Friday, December 14, 2018

The Six Million Dollar innovation fallacy

A few days ago I wrote a blog post about the relevance of the Six Million Dollar man to innovation, noting that the show was based around rebuilding Steve Austin, making him better, stronger and faster.  Many corporate innovation organizations need the Six Million Dollar man treatment.  Every firm needs to be innovating more effectively, faster, with better outcomes and increasingly with more partners.

Today I'd like to talk about the other side of the Six Million Dollar man innovation.  As a kid I was entranced by the fact that a regular guy could have his arm replaced with a bionic arm that allowed him to lift exceptionally heavy objects, until an older friend of mine pointed out that the arm might be able to lift heavy objects, but it was attached to a flesh and blood human, who was still subject to the weaknesses and frailties of being human.  This has a lot to say about corporations becoming more innovative - you can't simply bolt on an innovative process to a conservative "body" and expect the two to work together seamlessly.

Setting the context

If the first two paragraphs have you wondering, let's recap.  The Six Million Dollar man was a TV show in the 1970s about an astronaut who suffers a horrific accident, and parts of his body - an arm, two legs and an eye - are made "bionic".  The replacement limbs he receives are more powerful and more capable than the flesh and blood variety.  Steve Austin, the character in the show, goes on to do important work for the US government because he is an augmented human and capable of doing important work that a normal human might not be able to do.

There are some big gaps in the physics of the show, however.  A human simply cannot lift an exceptionally heavy weight just because their arm is bionic.  For many of the feats Austin undertakes, in reality the arm would separate from the body.  They never really dealt with these issues on the show, but in real life we have this challenge - can you bolt on a really powerful limb to a less powerful organism and expect them to work effectively?

How this relates to innovation

The big question then, from an innovation point of view, is can you bolt on a really interesting, powerful innovation capability to an organization that remains complacent and conservative, focused on efficiency and meeting the next quarter's numbers?  Does this powerful innovation capability, like Steve Austin's arm, attempt to do things that the corporate body simply isn't capable of doing or even understanding?  And when the innovation capability takes on more interesting and risky propositions than the rest of the company can bear, what happens?

Depending on the linkages between the innovation capacity and the rest of the organization, a couple of outcomes are possible:
  • If the innovation capacity is loosely linked to the rest of the organization, the risky ideas are likely to be considered as wildly outside the scope of reality, and ignored or rejected.  No fatal dismemberment takes place but the innovation capacity faces a slow atrophy as its ideas are ignored.
  • If the innovation capacity is tightly integrated to the rest of the organization, and the organization isn't attuned or aligned to new innovation activities and outcomes, chaos or disruption will ensue.  As the innovation team creates really disruptive ideas that the conservative operational team is called on to implement, the operational processes and people will either seek to simplify the idea, to fit into their traditional ways of thinking or working, or will try to force radically different ideas into a process not meant for them.
What this ultimately means

What this analysis suggests is that unlike Steve Austin, who is part human and part bionic, organizations need to be fully innovative or fully conservative.  Trying to be a "bit" innovative as a business is a lot like Steve's arm:  as long as the bionic arm is acting like a regular flesh and blood arm, doing the things that a normal arm would do, there's no problem.  Once the bionic arm tries to do things it is capable of, but the body isn't capable of, dramatic failures will increase.

Thus, it is risky to attempt to bolt on a powerful innovation process to an unwilling, conservative and efficiency-oriented business.  You'll need to encourage the business to become more innovative - more "bionic" if you'd like to think that way, or train the innovation capacity to work at the level, rate and risk tolerance of the rest of the organization - and what's the point in that?

This analysis leads to another insight:  you can either accelerate and improve your internal innovation capabilities across the organization, in all groups, functions or geographies, or you might want to consider simply acquiring horizon 2 and 3 innovations. Increasing innovation in large corporations may become less about building or bolting on powerful competencies and more about incubating great ideas in small companies and acquiring exciting new ideas as tested products and services.

Can you acquire innovation?

There are opportunities and risks involved even in new idea acquisition, however.  Compelling new ideas and products may have different business models or reach customers through different channels than your existing products do, forcing your team to broaden its reach substantially or make choices between new, exciting but disruptive products or the tried and true products that align to existing capabilities. 

