Monday, May 21, 2012

Velocity, speed and innovation

I'm just returned from a long trip to the UK and South Africa, leading workshops in London and in Johannesburg on innovation topics.  Flying for 12 hours at a stretch can give you a lot of time to think, in between in-flight meals, movies and other on-board entertainment.

The more I thought about the current state of innovation, the more I realized that many of us have it all wrong.  We at OVO often talk about innovation as an enabler to strategy, not a strategy itself.  But I think there's something much deeper going on than that.  First, we know that many executives WANT more innovation.  But they don't want innovation for its own sake.  They want innovation that drives more revenue growth, more differentiation and more creation of compelling products and services than what would otherwise happen.  This means that innovation must create solutions with more return than existing methods, with only incrementally greater risk.

Executives want to be Innovative, they don't want Innovation
In the final analysis, CEOs and senior executives don't want INNOVATION, they want the benefits and outcomes of well-pursued innovation activities, namely, growth, differentiation, market penetration, disruption of adjacent markets and so forth.  If there are easier ways to achieve these outcomes, CEOs and organizations will gladly pursue the alternatives, and forgo the risks that surround innovation. What risks?  Because of the investments in management tools, techniques and training to improve efficiency and effectiveness, many businesses have very efficient but very brittle and fragile operating models.  Innovation introduces risk, uncertainty and change into organizations and business models honed to avoid these issue.  Further, most work teams have been right-sized and down-sized to the point where incremental work is almost impossible to engage.  No, what executives want is not innovation per se, but they would like to be viewed as INNOVATIVE and enjoy the benefits of meaningful, valuable new products and services.

Why Velocity is more important than Speed
Perhaps what I've come to realize is that what most organizations need more than anything is VELOCITY.  Let me explain what I mean by Velocity.  My daughter's physics class was working on the definition of motion and speed.  Speed measures how fast an object is moving, so many feet or miles divided by the amount of time it takes to complete the distance.  Physics and calculus distinguish SPEED from VELOCITY, by taking the stance that VELOCITY is Speed in a specific direction.  Physicists and scientists would say that VELOCITY is a Scalar concept.

When we think about most businesses, VELOCITY is exactly what they need.  They need speed to compete with a host of changes occurring in their markets, from increased competition to lowered trade barriers to a rapid increase in the abilities of individuals and firms in developing countries and markets.  However, speed isn't all that valuable if it's in the wrong direction.  VELOCITY is speed in a specific direction, and that's what many organizations need.  They need to be faster, more effective, more innovative, and end up in a place that was intentional. 

VELOCITY connotes the idea that the firm is going somewhere that matters.  How a firm knows where to go is dependent to some extent on corporate strategy and how well that strategy is communicated.  Further, how it knows where to go is dependent on the firm's ability to assess market trends, develop scenarios and understand customer needs.  These final factors are innovation tools, which help describe a range of possible futures and help decipher which ones are relevant and important.

Speed kills, Velocity Wins
Over the next few days I will write about speed, velocity and their relationship to innovation.  Because increasingly innovation is just a method to help a firm increase its speed in a particular direction.  Speed will become the new competitive weapon in a highly competitive market, but speed in and of itself is useless without intentional direction and guidance.  We'll look at why speed is ever more important, and how good innovation contributes to speed and velocity.

Another way to think of this is that innovation is a feature, and speed or velocity are the potential benefits.  I'm increasingly convinced that velocity in a business sense - getting to the right markets and opportunities faster than others, and doing so intentionally - is the capability that will distinguish winners from losers in the coming years. 
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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 11:15 AM

2 Comments:

Blogger Micah Yost said...

Great read and I completely agree. I've written and studied the concept of momentum in a similar applicaton. I enjoyed this post. Thanks.

Micah

6:13 PM  
Blogger Brian Romansky said...

I think that speed is the result of having a really good process that enables you to make decisions and continue progress in a consistent direction. So fast results are an outcome, not an input to a good innovation process. I would add to your "velocity" metaphor that a single vector can be the aggregate sum of multiple individual vectors. An effective innovation process will create many simultaneous velocity vectors. Only when they are roughly aligned in the same direction can they create a net speed which is higher than any one individual process.

3:04 PM  

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