Last week’s Thursday Thoughts raised many comments from readers: which has certainly made me think a lot more about innovation in the past week! Many thanks for those of you that engaged in the conversation!
My hypothesis that customers were the best source of innovation was challenged by quite a few!
- Kit thought that innovation stemmed from technology, newbies AND customers;
- Lucy thought it was all about execution;
- Jerry echoed Steve Job’s famous saying that “customers don’t know what they want until we’ve shown them”. (Apple again!);
- Joanna highlighted the fact that we can become swamped by the choices that we all face, so that we don’t know what we want;
- Brian made a great distinction between inventors and designers (very close to my heart);
- Ryan complained of Apple’s cables and pop-ups and vented his frustrations about spellcheckers and such; and
- James made a very insightful point “Customers are certainly a good source of innovation, but I read somewhere one of the gurus suggesting the people who weren’t yet customers, or weren’t customers anymore were even better. A bit more difficult to access, but an interesting thought.”
Given that the subject (combined with my rather over-simplistic conclusions) created so many comments, I thought I would carry on with the same theme – though this week look at the process of innovation in great companies.
In my research, I came across a very interesting book: “Winning at Innovation: The A-F Model” by Fernando Trías de Bes and the famous Philip Kotler published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2015.
There were a few very useful Ideas I have gleaned from the book. Firstly, on page 16, the authors state that: “the phases or stages of an innovation process cannot be pre-determined, but must emerge as a result of the interaction of a set of functions or roles performed by certain individuals.”
This resonated with a thought I had last Sunday that the true source of innovation was probably not the customer, but more likely a passionate, problem-solver driven to do something new. Like Steve Jobs – a catalyst that wants to put a “ding in the Universe”. Somehow this made me feel a lot better, because it meant that this “innovation activist” could really make a difference by simply believing that they could!
The book “Winning at Innovation” called this first role (in their A-F model) an “Activator”. Perhaps Activator is a better word than an activist. Less revolutionary and more chemical. The six roles that they define are:
- Activators – these are people who will initiate the innovative process without worrying about stages or phases.
- Browsers – these are the experts searching for information.
- Creators – The people who produce ideas for the rest of the group. Their function is to ideate.
- Developers – People specialised in turning ideas into products.
- Executors – The people who take care of everything to do with implementation.
- Facilitators – Those who approve the new spending items and investment needed as the (team-defined) innovation process moves forwards.
The book gives a chapter to each role. Rather like a Jazz band, the magic only happens when the players perform their parts with each other by getting “in the groove”.
How far away this model is from the classic “Stage Gate” process! So many large companies try to institutionalise innovation by forcing new ideas through a series of gates, each gate blocking innovation and creating an economy of scarcity and innovation prevention agents. Some might say it is a game and chant “gamification”, but that is not my experience.
Innovation is everybody’s job – and everybody’s right! By defining roles and allowing the players (within a scope / budget / set of objectives) to define their own process (or set the rhythm to their own music), innovation flows naturally. No need for costly gates and financial cook-books.
One wonders whether the corporate and public sector dinosaurs of the 20th Century will be able to adapt to such models in the next 10 years. I predict that they will really struggle and find it difficult to beat the innovation pioneers who take knock-down the stage gates, put themselves on stage and leave Gates to his philanthropic endeavours!
I call this idea “Presence over Process”. Think about it. It really helps if you are struggling to navigate any corporate or government process.
Long live the spirit of Jobs and all other innovation activators!
That also gives a clue to next week’s piece. But it probably isn’t the Jobs you think it is!