Friday, November 11, 2005

Where is innovation happening?

Things are never quite what they appear to be, or what you might think they "ought" to be. For example, I thought that we'd find "innovation" happening in firms that are known for idea creation - specifically, advertising agencies, marcom firms, product design firms etc.

Well, we did - to a point. These firms are constantly generating new marketing slogans, advertisements, and product designs. Yet not one of them seems interested in processes or software to support innovation. In fact, the "creative" types in these organizations that we've worked with have indicated that they view it as "beneath" them to suggest that they'd want or use such tools and processes. The problem you encounter in some of these firms is the cultural aspect. These firms already consider themselves "innovative" - why would they need cultural or process change? What can an outsider tell us about innovation?

A good counter example has been the amazing reception we've received in industries where you'd never think that any innovation was occurring. In fact, in some of the most down and dirty, commodity businesses imaginable, innovation is taking off and those firms are clamoring for help with their culture, processes and systems. I guess it's a recognition that they know what they don't know, and are willing to ask for help.

One of the best examples to me that innovation is entering the mainstream consciousness is the fact that Ford is running a series of advertisements stressing its differentiation around innovation. When a Big Three car company gets on the innovation bandwagon, you can rest assured that innovation is entering mainstream thought. Now the question is - will they be an innovation company that merely talks about innovation without processes or tools, or will they, like many companies fighting for differentiation, change their culture, their tools and their processes to really implement innovation?

Real investments in innovation are being made in what may seem very unlikely places. I've seen more focus on innovation in industries that most folks would consider commodities, or even ones that might not remain long in western countries, since their labor and manufacturing costs are so high. The rationale most of these firms have for innovation is the need to 1) continue to find the best way to design, make and deploy their products and 2) find the next new product or service before their competitors do.

That's where innovation matters and that's where I want to be.
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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 8:33 AM

32 Comments:

Anonymous Jonathan Dampier said...

Douglas Rushkoff's upcoming business book, Get Back in the Box, comments on HOW innovation is happening. Even though your post speaks of where innovation is happening, I think Mr. Rushkoff's words are germane.

"...the people we used to call 'customers' are now in the lead, and should be welcomed into the process of innovation as equals...Those who are confident in their own core competency have nothing to fear from employees or customers with good ideas."

Amen, Mr, Rushkoff! I think it's common wisdom you can't innovate in a vacuum. However, it's not common thinking you can't innovate without customers' input. I like to put it this way: Innovation is a team sport and your customers are on your team. My company learned this lesson earlier this year when we began inviting our customers to contribute in our innovation process (development of our product road map and strategic conversations about future areas of growth opportunities).

However, not everyone in our company was supportive, much less enthusiastic, about this approach. These detractors said things such as "customers don't really know what they want" and "they don't understand the true complexity of what we do".

I think this last statement veils a fear of open source collaboration. If our customers find out what is in the black box they won't need to pay us to provide our hocus-pocus. As one who has worked as a marketing executive in both large and small companies, I have experienced this attitude among marketing types to be prevalent.

As marketers, we often feel it is our duty to keep the curtain closed around our particular brand of Oz's wizard. To make what is being done behind the scenes seem so utterly complicated that a prospect would never consider finding out how to do it themselves and come to the conclusion they must buy it from us.

The simple fact, though, is people buy what they understand. Nobody wants to feel inadequate or looked upon as the village idiot for asking "that" question. When we as humans more or less "get it", we're much more apt to ask questions about the finer details. Thus, as marketers we have created the beginnings of a conversation with our prospects. And what better goal to have as marketers?

My company also learned the conversation, when extended into an open discussion around our company's thoughts on future innovation, is extremely valuable to both company and customer. Instead of it causing the customer to think about performing our service themselves, it has quite the opposite effect...they are actually more loyal customers because they now have a personal stake in the game.

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However, not everyone in our company was supportive, much less enthusiastic, about this approach. These detractors said things such as "customers don't really know what they want" and "they don't understand the true complexity of what we do".

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The simple fact, though, is people buy what they understand. Nobody wants to feel inadequate or looked upon as the village idiot for asking "that" question. When we as humans more or less "get it", we're much more apt to ask questions about the finer details

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I think this last statement veils a fear of open source collaboration. If our customers find out what is in the black box they won't need to pay us to provide our hocus-pocus.

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Anonymous jadi artis said...

the people we used to call 'customers' are now in the lead, and should be welcomed into the process of innovation as equals...

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"they don't understand the true complexity of what we do".

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Anonymous kerja sama investasi said...

Even though your post speaks of where innovation is happening, I think Mr. Rushkoff's words are germane.

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when extended into an open discussion around our company's thoughts on future innovation,

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I like to put it this way: Innovation is a team sport and your customers are on your team.

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I think it's common wisdom you can't innovate in a vacuum. However, it's not common thinking you can't innovate without customers' input.

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we often feel it is our duty to keep the curtain closed around our particular brand of Oz's wizard.

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