Friday, March 20, 2015

Innovation needs Time, Talent and Temperment

I'm about to leave for a well-deserved vacation, but I wanted to leave you, gentle readers, with a parting shot to contemplate before I go.  The idea I'd like you to contemplate until my return is that we are all making innovation far too complicated, and we need to stop dressing up the activity with lots of talking points and stop working ourselves and our management into a tizzy about commitments and investments.  Of course all of these are important.  But what we should be asking, in much the same way the "lean startup" folks are asking about bare essentials and "minimum viable products", is:  what is the minimum investment it takes to make my (team, product group, line of business, company) more innovative?  I'm going to argue that it's simply three "T"s:  time, talent and temperament.

Let's address all three of these quickly, so you can go have a good think while I am resting comfortably in an exotic location.


Time is probably the most problematic of the three Ts.  As efficiency has become a watchword, many organizations have people who are filling two jobs, in meetings constantly and trying to juggle far more day to day operational tasks than they can measure.  These individuals aren't doing a good job getting their day to day responsibilities done.  How then can we imagine that we can layer on another "important" task - an innovation project or activity - when these folks can barely keep their heads above water on the tasks they are reasonably good at?  When you are overwhelmed trying to keep the day to day stuff (where your expertise lies), how can you possibly carve out time for an activity where you have little experience and few defined processes? 

This is simply a management decision.  Innovation requires time.  Time to identify interesting problems and scope them.  Time to consider emerging trends and technologies.  Time to understand unmet customer needs.  Time to do an effective job generating ideas and solutions.  Time for prototyping and validating concepts.  And of course time for the product development process.

Your management team needs to understand how much time it will take to innovate, and either free up your time by delegating responsibilities to others, or finding capable people who can do the work without putting day to day operations at risk.  You simply will not succeed if you can't find the time to innovate, and will fail if you try to balance too many simultaneous tasks.  Innovation will always draw the short straw.


Talent in this context is composed of two factors:  attracting the people who want to be a part of an innovation exercise, who have passion for creating new things, and giving them the tools or methods that they need in order to do their work well.  Most organizations strike out on both counts.

When staffing an innovation team, find the passionate people who believe change is possible, who are willing to take risks and explore new options.  People who are unwilling to change or explore will simply recreate products and services that already exist.  Far too often, the wrong people are in the job.  Further, too many organizations neglect to provide or introduce meaningful tools, methods and templates.  Even passionate people need to have guidance, and can work more effectively if they have a roadmap and a defined end goal.  Invest in defining what a successful innovation roadmap looks like, and here's a hint.  It does not start and end with idea generation.


Temperament is a broad term meant to address three constituents in an innovation activity:  the executives who asked for it, the people who are doing it and the culture that is observing it.

Executives want perfect answers now, fully documented and easily executed.  They won't get that from innovation, unless the innovation is so simple that it reflects existing products and services.  Innovation is going to be messy, uncertain and rife with opportunities and possibilities but no certainties.  The sooner we set that expectation, and the more the executive team accepts that expectation, the better your activities and outcomes will be.

We also need to consider the temperament of the culture of the organization that's observing the innovation activity.  Often an innovation activity is watched first with curiosity, then hope, then fear.  The fear is that the innovation activity will take dollars or funding from someone else's projects.  This is when the antibodies start circling, seeking to limit or kill innovation before it infects the organization and creates too much change.  You've got to focus on the temperament of the organization or innovation will wither and die like a lab experiment in a petri dish.

Finally, consider the temperament of the team.  If you've selected passionate, engaged people, all you really need to worry about is exasperation and cynicism.  If the culture or executive team won't support innovation, doesn't provide resources or won't make critical decisions in the lack of full information, exasperation and cynicism increase.  Don't let that happen, because once you lose your passionate people, you've really lost a lot of the potential to innovate.


A lot of people don't really "get" innovation.  They think of it as an event or a project, when it is really an attitude or a mindset.  It's not something you can switch on or switch off, depending on need.  It's something that people and corporations need to do consistently and constantly, need to believe in and engage in.  It takes time, talent and temperament to do this, and you'll notice all three aren't discrete factors that can be easily turned on or off, but are continuous capabilities that need to be engaged all the time.

