Tuesday, May 24, 2022

You need a red team, not a red pill

 In the Matrix, Morpheus offers Neo the choice of a blue pill or a red pill.  Take one, and you remain as you are.  Take the other, and the scales fall from your eyes.  Those of us who watched the movie or have seen it on ubiquitous reruns, know what happens next.

As an innovator, it would be awesome to pop into a completely different meta-world to understand the hidden workings of the metaverse I just left.  However, that isn't going to happen by taking a pill or wearing a VR headset.  The metaverses we create for ourselves merely build on what we already know - they don't show us the hidden hands and string pullers behind the scenes.  You don't need a pill, you need a team.

Red Team / Blue Team

The idea of a red team (attacker or hacker) versus the blue team (defender or good guy) has become a staple of cybersecurity, but it has an older history than that.  Red teams and blue teams originate from the military, where one team takes on the role of an attacker or proposes a strategy and another team seeks to disrupt or destroy the strategy.

What often happens in an innovation setting where new ideas are presented is that everyone not fully behind or read into a new idea becomes the red team, trying to discover reasons - valid and self-serving - that the idea won't succeed.  In other words, rather than a formal assessment of ideas, most organizations line up the idea to take fair and unfair shots at the idea and the team from every vantage point, making the idea almost impossible to defend.

Why you should consider a red team

Let's imagine, instead, that your innovation team, the people with the great new idea, are the blue team.  They've developed an idea based on a set of insights, voice of the customer work, great idea generation and a lot of testing.  The believe their idea solves an important problem or addresses an emerging opportunity that could create value for the company.  If they've done their job well, they should be able to define their scope, the need, the opportunity and the facts and assumptions they are basing their ideas on.

What should happen next, and rarely does, is the creation of a disinterested red team.  The red team should be presented with all the insights, facts, and assumptions that the innovation team used to develop their solutions.  Then the red team should look for missed signals, incorrect assumptions, optimistic interpretations and other mistakes or errors in the work.  But only using the defined scope, the research and insights, the same data and the list of assumptions from the blue team.

Where innovators go wrong

What a good red team investigation could do for innovation teams is to identify assumptions that are subject to a lot of variation, research that is a bit suspect or limited, unexpected competition or future shifts in customer needs or behavior that were ignored or overlooked.  When the red team operates with the same facts, but different interpretations of the insights, assumptions or understanding of future scenarios, it can create a range of likely outcomes that the blue team did not consider.

In some instances, the red team insights and discoveries will doom the blue team ideas, but not their work.  Instead, new ideas or opportunities will emerge.  In other instances, the red team will validate or even discover new opportunities the blue team missed.  

Running the gauntlet

A fair red team assessment not just of the ideas presented but of the information and scope that led to the ideas is what most ideas - especially transformative and disruptive ideas - really need.  Too often, ideas run a gauntlet of decision makers who have other priorities, leaders who have tight budgets, jealous co-workers who believe the ideas aren't really valid and corporate cultures which prefer safety over change.  Trying to fend off all of these individuals, teams and the corporate culture at large is a daunting task.  Yet doing a good job evaluating ideas and the markets and conditions they will be launched into is vital.

Today, most ideas run an unfair gauntlet of skeptical opponents lined up to knock ideas down rather than adequately test ideas and find issues or challenges.  These "evaluation" processes are often conducted by people who don't understand the original request, lack information on the process and who lack methods and processes for adequately reviewing the idea and discovering both weaknesses and strengths in the ideas.

A small investment creates enormous opportunity

According to a Harvard Business Review article from 2011, entitled Why most product launches fail, over 75% of consumer packaged goods products launched each year fail to achieve event a few million dollars in sales and are considered failures.  Think about the investment to create a new CPG product, develop it, manufacture it and place it into the fulfillment process, let alone find room for it on a retailer's shelf.  For 75% failure rate, you'd think someone would come up with an approach to cut these failure rates by 20-30% at a minimum.

The military uses red teams and blue teams to fight battles on paper, because the cost of a wrong decision in wartime means the loss of too many lives.  Cybersecurity experts use red teams and blue teams to determine how easy it is to steal data from a computer system, in order to better anticipate future attacks and improve defense.