In the end you are left with the conclusion that whether you plan to create your own disruptive ideas through a bionic capability or you plan to acquire new products and services, you must rethink your internal organization, operating models and culture.  Just as Steve Austin and his bionic capabilities required people to think differently about augmented humans, real innovators, whether they build or buy compelling new ideas, must rethink their strategies, operations and capabilities.
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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 6:59 AM 0 comments

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Six million dollar innovation

Since I write about innovation regularly, I often receive questions about "the future" of innovation.  Who really knows anything about the future of innovation, when many of us don't fully comprehend all of the tools and activities for innovation that are available to us now.

My standard response is in the title of the post.  In the future, we'll do innovation work much more quickly than we do today, we'll be smarter about our approach and increasingly we'll never do it alone.  But it's especially appropriate given the return of the Six Million Dollar man that we can talk about making things:
  • Better
  • Faster
  • Stronger
The return of the Six Million Dollar Man

For those of you who came of age in the 1970s, few television shows had more impact on your imagination than the Six Million Dollar man.  After all, that was a time when astronauts still had glamour, when the concept of a half-human, half-cyborg was fantasy and the Terminator was well off in the future.  For those not raised on the Six Million Dollar man, he has returned as an action figure in Christmas oriented Honda commercials.  Which says something about Honda and its marketing targets, but I digress.

Steve Austin, the Six Million Dollar man, was in a horrific test flight accident, and government scientists rebuilt him with bionic legs and a bionic arm and eye, which made him far more powerful than other normal humans.  Even the amount - Six Million Dollars - seemed astronomical at the time.  However, in Steve's story - rebuilding a broken human, making him better, faster and stronger - is a story that is powerful for today's business executives and their challenge to improve innovation.

Today, we need to make our innovation efforts, our entire businesses, more effective at innovation (better), more facile and speedier at innovation (faster) and more daring in their attempts.  We will also have to teach these organizations that they can't go it alone.


We'll do innovation faster than we do today because 1) we'll know more about innovation and how it works 2) we'll have more information about needs and emerging technologies and capabilities but 3) most importantly customer demands and emerging competitors will be coming for your customers and markets faster than ever.  I don't think any company will have a choice.  As markets, technologies and competitors accelerate, as customers increase their demands, you'll be faced with either speed up the innovation process and generate more new products and services at greater speed or you will be the dinosaur.  This isn't hyperbole.  This is a fact.  Slow and steady may have won the old races but that model won't win in the future.


As Artificial Intelligence, machine learning, big data, predictive analytics, IoT and a host of other technologies emerge, we'll capitalize on the data that is generated and managed by increasing our insights and beginning to spot trends as they emerge.  Even if our innovation processes don't improve - which one hopes they will - the preponderance of the data will help make decisions less risky, and thus make the innovation process more intelligent.

In addition, a newer cohort of employees who are less wedded to old corporate models and decision making and more attuned to technology adoption and social media, and the concept of an MVP, will be more likely to engage innovation at a more strategic level.

With partners

Every company, every innovation process is currently surrounded by an ecosystem of partners, customers, channels, competitors, funders and other institutions that are potential partners who can provide ideas, technologies, market access or insight, funding and other important ingredients to the success of a new product or service.  The days of going it alone are ending rapidly as organizations of all shapes and sizes are discovering that the ecosystem can help them get to market faster, with less risk.  Today, when you do innovation on your own you are a hero.  In the future, trying to do innovation on your own, ignoring the potential partners in your ecosystem will seem unthinkable.

Even Six Million Dollars rings a bell

So, we need to be better, faster, smarter and work with partners if we are to succeed in the future.  Steve Austin and the Six Million Dollar man were more prescient than people could know.  Even the figure, a huge figure by 1970s standards, now seems rather small to most corporations.  But I'm willing to bet that most firms don't spend even six million dollars a year on innovation  (taking the R&D budget out of the equation).  What would it look like if we rebuilt our innovation capacity and funded innovation at even a modest $6 million dollars?  Would we, too, have a bionic innovation capability?  Or like Austin Powers, raised after decades of sleep, would we demand $1 million dollars not realizing just how small a demand that is?

