Archive for the ‘ Innovation ’ Category

Innovation: It’s not about the toilet paper

iStock_000008662367SmallWe’ve lost our way. There’s really no other way to say it. Over the past few months, I’ve seen some disturbing trends in discussion groups, magazine articles, conferences and even in the day-to-day execution of Innovation programs that makes me seriously wonder if there’s some industry-wide April Fools joke going on that I wasn’t a part of.

This suspicion was driven home when I came across an innovation program whose big “success story” was that they managed to get the toilet paper dispensers loosened in all of the bathroom stalls across the building. Apparently, the prior building owners/occupants had tightened the rolls to make it harder to pull off long strips and thus saved the company a dollar or two over the fiscal year.

Don’t get me wrong. This was obviously an inconvenience to people and something that should have been fixed. But when an Innovation program becomes nothing more than a suggestion box, I contend that it’s not about Innovation anymore.

In 2010, I shared an “off the cuff” comment in my presentation at E2.0 that Innovation isn’t always about the big, disruptive changes. It can be little things that subtly change behaviour and drive big changes. An example that I provided was placing garbage receptacles directly outside of the bathroom doors. What we found was that people were more likely to use a paper towel when opening the door from the inside when they knew that they’d have somewhere to toss it out. This, combined with some simple awareness emails, encouraged people to wash their hands, unconsciously use their wet paper towel to wipe the door handles as they left the bathrooms and reduce that particular vector for disease.

So, why would I consider paper towels to be innovative, but not loosening toilet paper dispensers?

To answer that question, let’s go back to what an “innovation” is. I’ve written and spoken on this topic before, so I won’t rehash the whole discussion. If you’re interested, check out my 2010 article “Innovation: I know it when I see it” 

At the heart of the issue is whether or not an idea/suggestion/”good thing” is adopted by the masses and if it changes behaviour. In a business context, there is an additional requirement and that is “does it add value?”.

On the surface, our “paper towel” example isn’t particularly exciting or innovative. However, as we were directly responding to the 2009-2010 H1N1 pandemic and had a business objective to mitigate the spread of infection in our offices, this was an easy-to-implement and inexpensive change that had a significant impact on behaviour. It wasn’t about the paper towels, it was about shaping behaviour to address a business need. It just so happened that we were able to do that with a relatively minor change. The unfortunate side effect is that sometimes people only see the surface impact and miss that there’s a business objective being addressed.

When the innovation program fails to “connect the dots” between initiatives and business value (or behavioural changes that lead to business value), they become little more than custodians, patching cracks and never actually “innovating” anything.

Have you lost your way? Check to see how your current list of initiatives and “successes” stack up:

  • Does/did the idea support (even if indirectly) one or more of our strategic objectives?
  • Would/Did the implementation change behaviours? How?
  • Does the idea translate into business value?

Person under crumpled pile of papers with hand holding a help siIf the answer to any of these questions is “no”, it’s probably not Innovation. Installing a ping-pong table in the break room, arranging for on-site car washes or putting BBQ Corn Chips in the vending machine aren’t generally going to qualify as innovation. The exceptions might be if your marketing strategy involves employees forming an Olympic Table Tennis team, you’re selling cars or you’re test marketing the products that you produce in your own break rooms.

Unfortunately, many Innovation teams have become so focused on Ideation that they’ve forgotten that the purpose of collecting and developing ideas is to generate business value. As a result, they’ve become dumping grounds for every idea, suggestion, complaint or “brain fart” that any associate ever has. It’s fine if you want to share the pipeline between Innovation and your suggestion box. Just make sure that you channel the suggestions and complaints to where they belong. Don’t burn the reputation of your Innovation program dealing with things that have nothing to do with Innovating.

Unless you’re Kimberley-Clark or you’re installing ultrasonic bidets to reduce your carbon footprint, it’s not about the toilet paper.