Why can't we innovators borrow a great idea from these examples and dramatically improve the rate of success of new ideas?  After all, good artists borrow and great artists steal...

Implementing a red team review

If you'd like to know more about how to implement a red team review, contact me at innovateonpurpose@gmail.com.  We have used red teams to review, find missing information and to improve and harden ideas.  

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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 4:43 AM 0 comments

Friday, May 20, 2022

The best job to have in the near future - data strategist

 As you know if you follow my blog, I generally write about the intersection of strategy and innovation.  Increasingly, however, we need to invite data into this mix.  As more and more data is generated, it creates new opportunities in the strategy realm and in the innovation realm.  This post will consider the importance of data in strategy development and execution, as well as in innovation.

Past, Present and Future

In the past, data was an afterthought, if we are being honest.  Until the era of big systems like ERP and CRM, most data was recorded manually in ledgers.  Since it was compiled manually, data basically took up space in three ring binders in shelves around the office.  Data was occasionally consulted for reporting or historical evidence, but rarely drove decisions.  Data was really more of a hassle to manage than a benefit to the business.

When larger, integrated systems like ERP entered the business world, this unlocked data from the paper ledgers and placed it in computer systems which often had reporting solutions attached.  It is interesting to note that many of the ERP systems called (and some still call) these functions ledgers.  What these electronic ledgers and the associated databases and reporting applications created was the ability to capture and report data much more easily.  However, a lot of this data was stove piped - the manufacturing floor might have its view of the data, and the marketing team it's view of the data, but the organization lacked good integrated data to report on.

So, data warehouses were created to combine and pre-process data and make it more readily available to people who wanted to combine shop floor data and marketing data into a report or KPI.  That's great, but data warehouses are really only great with structured data, and just as data warehouses became really capable, unstructured data became more important.  I've seen statistics that indicate that 80% of the data companies ingest is unstructured data, which is harder to parse and interpret.  Also seen statistics that suggest that most companies have the ability to access, interpret and report on about 15-20% of the data they possess.  A lot of the data being captured and stored is virtually useless, because it cannot be interpreted or understood by current systems and people.

It's about here that people began to realize that, like the California mountains the 1840s, there was gold in there somewhere.  Data became, and is still becoming, a source of value rather than a problem to be solved.  Now, we need to learn to access data, unlock it, and have it tell it's story to all of us.

Water, Water everywhere

As we move into the future of data as a source of value, we'll need to understand a few things:

 - Where it is coming from

 - How we can best manage it

 - Most importantly, how to extract the value it contains

First, where is it coming from?  Honestly, everywhere.  The digital transformation that everyone was talking about before COVID is arriving.  The Internet of Things that seemed like such a futuristic opportunity is happening.  Billions of devices generating data, some of it interesting and useful, some of it not so much.  Consumers are generating data on social platforms, and if businesses are smart they'll find ways to get consumers to build relationships and exchange data with products and brands.    In the near future, robotics and automation will create data about processes and products.  Finally, and we are nearing this threshold, the data will start generating data about itself.

Second, how can we manage it?  Today, most firms are fortunate if they can adequately manage and interpret 15-20% of their data, and the data volumes and varieties are exploding.  Companies need to start with a data strategy, to understand what insights they need and which data streams can provide the supporting evidence.  What companies need to do is develop a data strategy that supports and enables the business strategy, then put the requisite systems in place to capture, manage and interpret that data.

Timing is also important.  Our traditional way of interpreting data is in hindsight - reports that tell us what we did yesterday, last week or last month and compare to previous periods.  This information is helpful but does not fully illuminate future activities.  Corporations need data about the present and indications about the future as well.  We have to analyze and interpret the data in real time, but also allow the data to predict what is going to happen next.

But what's most important is to extract the value the data contains.  We need to move from being content with reporting last week's sales, or even yesterday's revenue, and move toward what the data tells us might happen and use that insight to take proactive actions.  Some companies talk about being data-driven, I like to think about being led by the data to new opportunities, new markets and new needs.  Most companies are fortunate if they can report on old data, and the data scientists they are hiring are working to create real-time interpretation and some prediction capabilities.  This is where we need to be spending our IT dollars.

