Warm and Fuzzy at the Front End of Innovation

Warm and fuzzy inside

Perhaps I have fallen into the very trap I have campaigned about in the past, in recognizing and resolving the disappointing results we achieve from all the work we put into the front end of innovation. The “warm and fuzzy” front end of innovation can make us all a little grumpy.

Let me explain. I recently wrote out a newsletter – termed a thought or two – to my innovation network. This network is split between the advisers and consultants delivering into clients and the clients themselves, that I have a connections into that have built over the years. These are mostly through knowing them, working with them, exchanging or simply connecting in LinkedIn. The subject was the changes occurring at the front end of innovation.

My argument was the results we have obtained from a disconnected set of front end activities was poorer than they should be, and this needs changing. I feel there is a real shift potential happening today through connecting technology and connected solutions to ‘transform’ this front end. My feeling is the front end is often “warm and fuzzy” and it needs to be radically redesigned. I wrote about “hearing all the voices of ideas at the front end and the “two distinct parts of the innovation funnel” building from my original post “the new extended innovation funnel“, written in 2011.

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Deeper read or quick summary? Depends on the time we have.

researching_innovation

I recently wrote a post “Finding knowledge and research to help you learn and adapt. On reflection I should have replaced the word “research” with “time”……time to help you learn and adapt.

Finding time is a real struggle and going that extra mile to read thought leadership views, long often drawn out reports or academic papers can be a step too far, I know but I can’t help myself, it is part of my job and certainly for me, many are really worth the read in a positive end result of new learning..

In that post mentioned above, I was recommending Deloitte and their thought leadership as a good place to visit. Now I’m not sure how many of you actually did so I thought in this blog, to pick out a couple of ‘choice pieces’ and make a posting summary of these, as ones that might be useful.

So I’ve chosen two that challenge and break ground.

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Finding knowledge and research to help you learn and adapt

Learning and Knowleodge Sharing“The world has never been as complex, dynamic and uncertain as it is today and the pace of change will only increase.”

We hear this consistently, our continual problem is trying to make sense of it.

So much is coming towards us and to assimilate it and turn it into value, usable value, so we can adapt and respond to it in new ways of opportunity by adding further to the knowledge by turning this into new innovation potential.

Seeking out knowledge, being proactive, partly helps as being consistently caught by surprise makes your world even more insecure.

To attempt to keep up to date we all need to invest increasing time in acquiring a better understanding, a deeper knowledge of all the interconnected parts. Even if we are “time starved” we simply must try and keep moving along in this understanding.

As part of my job, advising others on all things swirling around innovation, I invest significant time in researching, learning and applying what I feel is important to others, so as to understand or at least to raise their awareness to changing practices, thinking or approaches. At times it all seems to come literally flooding in, overwhelming the senses, that I just have to wait and let it settle in my mind, before I can attempt to process it and translate it into something of value to me, then eventually to my clients or readers.
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Walkabouts are needed for learning and testing ourselves

Walkabout picture

photo credit: Walkabout (1971) film by Nicolas Roeg

How often do you pause for thought, even simply for ‘just those few minutes,’  to allow yourself to openly question where you are and what you are attempting to do? We keep relentlessly moving on, like a wandering herd of buffalo, always looking for fresh pasture, those new feeding grounds. It’s not good.

Of course I often get caught up in this restless pursuit of gathering more, when I spend a growing amount of my time researching across innovation. I keep coming across so many things that ‘trigger’ the thinking, pushing me on.

Do you let them go, ignore them, quickly pass over them, or attempt to capture the issue as something well worth investigating further at a later stage, or just get them simply behind you in the here and now.

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Tuning out, a need for simplification and better value

tuning out 2I have been totally struck by the overwhelming number of webinars being offered to me on a daily basis, all related to innovation and all free. Am I the only one getting overwhelmed in choice, underwhelmed in content value?

This is a bit of a long rant, so turn away now those who love all the free choices you currently have, don’t waste your time reading on.

Those a little more curious, as my friend Michael Fruhling always says in his useful blog “then read on, dear friends….”