Have a think on this and we'll reconvene shortly. 
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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 6:44 AM 0 comments

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Successful innovators are "true believers"

After my "don't rock the boat" post a few days ago, I was asked by a few folks a very interesting question.  Which was:  what does it take to be a good innovator in a corporation?  Note that I placed some scope or constraints on the question.  After all, it's fairly easy to be an innovator in a small company or as an entrepreneur.  In fact you need to rock the boat in small companies or startups or you will struggle to differentiate and grow.  But what about large companies?  What does it take to be a successful innovator in a large corporation?  Either a culture that welcomes and encourages innovation or a true believer mentality.

How do you do it?

We at OVO get to participate in a lot of idea generation sessions.  It's interesting to lead these sessions and to sit in as a guest idea generator.  Because most of us have few filters, we are willing and able to generate any idea.  Ask me sometime about the credit card that zaps you with an electric shock if you use it too frequently.  So when we have all of these crazy ideas, people often ask us:  well, how do you do it?  How do you constantly generate such crazy ideas?  Why are you so much better than us when it comes to generating ideas?  The reason is that we are true believers.  We believe that there is ALWAYS a better way to do something.  All it takes is a little insight, a little imagination and a willingness to free yourself from your day to day constraints.

Working inside an organization, especially for a long period of time, an individual becomes part of the fabric and culture of that organization and begins to think like others in the organization, accepting core principles and cultural norms.  Over time what seemed changeable seems permanent and what seemed possible seems immutable.  It's exceptionally difficult to work inside an organization for very long and not adopt the cultural biases, and typically those biases have to do with maintaining status quo, not creating new products and services.

The typical innovation project

On any typical innovation project we see three categories of participants.  The first were asked to be on the team because they've been successful within the execution engine.  They know how to make the day to day operations work effectively.  They typically try to force an innovation activity to look and feel like a normal day to day process, limiting the scope and rushing to a decision.  The second category of people who participate are subject matter experts, asked to participate because they either have deep knowledge or can add a fresh perspective.  Most don't have a stake in the outcome unless it materially impacts their area of expertise, which is dangerous, because expertise and knowledge of existing models and methods overcomes their ability to consider meaningful change.  The third category is usually composed of people who are "available" - that is, they are busy but have some time that can be spared for the innovation project.

What's often missing from this list are what I'll call true believers, people who are convinced that innovation is vital and important.  Every company has a number of true believers, but they are often considered problematic because they are constantly asking why things are done the way they are.  These true believers are always seeking to do things differently or suggesting improvements or changes to existing processes or products.  They are often the last folks to be asked to participate in an innovation project because they are thought to be uncontrollable - they rock the boat a lot.

Why do true believers matter?

True believers are unique and important to innovation for a number of reasons.  First, many of them are dissatisfied with the status quo.  They know that it's possible to create better products and services.  They WANT to see change, rather than seek to avoid it.  True believers of any stripe, in any discipline, don't allow a little resistance or public sentiment to bother them.  They are willing to seek out new information and insight even if it conflicts with existing beliefs.  They don't allow barriers or roadblocks to discourage them.  In fact they often redouble their efforts when they encounter difficult barriers, where many more complacent people will willingly give up.

True believers always believe there is a better answer, a better way.  They are never satisfied with incremental change, although they'll accept it on the road to disruptive or radical innovation.  They like Jobs want to put a dent in the universe.  These true believers are found in every business, in every country, in every walk of life.  They are difficult to deal with day to day, but impossible to live without if you want to innovate beyond incremental changes.

These true believers can be a bit insufferable, and that's why they are found so much more frequently in startups or as entrepreneurs.  They believe in their ideas, their insights and aren't going to let a complacent culture, corporate inertia or simple fear of risk and uncertainty become a barrier to their ideas.  And they are exactly what most corporations need right now.