What's this got to do with strategy?

So, if you are still with me at this point, you may say - this is all interesting, but what's all this got to do with strategy?  This is an interesting question.  Companies in the past wrote a three or five year strategy and, if the company was lucky, communicated it out to the leadership.  Then the business went on its merry way, mostly adhering to the strategy.  These businesses often did not have data to indicate if the market was moving in a different direction than their strategy indicated.  If there were gaps between the strategy and reality in the market, this was usually discovered two or three quarters later.

Today, we need our strategies to be more dynamic, and based on what data about markets, economies, currencies and other internal and external factors are telling us now, and signalling about the future.  We need to write strategies informed by data, and create strategies that are course corrected by data, and that are regularly testing new hypotheses about the future direction of strategy.  In other words, we need to reject the old view that the world is static and data belongs in ledgers, and adopt the thinking that the world and the markets in it are exceptionally dynamic and data should be used to tell us what's new and what's next.  Companies and executives need to be led by data, not informed or "driven" by data.

What's this got to do with innovation?

Another good question.  What impact will all this data have on innovation?  In my opinion, it may radically change what we innovate and the products and services we create.  First, more data about customers and their needs will allow companies to make better decisions about the products and services they create.  Hopefully it will not mean they abandon Voice of the Customer activities and engaging with customers and prospects to learn their needs.  Data is valuable but we cannot be overly reliant on it in all circumstances.  Further, all this data and our emerging ability to manage it will lead to new products that the data suggest or new services or solutions that are purely informational.

Whereas the light bulb has been the classic symbol for innovation in the past, a symbol for data and how it is put into use and converted into revenue may be the emerging symbol for innovation in the future.  How we develop new products and services may shift from a mostly creative, manual and emergent process to a more automated, still creative but directed process - directed by insights and data.

If all of this is true...

So, if my analysis is true, the best job to have in the future will be a position that makes sense of all the data that is generated, finds the data that really matters and converts that data into information or knowledge that speeds the business up or helps position a business for opportunities as they emerge.  In other words, some form of data scientist or data strategist.  I distinguish these terms because in my experience many people who frame themselves as data scientists are too close to the data - they see trees and not the forest.  What we need are data strategists - people who see the data and understand its implications but have the ability to pull back and see the bigger picture.  People with these skills and capabilities will be able to dictate their salaries and will be in high demand in the coming years, because they will impact the strategy of a business and its product lines or service lines, as well as direct new product development.

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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 6:13 AM 0 comments

Thursday, May 12, 2022

Book Review: A new way to think by Roger Martin

 I'm lucky to have the opportunity to read and review a number of books in the innovation and strategy space, and I find many of the books have interesting insights or promote new ideas but often aren't overly actionable.  However, I've always found the insights of Roger Martin useful.

His book - Opposable Mind - is a great book about capturing and merging two disparate ideas or opinions to form new viewpoints, products or services.  New managers need the skills introduced in the Opposable Mind to learn to think more broadly and to combine what may seem disparate or opposing ideas.  It should be a book that all managers read.

A New Way to Think

But I'm here to review his latest book - A New Way to Think.  The book is positioned as a more holistic way to think about and build strategy.  Martin argues in many of the chapters that a number of our closely held beliefs about management are flawed.  He targets a number of key components and attributes in a business and helps illustrate how we should rethink our approach to concepts like culture, knowledge work, talent and more.  The question he asks is:  do your models and frameworks work, or are they limiting your thinking?  His assertion is that if an existing model or framework doesn't work, executives assume it wasn't fully or appropriately applied, and then they attempt to apply the same framework again, only with greater emphasis.  He notes that often, it's not the effort behind the model, but the model itself that is not effective.