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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 5:04 AM 0 comments

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

The "whole product" is more relevant than ever

You simply must tip your hat to Geoffrey Moore and others who created the concept of the "whole product".  I've written about this concept several times, and I raise it again because the underlying ideas are about to become really important in innovation circles.  If you haven't read Crossing the Chasm or aren't quite familiar with what a "whole product" is, then it may make sense to go and read up.  When you are done, come back and let's continue the conversation about why whole products are about to become a lot more interesting.

Whole product (1.0)

When Moore and others conceived of the original "whole product", they were making a point about the differences between technology (which many inventors, entrepreneurs and early adopters find interesting) and "whole products" - adding features, capabilities, instruction manuals, user hot-lines and other features and services around a core technology to make the eventual solution more useful and valuable for people who aren't early adopters.  It turns out that most of the market prefers well-conceived and fully developed solutions rather than core technologies.  If that sounds surprising to you, you are probably a tech enthusiast or an entrepreneur in an emerging technology, and about to get a rude awakening when your technology doesn't sell as you expect it to.

Moore's point was that the vast majority of customers wanted more than the technology, they wanted additional capabilities that expand beyond the core generic product to an "expected" product and onward to a "whole product".  When the technology is finally wrapped in the additional features, services, offerings and data that make up a "whole product" then the vast majority of the market is willing to acquire.

Moore went on to say that features that were in the expected, whole or ideal product always migrate into the core product.  For example, seat belts.  Years ago seat belts were a feature, then become standard equipment, then became almost an afterthought as more and more safety devices were added.  Today, cars are designed with a vast array of safety devices that were almost unimaginable to manufacturers even 20-30 years ago.  Safety has become a component of the core product.

Whole Product (2.0)

The reason that whole product is becoming even more interesting is that the notion of product is expanding and many companies will soon be shifting to innovation "beyond the product".  The very nature of product offerings is changing rapidly, as Uber and other asset-less companies demonstrate.  As Software as a Service and other "as a service" models demonstrate, increasingly there isn't a "product" per se, but a number of services wrapped up as a product offering.  Thus, service innovation, business model innovation, channel innovation are becoming more important, and the definition of a "whole product" - what the vast majority of customers want to acquire - is rapidly expanding.  In fact the whole nomenclature may be wrong - it may be that we should be calling this the "whole solution" to move away from "product" nomenclature.  Somewhere in the offering there may be tangible products, but increasingly the services, business models, data, platforms and even ecosystems will be what draw customers to a solution.

Impacts on Innovation

This is, and will, have a huge impact on innovation.  First, product innovation is almost passe.  That's not to say we won't continue to innovate products - we will - but increasingly many innovations will happen "beyond the product" or to augment the tangible product. In fact I suspect much of the value of the innovation in the future will be in the augmented services, channels and business models.

Second, while many corporations and consultants are relatively good at incremental product innovation, there's far less experience around innovation outside of tangible products.  If you thought disruptive innovation around a tangible product was challenging, wait until you try to imagine the services, experiences and business models that must be provided to attract customers in the future. 

Third, the expansion of innovation beyond the product means that innovation change will be more dramatic, more sweeping.  Companies will need greater cross-functional participation in innovation because so many different components of their capabilities will be required, from channels to distribution to marketing to product management, and even finance.  This doesn't necessarily make innovation more difficult, just demands more strategic direction and more collaboration.

Fourth, this means that future innovation activity will need to be much more customer-centered, less technology centered and much more integrative.  As innovators we need to think about the second and third level needs and expectations of customers, well beyond the core product.  This will lead to thinking about how and where the product is acquired, used, supported, connected to the Internet or other data exchange systems, how the acquisition or use is funded and many other concepts that are either ignored or outsourced to third parties today.

What's your new "whole product" definition?  What do your customers need in order to acquire the newer intangible services you'll offer?  Do you have the skills to conceive, design and implement around the innovation beyond the product requirements?
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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 7:13 AM 0 comments

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Getting the right question is half the battle

I return once again to one of my favorite sayings, by Stephen Covey, who said (I'm paraphrasing): sharpen the saw before you start cutting the wood.  It's a really simple thought - do the right things to prepare before you start a big task, but we lose sight of what adequate preparation looks like in so many activities.  There are several reasons for this.