What do you get of real value when it is offered free?

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Are we getting real value out of innovation consultants?

When you stop and think about how innovation has been managed and understood over the years you soon realize how much has changed in this time.  It is very significant, yet there is still much to do. Innovation understanding is changing, certainly for the better and as it shifts our perspectives on where knowledge resides as this is altering.

Today I think we are yet again at yet another crossroads in this innovation understanding and perspective. That is to extract the leading edges required from their innovation activities within organizations. This will require fresh innovation consulting business models to exploit the growing complexity of managing emerging innovation practice to support and extend their understanding.

I’m attempting to get my head around it, let me share some of my thinking here.

There has been a continual shift of where innovation knowledge resides. The external provider, who was the main source of latest insight, hands on practice and leading ideas in the past, I think have been significantly falling behind in recent years, on their contribution and value to organizations.

The advice they are providing is shifting from deep research and repeating practice into investing into offering more the insights of what might constitutes leading edge models to then suggest offerings that generate client value, as a must to understand and have. They have moved from clear ‘leading’ practice proponents to often ‘lagging’ but are exploiting their connections for knowledge insights to offset this.

Innovation knowledge is residing far more in-house of the client

The innovation knowledge needed for completing innovation has transferred more and more within the actual organizations needing to achieve the innovating. Through their constant ‘sets of experience’, working daily within innovation they are building up some essential capabilities and capacities. The external provider has to be able to spot and fill the gaps to offer any value, they are not leading but responding.

With the growing reliance on collaborative tools and the use of technology has meant much more of the complexity of projects has to be managed from within, far too much of the necessary insights and linkages needed cannot come from external resources.

Consultants are being relegated to issues that remain complex but essentially generic, important to organizations but not the vital part of innovation need.  The use of external providers has progressively reduced in high-end value activities into more gap filling ones, as they lack the depth of inside knowledge to pull together the thinking and outcomes needed for delivering the innovation outcomes.

Their value as project specialists has even diminished due to the network need becoming so vital within dispersed organizations and this requires a deepening internal understanding and where the knowledge resides to be extracted.

It seems the role of the consultant has become more marginalised or specialised.

The business model for innovation consulting needs changing. Innovation within consultancies has been seen to be a cheap exercise to support, often not seen as the powerful force for driving the growth and fortunes of the organization as it should have been.

Much of innovations troubles today have been this poor recognition of the need of innovation to ‘reside’ in the boardroom.  It was disconnected from the strategic domain as it was a little ‘abstract’ and intangible, light on established practice.

Today that has changed, innovation needs a much higher focus, it needs to be fully aligned to what an organization wants to do, if it wants to thrive and grow. Innovation is very strategic.

There was also the ‘established practice’ over many years of consulting multiple times across similar issues that were just repeating themselves across many clients that had value that clients were willing to pay for. Often the consultant invested in the costs only once to find the (common) solutions and then set about extracted an increasing yield of return from repeating this multiple times. Today clients see through these practices and are certainly seeking uniqueness to their specific problems. Best practice still extracts from that rather tired model of establishing common practice.

Today innovation needed has to be increasingly unique, for the end results to stand out. This has its implications for anyone providing a service.   The value of best practice might give assurances to the doubters but it is the growing focus on emerging or novel practice that is more valuable to know about.

Also the growing use of open innovation has also enabled more organizations to learn from others and exclude the middle man, by working directly with others tackling similar problems and learning from each other.

Large Consultants are becoming marginalised as they lack the depth of expertise, collaborative inputs that contribute, the notable exception being still in technology application and the expertise and knowledge to link this across global organizations.

The large consulting practices certainly still possess the ‘on-hand’ extra ‘feet-on-the ground’ to augment the repeating work being undertaken within organizations or validating its position. These shift means thinner margins, more chasing to cover growing fixed costs being built up in the broad scoped consulting practice.

Shifting focus on what innovation consultants need to offer.