Strategy - what's important is what will be true

For example, when writing about strategy, he remarks that "In strategy, what counts is what would have to be true - not what is true".  In other words, we often analyze strategy based on what the current market conditions are, who the current competitors are and so forth.  As a person who works a lot on trend spotting and scenario planning, I can't agree more.  When developing strategy, we forecast the company in the future and need to understand the operating conditions then - in other words deciding what must be true for success in the future, not what is currently true today.  Yet, most executives are very comfortable and well-read on existing conditions and competition and are much less comfortable with future conditions and competition, so the debate over strategy is about current conditions, which are less likely to impact the development and eventual roll out of a new strategy.

Knowledge Work - focus on projects, not jobs

Martin has another chapter on knowledge work, in which he points out that the vast majority of work today is knowledge work.  This of course is not new news, but the way he thinks about it is.  He points out that knowledge work is primarily project based - we create new knowledge and package or use new knowledge, almost always as a definitive project.  Therefore, we should organize around projects rather than functions or permanent jobs.  It's an interesting and valuable idea, if perhaps difficult to implement.

A compilation with great chapters

This book, as it is, is really a compilation of a number of HBR articles Martin has written over the years, and as such has some really great points and chapters, and some that in my mind miss the mark a bit.  The chapters on stakeholders, strategy and knowledge work are outstanding and have great insights and recommendations, while the chapter on innovation I found a bit unfocused and less valuable.

What the book does well is call into question a number of the management philosophies and theories that define how companies are structured, how they go to market and how and where they create value.  The ideas are very useful and coming out of the COVID pandemic and faced with new competition, unfamiliar market conditions (inflation) and other issues, it is probably time for a rethink of corporate strategy and structure.  I'd highly recommend the book and its insights and look forward to using it as a guide with my own clients.

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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 4:26 AM 0 comments

Wednesday, February 23, 2022

Bringing innovation in from the cold

 I've been thinking a lot about innovation and it's "place" in a corporate structure.  Innovation is often so different, so unique and so unfamiliar that many companies aren't quite sure where to place it.  Does it belong with product teams, since some innovation is logically focused on new products?  Does it belong in a strategy organization, since innovation is often focused on growth?  Does it belong in R&D, since R&D creates a lot of new technologies?  Or does it belong in its own organization?  Where does innovation actually belong?

Innovation is like a wise but cranky old uncle that many companies keep up in the attic, out of sight, until the need is so great that they bring that uncle front and center of some of their biggest problems.  Or, innovation is a practice or capability that exists on the periphery or the edge of the business, in many groups and forms, without a coherent overall strategy or plan.  Even companies that have robust innovation capabilities or organizations are careful to keep innovation in carefully defined lanes.

It's time to bring innovation in from the cold, to the center of the organization, and embed it in the fabric, culture and practice of your business.  Honestly, most companies have some flavor or aspect of innovation floating somewhere in the electron orbit of the company, circling the nucleus, sometimes swooping closer and sometimes well out in an elliptical orbit.  What is really needed is to bring innovation into the nucleus, embedding it in the very core of the business.  What Prahalad and Hamel would have described as a "core competency", or what Drucker would have noted as one of the two functions of a business:  marketing and innovation.

Why is this so urgent now?

Why should innovation, a difficult horse to ride, become one of the most important ponies in the stable, one of the most frequently ridden?  There are more reasons than I can possibly list here, and none of them will be new.  None of them alone makes the case for moving innovation to the core, but the preponderance of all of them make the case for innovation quite compelling.  To whit:

  • The increasing speed of change in every business
  • The rapid increase in investment in science and technology and subsequent rapid adoption
  • The rise of truly global operations and competition
  • The reach of the internet
  • Customers who are constantly learning, absorbing new products and services and unsatisfied with what they have

When conditions were stable and change was slow, and barriers to entry were higher, innovation was an occasional need to solve a momentary problem.  Soon, and very soon, innovation will become a necessity, a core competency, and not just creating new products.  The real ability will be to innovate new products, and services, and business models.

What does it mean to bring innovation into the core?