We are living in an age of great technological and market upheaval, where the pace of change is almost unprecedented and the level of competition unmatched from almost any time since global markets unfolded over 300 years ago.  Money flows to where it can find its best return, anywhere in the world and at the blink of an eye.  Consumer demand and market conditions shift rapidly.  New competitors emerge in places that were unthinkable as competitive hotspots only a few years ago.  The people who can lead you out of your corporate inertia are the people you've most likely relegated to the sidelines.  The people you know could be valuable but you haven't figured out how to harness them yet.  You need to engage the true believers in your organization - the people who want to create real, interesting change - and you need to do it soon.  With the changes that are underway, playing a passive defense is not a strategy, it's a recipe for oblivion.

Can you find your true believers and task them to create really interesting and valuable new ideas?  Can you clear the barriers and remove the inertia and let them create valuable new products and services?  Do you even know who the true believers are in your corporation, or have you tamped them down, and squeezed them out in the ever increasing goal of corporate efficiency and compliance?

What can you do?

First, find the people who are always creating interesting ideas, people who want to create change. It may be hard to distinguish them from chronic complainers, but with a little work you can sort them out.  Instead of leaving them out of innovation projects, learn to work with and manage them successfully.  Give them far more latitude to generate ideas, but in parallel give them clear targets to aim for.  

Second, discover who in your organization has compelling innovation traits.  We can help you identify people in your organization who have the traits and characteristics that other innovators share.  Contact us about our InnoTraits Assessment to help find the people in your organization who have the skills to innovate, if not the passion.
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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 5:41 AM 0 comments

Monday, March 09, 2015

Don't rock the boat innovation

It's strange how music, songs and lyrics stick with you and take on important meanings.  In one of my presentations for my book Relentless Innovation I have a slide that speaks to the factors that shape our current business environment.  The slide simply reads "What's going on" and every time I present it at a client site or for a speaking engagement I think Marvin Gaye should be singing in the background.  Music and its lyrics have an interesting power, one we should learn to engage more.

Recently, in an idea generation session with a client, I found myself humming another song.  This time it was "Don't rock the boat" by The Hues Corporation.  Occasionally I turn to this song and its lyrics when I get frustrated by by clients who don't want to push the boundaries and discover disruptive innovation.

What is "Don't rock the boat" innovation?

Many innovation projects start out with such promise.  We're going to create new ideas!  Those ideas will lead to new profits or revenue!  We'll swamp the competition and gain market share!  Our CEO will get to go on stage in a turtleneck like Steve Jobs and everyone will listen!  And other really motivating stuff like that often surrounds the beginning of an innovation activity.  The question becomes:  what is the real anticipated outcome of an innovation activity?  Is it to create incremental solutions - extending what already exists, or to create powerful disruptive new products and services, which would lead to all the hubbub.  Far too often, like children at the dessert bar, the eyes are bigger than the stomach.  Creating too much disruption may require too much change or investment, or put an organization at risk if the ideas fail.  While many CEOs would love a really interesting new idea that drives differentiation and new profits, the executives often don't understand what it takes to create valuable new ideas that lead to differentiated products.

This means that the definition of innovation is left to the middle managers, who are efficiency experts, meaning they are really good at creating small improvements to existing products and services.  And, since they don't have a specific directive to go put a dent in the universe, a la Jobs, they revert to what they know best, what I call "don't rock the boat" innovation.

Don't rock the boat innovation follows all the best practices, engages people in research, conducts meaningful idea generation, and results in incremental products that are nice but not really all that differentiated or new.  That's because the managers and executives involved are really comfortable with the status quo, even though they know it needs to change.  But they don't have the permission, or directive, or funds, or resources, or time, to do something really different and new.  So, they can conduct innovation according to plan, but never put the existing processes or existing commitments at risk.  They are innovating, but they aren't going to "rock the boat".

What's the problem with "don't rock the boat"?

Is there really a problem with "don't rock the boat" innovation?  I'll stipulate that there are several problems.  First, don't rock the boat will NEVER lead to real benefits.  At best the ideas that a project with a "don't rock the boat" mentality will result in incremental new products at best.  Secondly, many innovation projects are begun with a lot of fanfare and promise, but are often cramped, dreary affairs that are limited in resources, scope and investments.  This dissonance creates cynicism, which is perhaps the kryptonite of innovation.  Further, a few projects or activities conducted within a "don't rock the boat" philosophy creates an inertia and an established way of doing things that make it difficult to ever break out of.