Consultants working in innovation today, are less ‘innovation factories’ producing the solutions and are often left with more ‘constant’ re-bottling the wine’ to maintain their place. The taste is for consistency not challenging the palate. Consultants can become more advocates for change but this needs a consistency of focus to extract value out of, as the external source of championing change, by providing the knowledge insight.

There is also this rapidly adjusting position into specific ‘knowledge providers’ and validators. Just look at the explosion of thought leadership coming from consulting firms, their ability to hone in and benchmark trends by having access to C-level executives provides a more ‘open’ understanding that internal analysis can ‘pick apart’ and absorb or reject.

Actually in a recent piece of research by www.sourceforconsulting.com they are suggesting the Law of Inverse Audiences for though leadership pieces: the narrower your focus (research or thought piece) the smaller the number of readers but the more interested and engaged those readers are likely to be.

The real insight in this was not so much thinking you know your audience here but the trend that is occurring- to forward this insight onto colleagues as validation or collateral to doubters. Yet the consultant who researched or wrote the piece will most probably never know where it has been used as it’s gone internal. Inside absorption of this external knowledge and what was actually achieved by the consulting firm that undertook this. The old model states “the client will think of us when needed” Will they?

No, the business model for innovation consulting is actually under attack, the position of making money is becoming a whole lot harder unless you shift perspectives and redesign what you can offer so it ‘fits’ far more with the internal needs of clients today.

Are these some of the shifts we are detecting?

An initial work-in-progress list of the shifts in consulting taking place relating to innovation – so what is missing here? This is certainly not exhaustive and not set out to be that, it is attempting to ‘ indicate’ the consistent shifting that has and is taking place in adapting the innovation consulting business model, in search of growth and utilization.

        Old Consulting Models

    New Consulting Needs

Required search for ‘tested’ best practices

Need for emerging and novel practice

Quickly ramp up and replicate work to ‘defray’ costs and extract margin

Starting from scratch, rapid assimilation, pushing to provide increased value and services to get margins

Have established road maps to overlay over multiple projects

Needing to translate unique efforts and contribute to building novel road maps

Established project management and milestone reporting

More ‘ad hoc’ project validation and screening

Sharing established models

Searching for unique models

Building a repository of best practice and replicating these across industry players

Extracting emerging practices to quickly translate and inject into unique approaches

Gather & Extract in a ‘paced’ way

Rapid dispersion and translating the absorbed learning

Defined tried and tested solutions based on established practices

Reacting to adaptive challenges, shaping solutions to search for ‘something’ new

Pushing for broad scope

Forced into narrow scope engagements

We are here to serve as the trusted advisor and wait your call

We need to consistently  search for our meaning and value to have a role to fill

Looser frameworks to extend and explore

Tighter context for value and alignment

Seen as the broad experts

Role of niche provider, resource support appeal

Seen as broader change agents

Needed for managing specific change to handle the continuity and stability challenges in resource thin organizations

Source of original / creative thinker

Source of objective view to quantify risk

Having relevant skills available

Providing general resources

Provider of clear and established methodologies and practices that are accepted norms

Assessing and validating risks for alternative solutions and practices outside the norm.

Initial ‘Go To’ Source of External Knowledge and sole trusted source.

Augmenting Broader Options for External Knowledge from Suppliers, Clients, Journals, Competitors, Universities & Institutions

Provider of Best in Class ‘Classic’ Training and Research and Development Thinking In-house, taking revenue stream

Ad Hoc provider or orchestrator often outsourcing to more specialist providers, sharing revenue stream, more reciprocating.

Stand Alone- all in-house resourced

More Collaborative – bringing in ‘one off’ expertise for specific assignments

Managing challenges in more ‘static and stable’ market conditions.

Coping as much with the constant challenges and challenges of complexity in market conditions

What does the future hold for ‘traditional’ innovation consulting?

Whatever the shifts taking place and I think there are many, the established, more traditional consulting model is not working for innovation. They are being marginalized, left often to catch up with the work going on within their clients. The consultant is not leading; they are following in the practice of innovation. Greater specialization is required and seemingly valued by clients. Knowing what this is becomes the hard part.

