The Challenges Being Faced by Innovation Consultants

Ignoring different voicesFrom my perspective I’ve been looking at a real challenge today, that many consultants offering innovation services are not providing real sustaining consulting value to clients, only ad-hoc services.

Unless this changes it will continue to erode the clients’ confidence in these service providers and they will be seeking increasing internal solutions to tackle their problems. I think if this trend continues it will be a mistaken course.

Consultants are not addressing many of the changes occurring and ignoring opportunities to adapt to different circumstances, they are simply not putting up a strong case of their engagement  by redesigning their business models or opening themselves up to different forms of collaboration.

In many ways, the consulting industry specializing in innovation is its own worst enemy.

It is highly fragmented, often highly specialized in certain innovation practices, and with much of the advice comes from a cottage industry of independent practitioners, caught up in executing and little time for advancing their own knowledge.

There is this sense that consultants are resolutely staying very internally driven, self-promoting, still trying to convey the story of innovation mastery, when clearly this is lacking in rapidly changing market and technology conditions and due to this staying ahead of the knowledge curve are actually failing the client.

Many consulting firms have spent the last decade trying to make themselves more efficient, going from craft work to selling one solution as a mass production to many, to yield ever-increasing fees, so as to gain a re-occurring return on a one-off invested solution. Innovation solutions simply need to be crafted to each set of circumstances mostly, in my opinion and that conflicts with this repeating model.

When clients were pushing down prices it made sense to offer general solutions but the disruptive forces occurring in clients markets are requiring far more the return to crafting individual solutions.

Larger Consultants have been offering body shops, set piece solutions, to offset client resource shortfalls. This sits less-well in a time where demand for unique innovation is required to offset these disruptive forces coming from often unexpected sources. The two, a quality versus quantity of consulting, are difficult to equate coming from the same consulting firm. Bespoke needs to be recognized as necessary for innovation solutions.

The scrabble for consultants is to re-position themselves back at the high-value end but they need a greater depth of knowledge, expertise and experience to convince clients of this need to change differently than simply providing resources. Both clients and consultants are struggling with their own legacy of where resources reside and what value these can provide.

The mismatch of client needs and consultants offerings.

The client is increasingly requiring more organic or holistic solutions not a ‘piecemeal’ of innovation offerings. These separate pieces often don’t dovetail into one complete innovation system because they are supplied by a variety of different service providers, all having their own ‘pet’ approaches.

Perhaps there is a real mismatch between clients’ needs in aspirations and budgets and the available innovation consultants’ ability to match and relate to specific industry practice and scale to meet client needs.

There also seems this perpetual dilemma of clients’ wishes that are hard to reconcile with operational realities to turn their organizations from being focused on effective and efficient into agile and adaptive ,required for innovation.

Often the two are caught in the classic “who does what”, “how much each can and should manage” and the ability to handover or what happens when the consultant finishes the project and leaves, taking a level of knowledge with them that was never given time to reside inside the clients.

Consultants are far too cautious for their own good

Consultant firms on the other hand, are moving far too cautiously to any form of collaborative form, they tend to bring ‘experts’ in for ad hoc, one-off assignments when they need deeper expertise. Wherever possible consultants want to manage as much as possible internally to ‘keep’ the fees generated inside. This is not a recipe for building lasting relationships that have mutual value in growing understanding.

Often this ‘keep it in-house’ whatever it takes, promotes that in-breed fault and is not reflecting the commonly held view today, “that all knowledge does not reside within its own walls”; they still reluctantly hang on to the closed system of inventing only inside here.

This often manifests itself in the host of variations in what are claimed as their ‘unique’ versions of “common innovation” where they constantly reinvent the wheel in their own approaches to processes, definitions, tools, frameworks, systems of working and idea management etc. I often feel those “unique solutions” are often just simply mutton dressed up as lamb.’ The resultant cost of rework if clients bring in a different consultant grows.

Today I think part of the clients experimenting and learning internally is due to this disappointment with the consultant. Clients are becoming extremely selective for the use of any outside advice. Many clients are simply building their own innovation teams with individuals that have had some given time consulting to offset, defray and strengthen their own in-house capabilities. The reality is these are often more ‘at odds’ with the business units, seen as elite, out of touch often just pursuing their own agenda, not accountable, often less supportive for the current business needs.

Also innovation itself is going through really a massive change.

The need for ecosystems, platforms, the greater use of analytics, big data and reliance on technology are all crowding in on innovation delivery. The emphasis on thinking through new business models, combining design thinking, lean  management, customer development, prototyping, experimenting outside the lab, collaborating with clients, finding different partners, the different exploitation of research techniques are all breaking out in different forms and combinations is radically altering approaches to innovation.