A good friend - Paul Hobcraft - and I were talking about this topic recently.  He asked what I meant by saying innovation needed to be a core competency, and what that would look like.  Except I'm sure he said it more eloquently.  My answer was:  consider any executive or senior manager in a business confronted with a business challenge.  Today, they will reach for trusted methods, tools and people that are based on how the business operates, and those tools will focus on efficiency and current operations.  What's needed, and what will signal that innovation has become more important, is when any of these people, confronted by a business challenge, is comfortable considering innovation methods and activities as equally valid and potentially useful, and knows how to implement either an efficiency action or an innovation action with equal skill.

Currently, a lot of companies have a lot of programs that provide some aspect of innovation.  This could be a brainstorming group, an incubator, a market research team that conducts ethnography, an open innovation scouting team, or other innovation activities or components.  All of these companies can claim to be doing innovation, yet none of these activities is core to the business, or a core capability.  All of them are occasional activities and on the periphery of the business.  There, like the cranky uncle in the attic, if we really need them in an emergency, but not part of day to day operations.

Why is innovation on the periphery?

Innovation is out in the cold, out in the hinterlands, beyond the pale, so to speak, because most executives don't learn innovation in school, didn't require innovation to advance in their progression to the top, and view innovation as dark magic that overpromises and under-delivers.  And, since innovation is often conducted by poorly trained people who have limited time and budgets, their sense of what peripheral innovation can deliver is usually accurate.  

There's little that is more frustrating to the corporate practitioner who sees the value that innovation could bring than working against a management team, a philosophy and a culture that distrusts innovation.  In many firms, there is simply too much aggregate resistance to new ideas, divergent thinking, taking risks, experimenting and exploring.  And what so many corporations fail to understand is that these are exactly the attributes of companies that will survive in the new competitive, global, fast moving economy.

OK, so what?

Now, you could ask:  is it innovation that makes me fast, agile, adaptable and creative, or do I become more innovative if my culture and operations adjust to become more fast, agile and insightful?  This is an interesting chicken and egg question but it misses the point.  Companies now, and in the near future, must be faster, more agile, better able to use data and insight, more creative and more innovative to simply survive. These attributes aren't "nice to haves"; they are table stakes. 

The sooner you recognize that having fourteen little innovation teams on the periphery of your business doesn't mean that your company is innovative, the better off you'll be. It's more important to work to create a core capability and competency focused on innovation from the center out, if at all possible.  Few changes of this magnitude happen from the periphery in.  To do this, you need an executive team that not only acknowledges the importance of innovation, but invests in it,  You need a senior team that reinforces an innovation option at every decision point, a leadership and management team comfortable with the tools and processes of innovation.  Very few companies have the management team I just described, so getting started on changing the thinking and skills of senior leaders, and changing the culture and philosophy of your company is vital.  Do it now.  Bring innovation in from the cold.

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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 1:48 PM 0 comments

Tuesday, February 01, 2022

The new pioneers

 Time was, a few hundred years ago, that a pioneer was a person who left the civilized areas and moved to new lands in search of a better opportunity or a new way of life.  When we in the States think of pioneers, we think of people like Daniel Boone, who led people into Western Virginia and then on into Kentucky to find new opportunities and new lands further west.

The reasons pioneers went west (in this case) were several.  First, the land near the coast was often very expensive and in some cases in the hands of aristocrats or wealthy families, passed down from generation to generation.  Even though the US was only a hundred years old, land and its value had the same connotations as it did in England.  Second, the coastal plan, and increasingly the Piedmont, was getting populated, and many pioneers wanted more space.  Third, by going further west, they could open up new lands and bring new settlers in, which would allow the pioneers to replicate some of the things that happened on the coastal plain.  The pioneers could be the landed aristocrats eventually.

The pioneers, however, as anyone who knows their history, were often violating the law (going beyond the Blue Ridge mountains) and encountering people who already considered the new lands their home and heritage.  The pioneers had to brave difficult mountains where there were no roads, and had to be relatively self-sufficient.  This meant they could plant their own crops, kill their own game, make and weave their own clothing and so on.

Thanks for the history lesson

The recap above is familiar to anyone who knows their history, or who watched Daniel Boone or Davy Crockett on television.  What's all this got to do with a blog that is nominally about innovation?