There also needs to be further work on what differentiates’ one consultant with another. The client is far more discerning, reacts very negatively to any ‘one size’ fits all approach as innovation activity is unique to each client. The establishment of more Chief Innovation Offices or Vice Presidents for innovation are demanding more from their service providers than ever before. These providers need to be clearly seen as differentiators otherwise that will not get house room.

Shifting sands, covering up old weaknesses

The world of consulting does need to change but many of the client issues still continue to remain the same or in some cases might have even got worse. It becomes  the consultants challenge on more how you can reduce the ‘pressures’ on internal teams or provides real ‘impact’ that supports ‘delivery’ differently than before and can’t be achieved internally alone.

Clients still struggle with a consistent ‘lack of time’ and as we know time is either a friend if you have it or the worst enemy to innovation if you don’t. Just simply chasing for client answers is getting worse rather than better.  Clients are constantly stretched in their utilization of the limited resources they have available to them. They are constantly being distracted away from managing the bigger picture, into side events or having ‘dual’ roles.

There remains this chronic attitude of “I’m not taking any risk or we don’t have a real appetite for experimentation” pervading board rooms. The reality is clients still want tried and tested solutions, yet for me, crazy as this is, they are reluctant to be the experiment lab yet they cry out for the need to be different. How do you ‘square that off’ with what innovation needs to have – a constantly exploring and experimental climate – to find new solutions?

Client budgets seem to be tighter each year, the cost of each innovation undertaken is rising and taking more time and cost as well as the toll for dealing with growing complexity and conflict is demanding. Organizations and the individuals responsible are under growing pressure for innovation to generate real sustaining growth.

Consultants have to manage complexity within today’s dynamics.

Consultants have to work through these dynamics to find their position to offer value and how to figure out what their position is so as to provide the relevant services. This will increasingly call for a far more flexible, agile and focused model than ever before. The pressure on margins, the inability to have more ‘bench strength’ simply waiting around for that client call, the procurement procedures that batter down fees, scope and future options, limit detailed discussions until contracts are awarded makes this harder to work through, yet consultants must.

There are also seemingly more competitors around, in the form of boutique providers of really specialised focus or industry specific expertise, a clutch of independent providers of detailed innovation knowledge and plenty of workshop and training providers, all nibbling away at those finite client budgets that keep eroding the margins and scope for building a reputation for innovation consulting.

Can today’s consulting practice for innovation stand out?

How can they provide real needed and welcomed services to the client? It is getting harder I feel out there for many and the search for different and unique innovation consulting business models is definitely on.

Some are managing this by working on their value position to offer 1) new solutions, 2) adapting solutions that are more evolutionary in their growing understanding, 3) thought leadership that provides new insights and advice to underpin selected competencies and 4) being masters of creative problem solving.

Getting your specialization right

For me I designate these emerging inovation practices as made up of 1) Systems thinkers,2) Structure implementers, 3) Subject Matter experts and those that are 4)Advocacy Catalysts within innovation, or there is a hybrid of all of these, aligned more than likely to a given innovation specialisation.

Whatever the services offered, these still need to be valued by the client (as their clear jobs-to-be-done) and to be positioned and recognized as the service provider who can deliver a higher degree of uniqueness for supporting the specific solutions on these.

I think this is calling for very different innovation consulting business models, more agile, flexible and adapting to unique conditions found within each client.

So if you are an innovation consultant are you mapping your one out or working through the multiple options on your business model canvas yet? I would, as it is not just to survive but to search and find the winning ways to thrive and be recognized as the expert needed.

As for clients, to extract real value from your providers are you clear enough on what you need? Perhaps I can help? I prefer to work in the advocacy space and try to offer subject matter thinking.

Innovation Convention 2011, EU organised, Brussels

The European Commissions Innovation Convention 2011

I was planning to go to this convention held in Brussel over December 5th & 6th, 2011, but eventually was forced to stay back in the office to complete some work for different projects I’m working on.

Thankfully the main conference was on line so I was able to follow it, even if a little selectively.

