly changing ways innovation might be generated.

To finish with a powerful statement from the interview with by Sir Tim Berners-Lee and Sir Nigel Shadbolt:

“There is nothing so powerful as an idea whose time has come.”

Let’s explore this dramatic shift taking place in generating innovation further at another time.