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


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