I’m sure you agree conferences or in this case a convention, are often ‘variable feasts.’ You never find everything appealing or valuable to you, but even at a distance I did find plenty of interesting areas in those I was able to watch. I hope they make many of the sessions freely available post convention as they have much to draw ‘inspiration and understanding’ from for all of us.

I’m not planning this as a detailed report of the convention but to reflect  and comment about why I think it provided a good contribution to the innovation debate(s), especially here in Europe. We do need to ‘tune in’ more on what these events can offer, if managed well, in depth and breadth of innovation’s scope. I’m singling out some of the more striking moments for me.

The intent of the Convention

The Innovation Convention is to become an essential part of the Innovation Union flagship initiative. It will take place on a regular basis to take stock of the progress made towards the objectives of the Innovation Union and to discuss ways forward with a broader perspective in the global innovative economy.  This particular one was opened by the President of the European Commission, Mr. José Manuel Barroso and had about 1,200 or more selected participants.

I got the impression Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, European Commissioner for Research, Innovation, and Science came and went. From my own past experiences you get invited to speak and participant yet, as it seems in this case, the convenor of the convention and responsible for innovation at the top of the EU were not around to listen to want you want to say. Clearly there are many within the DG research and innovation that can brief her and of course I hope they have that chance, there was a lot of great comments to reflect upon.

Also what I gathered also from the twitter chatter she did spend some good time touring the many exhibitors participating as well. I am sure it is never easy as a convenor to be in all places at one time. Actually I would have felt the same with a number of different and interesting sessions with a choice of plenary, parallel and fringe sessions all competing for the participant’s time as well as visiting the exhibitions and ‘do’ the required networking.

Why was it valuable?

When you are able to attract such an array of top flight speakers and contributors to the innovation debate you are going to gain much and also desperately wish you could have had more.

The opening session was explosive, in a positive way

The opening session excellently facilitated by Ann Mettler of the Lisbon Council was threatening to be explosive, in a positive way. The panel after warming up got into their stride moving from global innovation, working with young people and examining many of the obstacles within the EU for innovation to overcome.

I have to say Ben Verwaagen, the CEO of Alcatel-Lucent was terrific in throwing in the constructive bombs, Professor Sir Leszek Borysiewicz mopping up the fragments and Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, Chair & MD of Biocon Ltd offering some really useful and insightful observations from her Indian perspective of looking into the EU. The two other participants Jean-Paul Agon, CEO of L’Oreal and Silva Venturini Fendi of Fendi Associates, keeping pulling us back to thoughtful aspects of where innovation works and why, from their perpective.

This was simply a terrific session that could have gone on all day from my point of view with such an expert panel. You could not have asked for a better opening session on drawing out issues, problems and barriers but plenty of constructive solutions. One very telling takeaway was how the EU has got very insular, inward and introspective. In its time of crisis if the EU draws (even more) in, it will lose out eventually.

Kiran Mazumdar- Shaw spoke about affordable innovation models, which we have ‘boxed’ here in the West as ‘frugal’ or possibly ‘reverse’ innovation. I like the real difference she offered- affordable. This reflects not just Indians current need as they are in many developing countries but increasingly will be the innovation approach here in the West. We do need to break this constant churning consumption habit and affordable and lasting need to be more built into the “West’s” changing set of watch words to adopt.

The Delivering Better Healthcare debate

The panel of Dr Margaret Chan, Director-General of the WHO, the CEO of GlaxoSmithKline, Andrew Witty and Marc Koska of Lifesaver gave us the sheer dimensions and complexity of healthcare and where innovation is playing its part. It provided shocking reality on the ground from Marc Koska and how his organization is innovating to overcome given issues.

Also the really thoughtful ways GlaxoSmithKline are responding to their social pressures and commitments by opening up facilities, patents and working through a difficult path of innovation change going on with the Pharmaceutical industry. The whole change within Pharma is evolving in front of our eyes.  Ms.Chan added dimension upon dimension on the complexity of world heath. You came away with what a multitude of problems there to be resolved and where innovation has such opportunity.