Think about this another way.  What happens to the individual who "rocks the boat"?  They are told to sit down, sit still, stop goofing around.  They are ridiculed into submission and will never rock the boat again, or may not even be allowed on the boat anymore.

Let's Rock the Boat

Instead, most corporations definitely need to "rock the boat" and perhaps even tip the boat over, to continue the lyrics.  Trying to innovate in a very limited and "safe" fashion sustains the status quo.  Only questioning the business model, offerings, pricing models, channels and other critical factors will create real difference.  To do this, innovation teams need a directive that must come from the top, and that must be constantly reinforced.  They need the right people on the team, the right investments and resources in order to do what is necessary, and the right amount of time and risk tolerance.  Without these factors in evidence, all innovation becomes a "don't rock the boat" exercise.
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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 7:38 AM 0 comments

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Making innovation a valuable habit

You may be thinking to yourself that the title of this blog post is boring, or even redundant.  Of course we want to emphasize valuable habits.  And innovation can lead to valuable outcomes.  But what about the "habit" part?  Aristotle noted something about his fellow humans.  He said that "you are what you repeatedly do".  He recognized that the more we do certain things, the more we followed certain norms, the more they influenced who we are and how we look at the world.  This is interesting in itself, but troubling from an innovation standpoint.  Because if we are what we repeatedly do, we'll never innovate.  If we are what we repeatedly do, we're all efficiency managers, not innovators.  That could explain a lot about the barriers innovation faces in large corporations.

What are your habits?

Habits actually have a somewhat negative connotation any way, like biting your nails.  People often talk about "bad habits" but rarely talk about "good" habits.  Many of the activities and actions we take every day become ingrained habits.  Getting coffee, chatting about the corporate culture over the water cooler, grabbing lunch with the same people, arriving ten minutes late for scheduled meetings, and so on.  After a while these habits become so ingrained that they become the norms.  In fact, in many corporations it's the kiss of death to schedule a meeting after 3pm, for a couple of reasons, but the most important one of which is that so many people arrive for meetings late that each subsequent meeting gets pushed back.  We all sit around and shake our heads about how terrible it is that people can't show up on time, but no one takes the responsibility to change the habit, and soon it becomes the norm.  These "bad habits" become what the corporation expects, and soon become the norm that we teach newcomers.  Eventually what were once simply bad habits become the norm.

If we are what we repeatedly do, then we ought to be the world's best meeting managers, cost cutters, time managers, pre-planners and efficiency experts, since most people in corporations spend time in meetings, cutting costs or corners, planning the next meeting and trying to figure out how to do more with less.  These habits become ingrained, and eventually influence how people think.  If you don't believe this, try asking people to generate really creative ideas that will violate their cultural norms.  It's actually funny to watch people squirm.

Innovation as a valuable habit

If more innovation is vital to most corporations, but people are ingrained with efficiency, how do we make innovation a valuable habit?  Well, first we need to create the conditions where innovation is possible.  That means that executives have to communicate the need for innovation and build the environment, and establish the compensation and rewards.  Once the environment is right we need to task people to innovate, regularly and consistently, so that innovation tools and processes don't seem strange and new, but seem trusted and familiar.  If we repeatedly "do" innovation, we will become more innovative, and more capable innovators.  If we repeatedly "do" efficiency, we will remain capable cost cutters who recoil from the implications of innovation.

First we need to make innovation intentional.  That's where the executives come in.  They must link innovation to corporate strategy and make it valuable and purposeful.  Then they need to demonstrate commitment, because that's what will help most of the folks overcome inertia and become willing to adopt new thinking and processes.  Finally, we need to do innovation regularly, so that it becomes a habit.  Only then will innovation be as easy, and as acceptable as doing the everyday business as usual.

There's real work in making this transition. For decades we've developed managers who are efficiency experts, and many of them have progressed onwards into the management ranks.  We've given innovation skills and training short shrift, and efficiency is the habit, not innovation.  It's time to rebalance skills and reset the framework, expecting both innovation and efficiency.  You won't have to worry about the efficiency part of the equation - it's already an ingrained habit.  You will have to focus on innovation, to make it a habit, and the only way to make it a habit is to do innovation often, consistently and repeatedly, using the same approach.  There's a word that describes that consistent approach and repeated usage.  You need to understand that innovation is a "discipline" that must be practiced regularly.