Intangible Innovation

The “obvious” value of innovation is easy to see and communicate. The unique products, business models, customer services and other “tangible” innovations are usually enough to justify the existance of an Innovation program. But what about justifying an Innovation program when you don’t have an existing track record? When times are hard, budgets tight and groups are fighting for survival, fledgling Innovation teams and programs may be an easy target for “right sizing”.

So if your Innovation team isn’t delivering the next iPod, “name your own price auto insurance” or Nintendo Wii, what value are you providing? To answer this question, we need to take a step back and  look at a typical corporate culture. Read the rest of this entry »

Getting rid of those Pesky Innovators

Our special guest columnist today is C. Mudgeon III, CEO of Dumbleton & Dorfly. C. Mudgeon is an Alumnus of the Machiavelli School of Business at Screw U.

I think that we can all agree that Innovation is a tremendous waste of time. The money that we all waste on these initiatives could be much better spent on cappuccino service for the executive boardroom or cashmere toilet paper for the restrooms on the top floor. These upstart “Innovators” challenge our assumptions, threaten the status quo and upset the delicate political stagnation that we’ve worked so hard to cultivate over the decades.

So how do we shut these programs down without being tagged as an “Enemy of Innovation” (like that’s a bad thing?)

It’s actually not that difficult. I have a few sure-fire suggestions for undermining your innovation programs, destroying that pesky enthusiasm and still making it look like you’re supporting the program. Read the rest of this entry »

The Innovative iPad?

I’m in a bit of a moral dilemma. I’m not an Apple fanboi. I’ve outgrown my habit of buying tech for the sake of tech and I’ve been studiously staying just short of the bleeding edge for the past few years. The problem is that I’m really excited about the iPad and I desperately want one.

Let me back up a little bit before getting too deeply into this.

Last year, I finally succumbed to the iPhone. When it was released, I hated it. It was typical Apple. Slick, shiny, sexy and hideously proprietary. As much as I hated the cumbersome half-assed attempt at a mobile OS from Microsoft, I had gone down that path 10 years ago and I was riding it into the abyss. I had finally arrived at a decent compromise with a wonderful HTC device. It actually made Windows Mobile usable and allowed me to write code, customize interfaces, tweak the registry, poke around in memory, etc.

Then my world changed when my wife killed her phone. Read the rest of this entry »

Innovation: I know it when I see it…

It’s a sad indicator of the level of excitement in my life, but I have at least half a dozen conversations every month rehashing and debating the definition and nature of “innovation”. You’d be hard pressed to find someone who will say that they don’t know what innovation is, yet there’s an incredible amount of fuzziness and outright disagreement over the practical definition.  Whether it’s sustaining, disruptive, continuous, product, process, or paradigm, what really qualifies a change as an “Innovation” Read the rest of this entry »

Change is Hard

Change is hard.

Millions of years of evolution have taught us that opening that strange door is likely to put us face to face with a pack of hungry predators while only a short span of rational thought tells us that it’s far more likely to reveal the postman with a delivery from the Fruit of the Month club. It’s only our insatiable curiosity, ambition and often blind stupidity that keeps us opening doors with no idea of what lies on the other side. It’s no wonder that when you get a group of us together, we tend to beat that behavior out of those foolhardy lunatics that put the rest of us at risk.

Remember this the next time that you’re confronted with an innovative idea. If it weren’t for those foolhardy lunatics, we never would have come down out of the trees.

Sources of Innovation

Business Innovations – Where do they come from?

Do innovations come from consumers as a demand or generated from within the company?
Surely a both, but I want to hear your opinion.

How important is it to know if an innovation is push or pull?

Gianluigi Cuccureddu

Consultant ? Marketing Strategist ? Venture Advisor

Innovation can come from any source. So it’s important to be listening and positioned to act when an opportunity arises.

Most often, an innovation will come from someone not accepting the status quo and, instead, finding an alternative solution. So it also helps to encourage rather than discourage the typical “trouble makers” and try to funnel the energy and discontent into coming up with solutions or alternatives. Problem customers, employees and vendors are usually experiencing something that they perceive as an issue with you or your company. Open feedback can often lead to innovation. If anyone has ever said “that’s really dumb”, you have a performance improvement opportunity.