We are seeing a new opportunity for pioneers in the so-called metaverse, yet the pioneers entering and staking out claims in this new frontier are dramatically different from the pioneers of old.  We ought to stop and ask what's changed, and why it has changed.

New "pioneers"

There is a new "land" rush happening, and it is happening for perhaps the third time, in what is now called the meta-verse.  This isn't the first time that the phenomenon of virtual reality has raised its head.  I had the good fortune to work with a number of people almost a decade ago using virtual worlds like Second Life to solve problems in real time for corporate customers.  At that time, there were discussions about claiming a particular location in Second Life, or designing avatars or clothing, or earning money by designing virtual buildings or locations.

The concept of virtual reality has been with us for a while, and there have been several very good attempts to create a continuous virtual reality.  What makes this attempt a bit different?


This new virtual reality is sponsored by a completely different set of pioneers - what I'll call the oligarchs - that is, Facebook (Meta), and a number of other companies who are salivating at developing a virtual reality that moves platforms like entertainment and gaming into a 3 dimensional platform that until now really wasn't achievable.  In earlier virtual realities like Second Life, much of the interaction was still done on a computer screen, so while you were represented by an avatar, you were still watching from an observer's perspective.  With the advent of low cost virtual reality headsets, faster internet and new computing platforms, we can now feel relatively completely immersed.

The problem is that the people and companies who are staking out the claims are the same GAFA (Google Apple Facebook Amazon and so on) that control much of the traffic (and advertising, and content) that is on the web.  In reality, their likely goals are to recreate all the earning potential of the web in the metaverse, and lock down advertising channels and other mechanisms to make money.

Early pioneers (the ones in the coonskin caps) had visions of making money but also seeking new lands, new opportunities and bringing people to a new place.  There were definitely speculators - including our first president - but there seems to have been a deeper, personal investment and less crass mercantilism.  Now, it seems, the opposite is true.

Why does it matter?

This all matters because the metaverse as currently envisioned will rapidly converge to the "web 4.0" without any experimentation or divergence.  We'll lose an opportunity to explore what the metaverse could be, and attempt a collective development.  Whereas the States are independent "laboratories" of democracy and learning, where differences can occur, I think the metaverse is likely to end up controlled by a few powerful corporations who will dictate how it works, and we will all have missed an opportunity.

The new "pioneers" in the metaverse have resources far beyond what any early pioneer could imagine, and far more technical advantage and control.  There is no patriotism or sense of manifest destiny, just another way to put more advertisements in front of eyeballs.  If this is what we allow the emerging metaverse to become, we consumers and participants will lose, and Meta and others will win, leaving us a little less engaged, a little more saturated with ads, and having missed an opportunity to explore what could be a much richer and more fulfilling opportunity.

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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 6:01 AM 0 comments

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Practical Innovation throughout the business

 One of the big challenges to innovation is that many people think of it as a big program, like implementing the quality programs of the 1980s, or rethinking everything, like the re-engineering programs and right sizing programs of a more recent vintage.  Thus, innovation is often "too big" and too disruptive, because it is seen as a platform change, or is defined too narrowly to create real results.

I happen to be a fan of the big, platform basis innovation programs, where an organization sets out to build innovation capacity as a core competency.  And, yes, in this light there is a fair amount of investment and some change required.  Committing to becoming a far more innovative company requires training people on the tools and methods, introducing more risk and uncertainty in the business and experiencing occasional learning experiences that others might call failures.

Every day innovation

There are, however, plenty of opportunities to introduce innovative thinking and innovation tools in a wide variety of ways throughout the business without a full scale platform change.  Many innovation tools and ways of thinking are scalable to a specific need and are reasonably user friendly, and often generate a tremendous amount of value for a small investment.  Today, I want to talk about using innovation tools, creative thinking and other factors in a more humble setting - less organizational change and platform implementation and more getting better in small ways across the business.

Service Excellence

Let me start with the idea of service excellence.  Many organizations are trying to improve their service to customers, partners and internal stakeholders.  There are a number of ways of measuring the service delivered, including net promoter score (NPS), so we often know where we stand in regard to the service we deliver.  There are plenty of tools and methods to help define service and what service excellence might look like.  But innovation and design thinking have something to offer here.