Almost 40 years ago the Doobie Brothers, of all people, released an album titled "What were once vices are now habits".  If we follow that logic, then it should be apparent that what were once habits are now cultural norms.  And once something becomes embedded in the culture, only a radical effort to refocus, repurpose and rework is going to change.  We need to create innovation habits that lead to innovation norms, rather than allow our cultures, habits and norms resist innovation.
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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 5:43 AM 0 comments

Monday, February 09, 2015

Innovators are pattern breakers

Over the last five years or so I've been asked many, many times about my opinion about corporate innovation.  Why is there so much demand for corporate innovation, yet so little practical result.  One could stipulate a number of reasons, including:
  • The lack of time or bandwidth
  • The focus on efficiency over experimentation
  • The lack of innovation skills or techniques
  • The inordinate rewards of short term thinking over long term success
  • Fear of the uncertain or unknown
And I'm sure we could continue this list ad infinitum.   These are all reasons why so many corporations can't successfully and continually innovate.  But over time I've come to realize a larger issue is at stake.  It's a problem of pattern recognition.  Most corporations believe that their customers' needs begin and end within the manner in which the corporations or the industry have defined their solutions.  As long as a new product or service can be delivered within those definitions agreed by the industry, then innovation is easier for the corporations to pursue.  But when a need or demand arises that falls outside of, or just adjacent to, the way an industry or corporation defines its solutions, everything falls apart.  Increasingly, innovation will be at the intersection of markets and industries, and corporations need to become far more flexible in how they define the market, the boundaries of their service offerings.

Top Down versus horizontal

Most companies develop a specific representation of a market, industry or segment.  For example, the haircare department at P&G wants to solve problems for people who want to wash or condition their hair.  But to an individual, that activity may be just a step in a complete journey from getting up to getting ready for work.  Should P&G decide to look at all the factors related to haircare in the customer's journey from waking up to leaving for work?  That could potentially broaden the opportunity and introduce new solutions, but they may have nothing to do with shampoo.

How the P&G hair care team looks at what a consumer needs or wants to accomplish in the morning, the "jobs to be done" if you will, starts and ends with their definition of the solution.  They might say "we are in the shampoo business" or "we are in the hair care" business.  But a consumer might say "I have a job to do to get up and get ready for work", one step of which is washing hair.  If an innovation opportunity or need emerges just before someone washes their hair, or just afterwards, does P&G pursue it, or assume that some other vendor who provides services or products that support he morning rituals will step in?  Does the P&G hair care team say "that's outside of our industry definition or sweet spot"?  Do they say "that's someone else's job to fill"?  Because if the gap is left in place long enough, someone else will fill it.

Customer Experience Journey

Here's where a customer experience journey map makes so much sense.  Trying to understand all of the things a customer is trying to do, both with your product or service, or just before or after it, instead of trying to optimize just a single step in the activity.  As long as we take a top down, very segmented view of the customer, we can solve only very small portions of their jobs, all the while missing or ignoring opportunities that are just adjacent to our capabilities or services.

You may say, well, if it's just adjacent to our services, we may not be in the best position or have the best capabilities to provide it.  And you might be right.  But what you are doing is opening the door for very similar competition to take up a very vital activity right next to your products and services.  And if they can solve the adjacent need that you've been ignoring, does it build credibility for them to get to solve the problems you've been focusing on all along - or worse, perhaps try to collapse the needs they are solving with the one you've been solving?  Isn't that what iTunes ultimately did?  Collapse several related solutions and needs into one more integrated solution?

Patterns, Corporate Capabilities and industry boundaries

We pride ourselves on our pattern recognition capabilities, but too often we become very comfortable in our our definitions and patterns.  Far too frequently we at OVO see opportunities that are just outside or just adjacent to solutions and frameworks that a corporation has defined.  They'll say that those needs are outside their competencies or focus areas, and they may be right.  But they leave the door open for other firms or new entrants to solve those problems and gain credibility, when with a little bit of work they could extend their capabilities and solve a greater portion of the customer's journey.