Also collaborating and networking are far more essential to innovation exchange, be this in the early idea forming stages but increasing in the development and execution of innovation solutions. Partnerships are diverse, delivering on the need of the job-to-be-done. Orchestration is increasingly playing its part to manage all the assets and knowledge coming into play. The innovation consultant can lead or can be simply a bit player in this synchronizing of innovation activities or offering ‘leading’ advice.

I have suggested in past posts that we all need to think differently: innovation is based on the thinking around the shift from products to solutions, from transactions to growing far more value-adding ongoing relationships, from a supplier of product services, into highly valued network partnerships, exploring innovation across all options, instead of delivering on discrete elements; this requires managing the whole ecosystem of the innovation design differently.

The external innovation consultant needs to change

I get the distinct impression the focus of most innovation consultants is still locked into product innovation or improving the process of the pipeline / portfolio, the idea generation and project execution model. It is not evolving into broader services or accounting for the transformations underway at the clients end.

While the consulting firm stays closed-up, intent on delivering their own solutions ,will mean they are often far too busy catching up, lagging in their own emerging practice and due to this ‘lag’ have lost any leadership position in many things relating to innovation.

To overcome this you need to be engaged, to be able to piece together fragments of information to gain the insights that independence can offer. Consultants need to explore and experiment themselves in a laboratory and pilot testing environment, that allows clients to work alongside them to learn and gain from this in collaborative ways. Both learn and both benefit going forward in new ways.

Sadly general well experienced innovation practitioners are actually thin on the ground. You do need to search hard for these but they are available. This exploring and extracting insight requires dedicated experience and constant involvement in broader innovation understanding

Often even the large consulting practices can’t afford to have more than a few experts scanning this innovation terrain yet clients, again and again turn to the broad consulting provider for specialist advice.

The one real change that is occurring is in thought leadership from consultants

Clients often lack real deep insight or draw out the implications from these emerging practices, they want to work more alongside others in experimental practice spaces to truly figure out how to respond to them or understand the implications to their own business. It is only part of the innovation knowledge puzzle for the client.

They need to constantly look elsewhere to piece this together, if at all they can, as so often the reporting loses much of its value as it is not translated into suggested solutions if the consulting industry fails to provide these services or knowledge laboratories.

There is increasing value in the thought leadership pieces emerging from the large, well connected consulting firms. Their ability to extract knowledge from their clients and increasingly match this with merging practice is valuable.

The work of many of the larger consultants in the field of thought leadership, including Deloittes, Bains, McKinsey, Booz, PWC, A D Little, PA Consulting and some others, has begun to provide a much greater insight through their access to C-level people and their ability to provide reports on best or emerging practice. This is helping understanding changes occurring and the emerging practices around organizations current thinking of innovation, yet it is failing to be fully translated into client application.

Translating thought leadership to new practice is a real opportunity for all

Presently much of this thought leadership is failing to be translated into practical solutions, they remain research findings.

Thought leadership seems to be increasing dominating the marketing activities of consulting firms, and with some good cause: clients require evidence and good thought leadership, it does matter to them, to figure out their internal solutions.

I’m not unhappy with that, I’ll be honest, as my competitive space is largely about understanding emergent innovation practice to relate and absorb the findings and then attempt to connect the thinking to improving innovation practice within client thinking at individual, team or organizational level.

I’ve been shifting my business model in the past few years, into a far more advisory one than consultative for clients, attempting to connect the multiple and different dots coming in from multiple sources to help this thinking and understanding.

We come back to the reason why, what used to work before, often doesn’t now.

If the innovation consultant needs to question the changes occurring all around them, then they need to ask “why not develop a different type of sustaining collaborative arrangement?” One where they, the consulting firm have scale and resources, become far more align with people like me, who have the entrepreneurial energy and zeal that explores and exploits, probes and connects, offering a further validation path that clients might value.

There is so much convergence, linkage, networking, integrating pieces occurring that none of us can remain islands of specific knowledge, we must find innovative ways to collaborate, to build an ecosystem of knowledge that provides clients real competitive advantage. I want to participate in far more scaling, proving and validating.

Consultants must learn within themselves to collaborate, exchange and value a greater ‘collective pool’ of innovation knowledge, otherwise solutions being offered to clients remains incomplete, stilted and lacking the real diversity of understanding they require to combat a different set of market conditions than in the past. They need greater transformational services.

Collaboration in the making?

Perhaps we have here a collaboration in the making, that is for the clients (markets) benefit and bridges some of the current client / consulting gaps that I feel are there. I wonder if the larger consulting company can see beyond their own noses for the value in this?

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One thought on “The Challenges Being Faced by Innovation Consultants

  1. Pingback: Is this really breaking the Traditional Model on Innovation? | Paul4innovating's Innovation Views

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