First, there is the concept of the customer experience journey.  This is a powerful tool that helps internal teams understand the customer experience from finding a product to acquiring it to using it.  A true service experience should consider the end to end cycle I've just described, and ideally will describe it from the customers' point of view.  The customer experience journey maps the steps from learning about a solution to acquiring it, using the solution, requesting support and deciding to retain the service or abandon.  Within each of those steps, the team considers what the customers' expectations are and how well they are being met.  In really radical cases, the company goes and talks to customers to get real world feedback about the journey.  Using this insight, we can begin to understand where in the journey we are meeting or exceeding customer expectations, and where we are failing to meet expectations.

In my experience, this tool introduces eye opening insights, because most organizations focus on services for customers where the company believes it adds value, but often the internal thinking and belief don't match what customers want or expect.  Many times we'll find that there is an over-emphasis on some portions of the journey and a lack of emphasis on other phases or steps that the customer prioritizes.

Using the customer experience journey, a tool from the design thinking and innovation toolkit, you can radically improve customer service and service excellence.  You can do so in the guise of service excellence, without bringing in the labels and anticipated risk or overhead of "innovation".

Doing more with innovation tools and thinking

This is just one example of where you can apply design thinking and innovation tools and frameworks to improve a process or activity that does not seem at all related to innovation.  Most innovators know that we can create projects to focus on service or experience innovation, but that may be too much change or uncertainty for your management team.  Knowing that the tools work, regardless of the label we place on the activity, can make for better insights and better outcomes.

What customers want

I'll turn to looking at a critical need - understanding what customers want - as another example.  In a large innovation project, we might consider the Jobs to be Done (JTBD) method, or Voice of the Customer, or Ethnography as a way to gather and assess needs.  I think these tools work exceptionally well, but they are often grouped with other "innovation" tools and seem risky.  So many teams proceed with surveys or focus groups and miss a lot of what customers actually want.

This, again, is a problem of context and labels.  Tools like JTBD, VoC, ethnography or the strategy canvas from Blue Ocean Strategy are all very easy to use and produce excellent results, whether they are part of a full-fledged innovation project or simply used to gather more insight into customer needs.  

Using tools that make sense for the problem or opportunity

It's too bad that too many of the tools and frameworks of creative thinking, innovation and design thinking are corralled and labeled as innovation tools, because that groups them into a risky and uncertain category, which means fewer people learn them or understand how to use them.

These tools, and plenty of other innovation tools and methods, can create real value in spot activities not attached to a larger innovation program.  The more people learn these tools, and see their value, the more the tools and thinking models will be used and become familiar, and then innovation itself won't seem quite so daunting.

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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 1:31 PM 0 comments

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

Exploring the Executive Innovation Workmat with Video discussions

 Over the last few weeks, Paul Hobcraft and I have developed a series of short videos.  The purpose of these videos is to explore a tool that Paul and I created, which we call the Executive Innovation Workmat.  The Workmat is meant to help executives understand their role in innovation activities, and to identify the key attributes of a business that must be aligned and in synch for innovation to flourish.

You've perhaps read some of the material we developed originally about the Workmat.  You can see the Executive Innovation Workmat graphic just to the right.

Each of these sections represents a factor that needs to be understood and developed for innovation to thrive.  To build a really successful innovation capacity, all of these components must be fully developed and working together.


In the videos we've created, we explore why each factor is important to innovation.

Strategy - we discuss the relationship between corporate strategy and innovation.

Governance - we examine how to govern an innovation project, and why this work requires different governance models from other projects.

Function/Structure/Design - we examine the way innovation should "work" - design and processes - and why it is vital to focus on an innovation capacity.

Common Language/Communication - we look at the importance of having common definitions, common language and regularly communicating about innovation.

I think the videos allow us to explore each of these, and I think you'll find them helpful if you are starting to build an innovation capacity, or trying to improve your innovation activities or outcomes.

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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 7:56 AM 0 comments