How much does your corporate capability limit your innovation potential?  Are you required to follow the industry in where you define where it begins and ends?  Do you understand the entire journey a customer is going through when they encounter your product or service?  Is there a more complete or integrated solution you can provide to ease the customer journey, even if it's not within your wheelhouse?  We need to define our opportunities within the confines of our capabilities, but always with an eye to understanding the total needs of a customer. When is the last time you developed a customer journey map for your customer's need?
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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 7:35 AM 0 comments

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

What's your perspective on innovation?

Our clients are always interested in what will lead to the most innovation within their companies.  Is it the markets or industries they compete in?  Do they have a natural amount of innovation or resistance?  Do software firms innovate more than manufacturers?  Is it the culture of the organization?  If we have ping pong tables in the break room, will that make it more innovative?  How about the people?  Do we need hipsters, millennials, Boomers or some other segment?  Do we need creatives, designers, artists?  Sometimes it seems we could actually remake many corporations by merely suggesting that they need more designers or Millennials.  But while these factors contribute to innovation success, there are other factors that we care about.  One of them is passion.  Does an individual have passion for the problem and a desire to create a solution?  Will the individual move mountains to try to solve the problem?  Sounds like an entrepreneur, but given their head many corporate employees can identify challenges or problems where their passion lies.  And with passion comes commitment, engagement and many other factors that can drive a successful innovation activity.  But there's one other factor I always look for:  perspective.

Send me the shoes

There's an old story used to make a point, primarily to sales people, but it is entirely apropos here.  Two shoe salesmen are set to set up shop on an inhabited island that hasn't had a shoe franchise before.  When they get there they discover that the entire population is barefoot - no one has developed shoes or sold shoes to the population, and the population hasn't developed its own footwear. The first salesman sends a message back to HQ:  please come get me out of here.  None of the inhabitants wear shoes.  The second salesman sends a message back to HQ:  please quickly forward all the makes and models you can.  Nobody wears shoes here.  The market is huge.

In the world of sales, the idea that people who don't wear shoes also don't need shoes is nonsensical.  If the need isn't present, create the need and then fill it.  But look at the second salesman.  He recognizes a huge, untapped market because he believes he can fill needs customers aren't aware of.  Yes, it may take time to get the population to wear shoes, but once he convinces them of the need for shoes, he'll have the market to himself.  The two characters in this story represent two different and competing perspectives:  what is possible with a positive outlook, and how quickly people will surrender to a negative outlook.  What people do we want on an innovation project?  The people willing to take an expansive, inquisitive, positive take on any opportunity or challenge, regardless of their position, age, training, managerial level, zodiac sign or depth of innovation training.

A few days ago I wrote a post about the amount of opportunity available even in a highly competitive market.  Far too often corporations shy away from competing in what appears to be a "red ocean" - a highly competitive market with lots of competition and low margins.  Frankly, it makes sense to place investments where you can win more share and more margin.  But even in highly competitive markets there are opportunities.  We can look at Uber, NetFlix and AirBnB as just a few examples.  All three compete in what initially were highly competitive markets.  There are plenty of options for taxis or rental cars, movie rental options (at least while Blockbuster was around) and hotel rooms.  Each entered a competitive market and disrupted it by rejecting the status quo channels or business models and offering customers basically the same product but in a new way.  Do you think the first salesperson, dreaming up a new way to rent rooms to people, would have developed AirBnB?  No!  He'd say:  well, there are a lot of big companies competing in this space and a lot of the valuable real estate is locked up, and I don't have much pricing power or branding, so I'll go do something else.  The entrepreneurs behind AirBnB, Uber and NetFlix saw opportunity where others saw competition and struggle, and eventually forced the larger competitors to compete on their terms.

Why is corporate innovation so difficult

So, why is corporate innovation so difficult? For years we've told people what to think, how much risk to embrace, what mental models to use to think about their business.  We've preferred certainty to experiments, incremental change to creativity, short term thinking to long term thinking.  We've designed our teams to think like the first salesman.  Then every once in a while we gather a team and ask them to act and think like the second salesman, and frankly, they aren't prepared or capable to do that without some re-education and a whole lot of reassurance.