First, many corporate activities are second nature.  We know how to do them by heart, so preparation feels like wasted time.  Second, we are used to last minute requests for information that don't seem to allow time to think or prepare.  This way of working has become second nature.  Third, in a very time bound and time restricted world, preparation doesn't always feel like value added time.  It can easily feel like time that was lost.  Fourth, time spent in preparation calls into question the knowledge and capabilities of the individual or team.  Shouldn't they already know this stuff?  Thus it is that so many non-standard corporate activities and projects end up with poor preparation, later lamenting the fact that if only they'd taken more time to prepare, they would have done a much better job.

Everything I've written to this point is true about just about any corporate task that isn't a regular, regularly repeated task, but it is especially true about innovation.  And while we could spend the next few minutes exploring the concept of learning about innovation tools and methods, or spending time doing deep exploratory research or discovery, I'm going to spend my time today on one of the most important preparatory activities - getting to the right question.

The Right Question

The reality is that once a framework or goal is established, everything you do is restricted or enabled by that question or framework.  I was participating in a strategic planning session recently when I witnessed first hand how much a poorly thought out question can derail a good working session.

Something as simple as how a question was worded left the team perplexed and confused.  Was the purpose to explore how to generate more revenue, or more profit?  Was the purpose to create really differentiated products, or should the team explore alternative solutions - business models, experiences and channels?  Since the question was not thought out in advance and did not align to the work that was being done, it caused more confusion than it created clarity.

The concept of a really well defined question is so important that Warren Berger wrote a book about it.  He calls this book A More Beautiful Question.  Getting the correct context, purpose and intent in a question or framing provides direction for any team, but especially for an innovation team.  If you need more proof about the importance of getting the framing right, go back to Einstein.

Einstein was asked:  if you had an hour to solve a difficult problem, how would you spend that hour?  Einstein replied:  I'd spend the first 55 minutes thinking about the problem and the last five minutes generating a solution (again paraphrasing). 

Generally Applicable Everywhere

Unlike a lot of other tools and methods, stopping to get the question right is an approach that is useful and applicable to almost any business activity that is new or unusual, whether the topic is growth, innovation, a significant course correction or something else.  Yet this is another capability that we simply do not teach, do not practice and do not appreciate.

For innovators, getting the question right helps shape the activity, the anticipated impact and the potential range of outcomes.  For example, if I phrase my need or question as:  How might we create new types of food that require less water, I'm likely to generate ideas about plants that need less water to grow.  If I phrase my question as:  How might we reduce water usage throughout the food value chain, I may receive ideas about more drought tolerant plants, but also methods to reduce water usage in food cleaning and in food production.

A simple primer

You've probably noticed a few things about these questions.  First, I started them with a "How might we".  How might we is an aspirational opening, seeking to find viable alternatives.  Use this instead of "Can we", which suggest we might not be able to find such alternatives.  How might we is also inclusive, seeking ideas from everyone (the "we") in the phrase.

Further, these questions follow a pattern.  The "how might we" is almost always followed by a directional verb (increase, decrease, etc) and in many cases with a measurement.  So I could have asked How might we decrease water usage by 20%...  That measurement signals how disruptive the ideas must be.  5% reduction may be easily achieved (incremental) but 20% may be a major shift and require radically new and different ideas.

Another portion of the question may describe a location, place or process.  This further refines the question to make it more specific.  In my first question I did not address where in the food cycle to remove water usage, so the most likely outcome is to remove water that irrigates crops.  In the second question I was more specific - in the food value chain - I open up ideas from any place water is used, whether that is in irrigation, washing the crops, processing, shipping, freezing or preserving and so on.

A pause that inspires and accelerates

There was an old marketing slogan about soft drinks when I was growing up - Coca-Cola marketed its soft drinks as a "pause that refreshes".  In the same way I'd like to introduce the idea that creating a valuable, meaningful question is a pause - it does take a little bit of time - that can inspire and accelerate you and your team to the best possible ideas.

There are some really basic skills that you can teach people in your organization, that will help them in their strategic and innovation tasks immensely.  Creating a good question that adequately frames what they hope to accomplish and communicate that effectively to others may take a few moments, but it will empower the team to move more effectively, create better outcomes and save time down the road.
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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 5:23 AM 0 comments

Monday, November 19, 2018

The End of the Beginning, for innovation

It's a sign of maturity and experience to be able to determine just where you are in a journey, and I think the time has come to put some stakes in the ground about just exactly where we all are in regards to our innovation journeys.  While some companies have made tremendous strides, becoming much more innovative than their peers, the real truth is that most corporations are still at the very beginning of their innovation work, and as I've written in other places the emerging new management fads around digital transformation combined with the fact that innovation often hasn't lived up to its promises means that our innovation journeys may end before they really got started.