Mistakes and errors are another great source for innovation ideas. Even when it’s human error, there’s often an opportunity to improve a process or even find a radically new (and hopefully, better) way of doing things.

As for identifying push or pull innovations, the main benefit of identifying a pull is that you have an opportunity to capitalize on the fact that you listen and respond to your customers and/or partners. It’s a great PR opportunity and encourages additional feedback from outside. Pulls also tend to have a more direct impact on your sales, marketing and customer loyalty. Innovation from within has a greater impact on employee morale and internal efficiencies, but may never translate to any customer impact. So, I beleive that the distinction is an important one but that they’re both valuable sources to develop.

Just my opinion, of course.

“Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” – Seneca

The value of Enterprise Performance Management

Is EPM just one more TLA or can it truely transform corporate performance?

Now that everyone has resource, customer, and supply chain management – all that is left is performance. Do you think sophisticated analytic and reporting tools that integrate nicely across the enterprise and not just vertically within an organization can be a key differentiator against competitors or do you think it provides nice charts but corporations still lack the internal governance to turn this into timely, actionable data?

Kyle Smith

Director of HR at MomentumSI

Enterprise Performance Management, IMHO is hollow without the underlying discipline, process and culture. A lot of companies drop in the tools and expect the discipline and data to magically follow. Instead, people waste inordinate amounts of time and effort learning how to “game the system” to get the results that management expects. A lot of organizations “think” that they have the maturity to get value out of these tools, but very few of them actually do.

The majority of “C” level executives make decisions based on gut feel and trust in subordinates. I don’t know of any of them that pore over the output of an EPM system to guide the business. I find it totally mind-boggling that billions are spent on these systems to collect, analyze and report on data that is rarely used by the supposed target audience and often has no direct correlation to the business goals or KPIs. (did we forget about balanced scorecards at some point?).

EPM in a mature organization is unlikely to be transformative since the underlying trees of metrics, disciplines and systems would already be in place. It could certainly allow for a lot of fine tuning. But it would be an evolutionary tool at best.

However, I think that attempts to implement EPM in a less mature organization can uncover the lack of discipline and the gaps in the other supporting systems. EPM as a catalyst can be revolutionary. Senior management would have to be open to supporting the underlying governance and process work required and the implementers would need to be honest about what gaps were uncovered during the design and implementation. Translating corporate strategy down into the various KGIs and KPIs, rebuilding broken and inefficient processes, blowing out the chaff and aligning around what’s important to the business is where the value would come from.

That’s just my opinion, of course.

IT Is the Business?

“IT is the Business ” and ” The Business is IT”. What do you think? What does this mean exactly?

It is no longer possible to separate The IT department from the process of delivering the “End
Product” of the business as the IT is now truly “customer facing” in most organizations. It is
also fair to say that the Business cannot ignore or underestimate the importance of IT to its
own survival. The relationship is now a true symbiosis where both sides have to work as one
to survive and prosper.

Hisham Burdini

IT Management & Business Process Re-engineering Practitioner

IT (Information Technology) isn’t the business. But, it should be a strategic partner. Unlike accounting or corporate real estate or payroll or (to a certain extent) HR, it shouldn’t be commoditized as a generic service. There are elements of IT that fit into that category, but to treat all of IT as a commodity would be as naive as considering your sales, marketing or new product development to be commoditized functions. They all require a strong alignment with the business strategy, an in-depth knowledge of the business and continual adjustment based on feedback from the business or they simply won’t provide maximum value.

IT can provide functionality to the business that the business never even considered. I don’t mean to get preachy, but It can enable huge paradigm shifts in customer contact, marketing, sales, service, delivery, process management, quality improvement, etc. By providing a seat at the table to IT and developing a strong knowledge and consideration of the needs of the business within IT, IT can bring appropriate new technologies and models to the business to solve real business problems.