I could go on and on about the values you could have taken away from these different sessions and the so many other outside of the main hall sessions. Those two sessions alone that I’ve mentioned fill you head with so much possibility and identification to engage and find distinctive ways to contribute.

Often the draw in conventions is the big name key note speakers.

Having  Eric Schmidt, Google Chairman delivering his personal thoughts around “In Search of a Better Problem”, Don Tapscott on “Innovation in the Age of Networked Intelligence.” Michael O’Leary, CEO of Ryan Air opened the second day’s session with no more than anyone who has heard him before would expect; a lively, entertaining but valid set of criticisms and lots of poking fun at the EU on “Doing Innovation his (or Ryan airs) Way”.

Michael O’Leary also led a Master class where young innovators presented their case to the audience and Mr O’ Leary contributing his views as a coach. Pupils for the Master Classes were provided by The European Young Innovators Forum and The European BIC Network and I sometimes wondered if the Irish wit, interpretation and thoughts offered by Michael O’Leary fitted. What did come across ‘in barrel loads’ was the need for passion, commitment, sheer determination and personal belief and that is just some of the attributes that Michael O’Leary has in abundance.

Some personal disappointments

As I mentioned conventions are a mixed bag. I really would have liked to have listened more to Sam Pitroda, the Innovation advisor to the Prime minister of India. Also for me, Will Hutton, executive vice-chair of the Work Foundation, just seemed subdued and not as insightful as he can be. Both were involved in the social innovation session.

The climate change debate just seemed to ‘bob along’ and for many others I just had no time or opportunity to tune in unfortunately.

The real personal disappointment was the Open innovation and public policy in Europe session offered by Professor Henry Chesbrough.

The session was billed as “ large, vertically integrated R&D laboratory systems of the 20th century are giving way to more vertically disintegrated networks of innovation that connect numerous companies into ecosystems. Since innovation policy ultimately rests on the activities and initiatives of the private sector, it is vital that policy follows this evolution. New research and analysis on open innovation, for the Science Business Innovation Board AISBL, results in a series of recommendations for public policies that could, if implemented, improve the climate for open innovation to take place in the European Union – and thereby improve the competitiveness of the European economy overall. Taken together, these recommendations comprise an informal ‘charter’ for EU open innovation policy”.

So I was certainly expecting some depth in this area of rich potential of open innovation within Europe. Why was it such a disappointment for me?

Sadly it got caught up in a potted history of open innovation. We  went back in time and at least fifty percent of the talk was ‘locked in the past’. I understand context and Professor Chesbrough is rich in this ground laying but I was hopeful we would be looking out in the future through his charter and he failed to get into living up to the billing.

Instead he ‘hinted’ at this and promised more would come from a fringe session. Then you learn his report released by the ScienceBusiness will come out after this session, and cost 35 UK pounds to buy. So a document about open innovation and public policy in Europe, sponsored by a number of well known companies comes at a cost. That for me demonstrates closed innovation not open innovation. What a pity.

The value of such a convention is what you gain out of it.

I clearly was happy to ‘participate’ in this convention, even at a distance. The flow of ‘tweets’ also added value for me in gauging different reactions. It is getting interesting that one of the bellwethers at conferences is the level of tweet chatter, you do get some really interesting reflections and comments and these are getting closer to ‘live’ feedback.

I heard for the ‘geeks’ in the convention they had limited space to type, while sitting in the conference hall, whereas I had the ‘luxury’ of being in my office, managing my day on two computers, listening to the convention, tweeting where necessary and getting on with the work that held me back from going.

The organizers should be congratulated. It seemed to me to be a highly organized set of events attracting 1,200 people, plenty of high quality speakers and an awful lot of messages that bubbled up on innovation to reflect upon. I just hope there is a significant evaluation taking place on what was offered if it is going to be an annual event to take stock of innovations progress within the EU.

For those that missed it, here is a link onto the site http://bit.ly/owtjiJ and let’s trust the EU makes available different video recordings so many more can share in this event and gain much from its contribution. Just check in to see if this happens as I’ve just been told it will take a week or so to do this. Also ‘pencil’ this event in for next year.  I certainly did.