Because while it seems many companies have been on an innovation journey for quite some time, the honest reality is that they haven't moved very far.  There's been a significant amount of sound and fury, signifying not so much, to paraphrase a much more ancient bard.  The reality is that right now, after almost 20 years of innovation as a corporate phenomenon, most companies are closer to the end of the beginning of innovation, rather than the beginning of the end.

We're going to innovate like its 1997

You may wonder why I date the beginning of innovation as a management phenomenon to 1997.  Two significant things happened that year that in my mind gave credence to innovation as a management philosophy in corporate settings.  First, Steve Jobs returned to Apple after years in the wilderness, and second, Clayton Christensen published the Innovator's Dilemma.  Two notable thought leaders emphasizing innovation in two very different but influential spaces - Silicon Valley and the Harvard Business School.  For geological purposes I date the beginning of the corporate innovation phenomenon to 1997.

Since then Apple has moved from near bankruptcy to insane profits, and has shifted from a real innovator in experience, channels and business models to an innovation laggard currently.  Clayton Christensen went on to found Innosight, which was recently acquired by Huron, an IT and consulting firm focused on healthcare.  Both of these avatars seem to have flared up and cooled down, much like innovation over the last 20 years.

They are to some extent representative of the phenomenon that is corporate innovation. Time was that innovation was the key mantra for executive.  The word innovation showed up in public pronouncements and annual reports.  Innovation became a buzzword for basically anything new and different.  Over time we've managed to codify some basic syntax and taxonomy for innovation, but it still remains a highly fragmented, diverse industry with solutions ranging from design innovation to "open" innovation to crowdsourcing and the latest twist:  digital innovation, I suppose combining digital transformation and innovation.

Like Sisyphus we persist

But like Sisyphus no matter how much energy goes into innovation we still seem to end up far too often at the same place, with the same result.  For innovation the rock represents the work we do and the hill represents real innovation outcomes.  Too many innovators push the innovation rock through uncompromising cultures, with too little resource and too little buy-in, obstructed by the importance of day to day operations and near term profitability.  

Thus there's a lot of energy and motion involved in corporate innovation, but not nearly enough outcomes, and other concepts or ideas will start attracting more management attention as innovation doesn't provide enough return.  The emergence of digital transformation will simply make innovation more difficult in the next few years, and many "hangers on" in the innovation space will jump to digital transformation solutions, which will be easier to implement, but in the end these solutions won't recognize significant returns because they'll be used to improve efficiency.

The end of the beginning

Many corporations need to make a choice - to decide to fully commit time, resources and energy to innovation and stop asking their innovators to become Sisyphus, or to decide to focus elsewhere and acquire innovation as it emerges.  There is no real alternative to these solutions.  Customers and investors are beginning to see through what has been politely called "innovation theater". 

When Churchill declared the end of the beginning the Battle of Britain was just ending.  He wasn't promising an easy road - in fact he and others knew that many years of warfare remained.  He was taking an honest look at the state of affairs and what would happen next, and sharing that with the English population, to ready them for what was coming next.  In the same way we should take an honest look at corporate innovation and ask ourselves, after all this time, where are we?  What are the appropriate milestones and standards?  What comes next?

Now, at the end of the beginning, we innovators have choices.  There is now enough education and experienced innovators that we can create real change.  There are enough codified tools and processes to do innovation well.  What we need are executives and companies willing to fully commit to innovation - to discover needs and emerging opportunities, to reach for transformative and disruptive ideas, to invest in new capabilities that may shift customer demand and even cannibalize existing products.  We've got the critical mass, finally, after almost two decades.  It would be a shame to shift management focus to digital transformation or other management concepts just at the point where we've finally reached the end of the beginning, but that's what I fear could happen.