The business can continue just fine with commodity IT. Focus on KTLO (Keep The Lights On) activities and keep IT away in a closet away from the discussion of the actual business issues and strategy and you might as well outsource the whole organization. But if the business takes full advantage of the capabilities of an aligned, mature and engaged IT organization, the benefits can be incredible.

Unfortunately, the trend seems to be to further commoditize IT through outsourcing and offshoring rather than treating it as a potential source of innovation for the business. It’s fine to commoditize operational aspects, but don’t go overboard. Don’t lose sight of the solutions that IT has brought to the table in the past (PCs, PDAs, mobile salesforce, databases, email, web, etc.) and think about what the future may hold. An outsourced organization isn’t going to understand *your* business or see the opportunities that a strategic partner will.

Just my two cents worth.

Clarification added October 22, 2008:

I just want to address the “IT is a just a tool” argument, since it’s such a common theme these days. I understand the position and it certainly has some credence when I.T. is nothing more than desktops and email. But, it breaks down in the context of more complex infrastructures.

Yes, IT is a tool. As an analogy, you could also make the assertion that Medicine is just a tool:

For bandages, aspirin, vitamins, antacids and the vast majority of your daily needs, the pharmacy works just fine. It’s a commodity service that doesn’t need to know much about you to be effective. You can walk into any pharmacy and have your needs addressed. However, you wouldn’t go into a pharmacy and expect them to blindly dispense prescription drugs simply because you asked for them. Some businesses go even further and essentially demand scalpels, anesthetic and operating room equipment to do surgery on themselves based on a procedure that they read about in an in-flight magazine. Of course, when the business lies bleeding on the table, they blame it on bad tools or broken technology and expect IT to fix the mess. This is, unfortunately, a very common situation in Corporate America today.

Like a responsible doctor, IT needs to understand your history, your general state of health, any of your goals that may require their help and any potential activities that may put you at risk. If there’s no dialog or partnership, IT can’t do an effective job. Like the Doctor analogy, the business can choose to ignore the advice and expertise. But for long term survival, you’re better off working together as partners. There’s no question that the Doctor/IT is a service provider. But they’re an engaged, informed provider who provides not only a tool, but the associated knowledge, expertise and advice (not directives, but advice!) to use it effectively.

I’ll admit that many IT organizations do take the “We are Gods and you are idiots” position. But that’s just as bad as the business relegating IT to the role of technology janitors. There needs to be a balance and, as I was careful to say, a partnership. The good of the business ALWAYS needs to take precedence. But IT should to be a participant in the dialog and not just a glorified order-taker.

To reiterate: I do disagree with elevating IT to the status of the Business. But in a complex organization, there is a “symbiosis” and IT should have a role in the strategy and decision making processes.

The “Chief Innovation Officer”

If you just met someone who introduced themself as ‘Chief Innovation Officer’, what would you assume they actually did in that role?

Simon Stapleton

Commercial Director at Webventur

I’d assume that the board spent too much time reading “Wired” magazine and thinking about titles to make the company look progressive. 🙂

Innovation has to be pervasive in the culture, not driven by an individual. While I applaud companies for realizing that innovation is important, assigning an “individual” to that role would make me assume that they “don’t get it”. This would be especially true if the title was in a non-engineering company.

Innovation initiatives need to be separated out from the mainstream projects, administrativia and organizational politics. But the drive and sponsorship needs to come from the entire leadership team and not an isolated individual. In short, the Chief Innovation Officer needs to be every “C” level executive, every manager and every individual in the company.

If it was a development or engineering company, I would assume that the CInnovationO it’s just the head of R&D with a shiny new “cool” title.

I’ve met quite a few very impressive individuals with titles like these. But it doesn’t stop me from cringing when I see them printed on business cards. They’re so nebulous, that they could mean anything from “head of coffee flavour selection” to “Right hand to the CEO”. If the title comes with the underlying organizational commitment and culture, that’s a whole different ballgame. However, all too often it’s just a bandaid for a company that simply doesn’t get it.