If you want more innovation, you need to train an army of people in your company who can execute flawlessly, improve efficiency AND who can easily and quickly think like and act like the second salesman.  It's not an either or proposition.  Efficiency and Innovation can, and must co-exist.  But we've been trained to believe that they are enemies, and that efficiency must prevail because it is predictable and safe.  On your innovation teams, how many people would rather be voted right off the island like the first salesman?  I suspect you'll find the answer is most, if not all of them.

You can hire designers, you can hire Millennials, you can hire creative types, and all of those factors may help you generate more ideas.  But until you impact the perspectives and expectations of the workforce within your company, you will rarely innovate successfully.
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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 11:02 AM 0 comments

Monday, February 02, 2015

There's more innovation opportunity than you think

Just recently we were working with a client and our combined OVO/client team had created a number of really good ideas to develop as new products and services.  When we presented them to the senior executive sponsoring the activity, his response was mixed.  Some he liked, some he was uncertain about, and some targeted a market that is valuable but which also has a lot of embedded competitors.  His comment about innovation in that last space was basically to say there may not be a lot of room for innovation, perhaps the incumbents had the space locked up.  While I understood his concern, the comment was a bit deflating for the team.  Later, as the team debriefed the meeting, his concern came up.  My response was:  I'm sure many competitors and new entrants felt the same way about Blockbuster back in the days before NetFlix.  My point being that how we define an opportunity may lead us to ignore a valuable market opportunity, but changing how the market or segment is served may open what appears to be a closed or highly competitive market.

Because, after all, what did Redbox and NetFlix and eventually real time streaming of movies actually do?  In the end the consumer gets what they want, entertainment and content.  How they get it, the business model, channel and customer experience may have changed, but the ultimate service or product changed very little.  If we were to go back and think about disrupting Blockbuster when they had a shop on every corner, and a (relatively) deep selection of movies to choose from, we'd be crazy to enter and compete in the same way.  That wouldn't be innovation, but you see what I mean.  But by defining the market differently, by thinking about new channels, new experiences and solving problems that the customer had, even in the face of high competition from Blockbuster, NetFlix completely eliminated Blockbuster as a competitor, even thought Blockbuster had access to the same content and was trying to solve the same need.  The problem was that the customers ultimately cared less about obtaining the content from a corner store, and more about the breadth of offerings and convenience of returning movies through the mail.  Blockbuster built their franchise on a corner store model, and NetFlix innovated by pointing out that with a little foresight and planning you could see all the same content without ever going to the store, to choose movies or to return them.

Of course, you'll say to yourself, this is a classic reframing problem.  I should be in the "transportation" business, not the "wagon" business.  While this reframing exercise may seem a bit trite, it forces you to ask:  how should I compete to win those customers?  What does my competitor or the incumbent offer that the customer doesn't need?  What is in the currrent business model I could change or even remove?  The SIT and TRIZ folks will call this subtraction - what can I take away and have an equivalent or valuable product.  What can I change or add to the existing model that subverts it?  Removing the hassle of going to the store to acquire and worse return movies made it more convenient for consumers.

Everyone wants to find a "blue ocean" - a segment or space where there aren't any competitors.  What no one seems to realize is that even in the most competitive markets and segments there is plenty of innovation possibility, but to discover it we may need to reframe the problem or change the game.  Often the incumbents don't want to change - their models and channels are based on what they've built.  Innovators, entrepreneurs and newcomers aren't invested in the way things work, they are interested in introducing new perspectives or frameworks that subvert the dominant paradigm.  Sorry just had to work that in.  Too often managers and executives recoil from innovation in a highly competitive space, when perhaps it's exactly where they should spend their innovation efforts.  But because they compete for the same customers and deliver much of the same value proposition, they don't necessarily have to do so in the same business model, pricing, channels or customer experience models.  That's what we need them to see - we can innovate in these spaces, but only by reframing the problem, changing the business model or channels.  But when we win at doing that, we dissolve the incumbents competitive advantages at the same time. 
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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 7:47 AM 0 comments