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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 7:13 AM 0 comments

Wednesday, November 07, 2018

Breaking the patterns for innovation

As far as one-hit wonders go, there are few bands that I listened to more than a band called the Godfathers back in the 80s and early 90s.  They had a song that was meant to encapsulate our lived experience.  The title?  Birth, school, work, death.  This is the pattern that we all live.  More importantly, each of us has a fairly regular pattern for our work lives:  get up, go to work, go to meetings, work on some deliverables, drive home, eat dinner.  Rinse and repeat.  These patterns are comfortable and familiar.  More importantly, these patterns - how we work, what we do, decisions we make, risks we take - become ingrained and begin to govern how we think, how we work and even the types of ideas that we contemplate.

The more comfortable we become with our patterns of life - breakfast, commute, work, lunch, work, commute, dinner, TV, bed - the more we cling to familiarity and stability.  I think that these patterns and familiarity also create real issues for creativity and innovation.  When we consider how important it is to create viable new products and services, and how quickly markets are shifting and customer demands are growing, we either need new patterns or we need to break the patterns we have.

Are patterns wrong?

First, let me say that patterns by themselves aren't "wrong".  Many very creative people are very proscribed by their patterns.  Many famous artists were very particular about where and when they would paint.  Many writers have a practice of getting up very early and spending hours at a typewriter or a word processor before lunch, day after day.  In many cases these patterns are about constant focus and productivity more than creativity however.  Patterns of work aren't necessarily wrong, until they influence patterns of thinking and creativity, and create resistance to new information, shifts in the market or the unwillingness to observe and predict new technological trends.

Patterns create familiarity and repeatability which in turn creates greater efficiency.  Again, nothing wrong with repeatability and efficiency until it's time to create something new and different, which may introduce variability, risk and inefficiency.  It's at this point that patterns may stymie good thinking or narrow the scope of inquiry.

Breaking the pattern

Leaving a trusted pattern or process can be difficult, but to innovate you almost always will need to break a pattern.  As long as you attempt to innovate and preserve an existing pattern - either a physical pattern or a decision making pattern - you are very likely to shape your ideas to fit your trusted pattern rather than change your pattern to fit your new ideas.

It is with this in mind that good innovators will need to insist on at least leaving the existing pattern in order to innovate.  I've witnesses countless numbers of teams trying to create more interesting and innovative ideas who were frustrated by the subtle pressures their existing physical and psychological patterns forced on them.

To break these patterns we often ask people to meet in a different location - away from their office, in a place that doesn't feel like work.  We may set the stage for them by removing anticipated constraints - telling them that during the activity they have the funding and resources they need - or can access these - to achieve their ideas.  We try to immerse people in new thinking and patterns by exploring future scenarios, showing them that other patterns or possibilities exist and asking them to live in that very uncomfortable place between a new pattern and an old one.

Creating a new pattern

 Good innovators and especially entrepreneurs are really good at recognizing existing patterns and spotting the weaknesses in the existing pattern and creating a vision of the new pattern.  They realize that people crave patterns, so innovations that don't port people from an old pattern to a new pattern will likely be short-lived.  In some instances they build new solutions that look a lot like the old pattern (Tesla and Airbnb come to mind).  These innovations are primarily based on the old models and patterns but with a new, compelling value proposition. 

Even what we might consider really radical innovations either build or adopt concepts from the previous pattern or they are well-conceived and relatively complete and holistic new patterns.  Geoffrey Moore explored this idea in his book Crossing the Chasm, where he referred to "whole products" in the way I am referring to patterns.  The difference between these is most innovation when he was writing 20-30 years ago resulted in mostly physical products, whereas most innovation today will eventually end up as services, channels, business models and data.

These intangible outcomes make forming new patterns more difficult, but not impossible for emerging generations who are more comfortable with digital solutions rather than physical solutions.  But don't kid yourself - while the nature of the solution may shift from more tangible to more intangible, the expectation of patterns will still exist.

What does this mean for innovators?

There are several takeaways if this assessment is true.  First, good innovators must both understand and respect existing patterns but understand their flaws and limitations.

Second, innovators must understand how to create solutions that safely port people from their existing expectations and patterns to new solutions that either build on some of the existing patterns or have a fully realized new pattern that is easy to adopt.

Third, to do this, innovators must be willing to step out of their own patterns - to become uncomfortable and examine patterns and needs from a objective perspective.  They cannot objectively rework or remodel patterns from within the existing process or pattern.

