CRACKING THE INNOVATION CODE - Rogan Moore, CTO Britehouse

CRACKING THE INNOVATION CODE

With the rapid acceleration of digital disruption, world markets are changing fast. Analysts have categorised the drivers of this change into streams, like "social”, "mobile”, "analytics” and "cloud” (or SMAC) in an effort to understand and manage the change.

While this sounds new, the reality is that evolutionary innovation has always been instinctively part of the DNA of human society.

All that has changed, and changed dramatically and irreversibly, is the pace due entirely to the exponential acceleration of anything that’s information (or digitally) enabled. (Read Exponential Organisations by Salim Ismail).

So really, how does one survive and thrive in a global economy that’s rocked almost monthly by the likes of Uber, AirBnb, Netflix, Craigslist, Kaggle, and numerous others?The answer lies in simple genetics: evolve or die.

Now, with a multitude of business theories, methodologies, and 7-steps-to-success ladders, there’s little in the way of a consistent and safe compass to navigate the tumultuous waters of driving innovation in your organisation – big or small. That said, there are merits in using many of the approaches and tools available, but some generic fundamentals can keep your ‘true North’ and on course, which are discussed here.

Understanding innovation

Innovation can be defined as creating new VALUE, either by doing different things or doing things differently. Much of the time, in fact, innovation is not about doing new things. For instance, Uber is nothing new. It’s merely a transportation service that was ‘done’ differently, so that it could opportunistically (and brilliantly) leverage new social and digital innovations to achieve success. Likewise, Sony already had the Walkman, but the iPod was infinitely better because it delivered so much more to the same market opportunity.

Involve your clients

Providing real solutions means that you need to truly understand your market. There’s no better way to do this than to involve your clients directly in your innovative processes and initiatives. Henry Ford was famously quoted as saying, "If I asked the people what they wanted, they would have said, ‘make me a faster horse’.” People love to attribute this to a lack of interest in involving ‘the people,’ but they are wrong.

Ford clearly knew what his market wanted because he lived in that market daily and shared the challenges and obstacles that his client base needed to overcome – he just had a different solution than a ”faster horse.” And even though Steve Jobs also did not believe in extensive market research, stating that, "People don’t know that they want something – until you show it to them,” he always ensured that he had a deep understanding of the market and its limitations by involving consumers, artists, and various industry people in all that Apple developed.

Staying close to and involving your clients and people from your market in the process keeps you grounded, focused, and relevant.

Start with WHY?

Think "inside out”, not "outside in” when you focus on the opportunity or problem. This means starting with the WHY first, then the WHAT, and finally, the HOW. In the tech industry, for instance, we are surrounded by brilliant people who have multiple ways to tackle a problem, with an infinite toolbox of technical solutions. Often, though, this causes "outside in” thinking, where time is spent on how we do something technically and what we will do conceptually, brushing past why we are doing it at all. This type of thinking leads to unnecessary costs, lesser quality solutions, and missed opportunities – and that’s just for starters.

Spending more time on being clear on why we do things is what shapes our thinking for what we need to do, which in turn speaks to how we could do it. To explore this thinking in greater detail, see the "Start with the Why” TED Talk, by Simon Sinek.

Unify perspective and experience

The magic happens when brilliant people with different experience, knowledge, and skills get together to think about a common problem. Kaggle, a platform for predictive modelling and analytics competitions, is possibly the best example of this – but you can embrace it in your business, too.

The fact is that in the digital world we have unlimited opportunities to leverage brains and creative energy from, well, pretty much anywhere. The onus is on us to create and leverage communities, both internally and externally in order to ideate.

Don’t boil the ocean

Simplicity and clarity leads to excellent results, proving that less is more. Often, companies will have numerous innovative initiatives active across the business, making it more likely for the truly great ones to be overlooked. Overcrowding your initiatives leads to a general lack of focus and diluted investment. That’s why it is imperative that you establish a few key, broad outcomes that you need to achieve and vet prospective initiatives based on their likely fit to those outcomes.

Sure, there is no simple recipe for how to apply what we have discussed. That said, these general themes give you a framework from which you can create your own approach.