This last point means that - as we've known for quite a while - that good innovators will likely be either boundary-spanners, people who can easily move from following existing patterns to environments where few patterns existing, or they will be people who are constantly dissatisfied with the existing patterns, always seeking a new pattern.  These latter people are often branded as 'complainers' in many organizations.  The true boundary spanners are relatively rare.

Fourth, you may need patterns or processes to help you break your existing patterns.  This may seem a bit unusual but just as we cannot leave customers in an uncertain place without patterns, innovators may simply need new methods and tools once they step out of their existing patterns.  Trying to work in a new space with no patterns, tools or processes will lead to frustration.  This is why I've spent much of my career working on front end tools and methods.  Existing patterns and tools will not create interesting new ideas, but the reverse - trying to work without patterns or tools in an uncomfortable, unfamiliar environment - is simply a recipe for failure.

So, who are your pattern breakers?  Who among your team can exist outside of the existing patterns, and who among you can introduce new ways of thinking and new tools and methods to help solve problems in the "in between" spaces between your old patterns and the new patterns you are dreaming up?  Which member of your team has the vision to create a new pattern that can provide comfort to customers as they move from an old pattern to the new pattern?  Who ensures the new pattern is complete?  If you can answer these questions, you have a team for future investigation and discovery, no matter how unlikely they may seem on the surface.

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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 6:09 AM 0 comments

Friday, October 12, 2018

How much innovation energy does your bureaucracy have left?

One factor I've been considering for some time has to do with the power of a corporate bureaucracy to create or block change.  On one hand, bureaucracies are good, in that they codify practices, principles and processes and allow people to get more done quickly as a unit than they might get done alone.  Bureaucracies were created to allow people to scale concepts, inventions, products and ideas.

However, any bureaucracy comes with a certain amount of baggage.  That baggage is the inverse of the promise of the bureaucracy.  These issues are exhibited in cultures that are resistant to change, processes that become too rigid when agility is required, limits on decision making and risk taking.

In fact I think one could easily say that there are real strengths and real barriers to any bureaucracy, whether that bureaucracy is housed in a government agency - think the driver's license bureau - or a corporation.

Where this exploration of the strengths and challenges of bureaucracy becomes interesting is in the exploration of innovation.  Bureaucracy could, in some forms and fashions, improve and accelerate innovation if the bureaucracy was structured and organized to do innovation.  However, as most of us know, most bureaucracies are established to deliver the status quo in the most effective and efficient manner possible.  This means that most bureaucracies can perform some incremental innovation well, because incremental innovation is a small change to an existing product or process, which is already accepted within the bureaucracy and doesn't cause inordinate risk or change.

On the other hand, disruptive innovation by its very nature and name threatens a bureaucracy.  Disruptive innovation may break apart long-lasting processes, structures, business models and channels that the bureaucracy has spent decades building and perfecting.  This is when you will see a bureaucracy defend itself, something most do very well.

In fact I think we could establish an innovation capacity index based solely on one factor - how much effort a bureaucracy expends in merely defending the status quo.  One could consider that a bureaucracy, like any entity, must consume a certain amount of energy just to exist.  Even humans burn calories when we sleep, so a bureaucracy, a living, breathing organism, must expend some energy simply to sustain itself.

The real question is:  how much energy, of the total amount of energy available to the bureaucracy, does it spend mainly to defend its operations and existence?  The energy that is left over is the energy available to innovate or introduce change.

Think about the dichotomy of an entrepreneurial startup and a large corporation.  The startup has little structure, governance, culture to sustain - in fact it may be trying to build some.  This lack of structure can make common work more difficult, but for the most part it enables more exploration and more innovation.  On the other hand, corporations have a lot of process, structure, governance and culture, which by their nature focus and limit innovation.  The more effort given to sustaining structure and culture and the existing business model, the less energy left over for innovation, the less scope for exploration.

In short, we don't need innovation maturity models or other mechanisms to understand how much innovation capacity exists in a specific company.  All we really need to do is look at the existing bureaucracy and how much effort it expends to sustain itself, and how much energy is left over.  The more investment in the existing structure and culture, the more pride and arrogance in the culture, the more it is defended and protected, the less likely it is that innovation can occur.
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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 7:53 AM 0 comments