December 06th, 2017

Why do you need a framework for innovation?

Transformation in a world of exponential change

Today, about every single organisation is faced with the challenge to transform it’s business model and culture towards more flexible setups. At the same time insightful, but rapid delivery of new products & services become increasingly important to meet the demands of an unpredictable market. A world ruled by complexity and change requires constant adaptation for survival.

A recurring question we get from our customers is what process will help them deliver customer-centric innovation in a consistent way. They succeed in certain projects, but maintaining the results on the long run is hard.

How can we reach customer-centric innovation in a consistent way?

It’s not easy to provide a single answer to this question. Every organisation is different. Every team has its roots, its customs and — if all goes well — a set of specific strategies to reach its business goals. Delivering innovation consistently requires a level of flexibility that’s often new to them and in most cases not aligned to the existing organizational structures.

In other words: having a good idea and executing it well is simply not enough. The environment where it happens needs to be in sync to nurture a recurring practice of successful initiatives over a longer period of time. This is where transformation plays it’s part. In most cases change is needed on a fundamental level of an organisation, which often is a bigger hurdle to take.

Luckily there are proven methods and tactics that aid in driving such a change. In our assignments we learned that they can be structured in a set of four building blocks that form together a guiding framework. Let’s introduce them to you!

How to get started

Having the confidence to try out new things is an important first mind shift to make. Innovation requires experiment and iteration. Are you ready to learn by doing and is your organisation supporting this? It’s crucial to get commitment of everyone involved.

Equally important is to think upfront about how successful experiments will scale into your organisation at large and how simple actions will lead to movements of change. You need to have processes in place that support solid integration of good ideas. 

Here are some steps and best practices that can help to get you started.

1. Define your ambitions.

A lot of organisations nowadays seem to be aiming for disruptive breakthroughs. While transformative innovation indeed potentially entails the biggest returns, it also presents the biggest challenges. In most cases mixing different types of innovation and combining stretch ambitions with easier ones is a better way to go. Make sure to do a conscious exercise on what innovation means for your organisation, before you deep dive into projects. Is it really disruption you need? Look outside, do some research, evaluate your postion in the market. Involve different people. Zoom out. See the bigger picture. Knowing where to innovate is as important as knowing how to.

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When you get the ambitions clear, look into the mirror. What are the capabilities of your teams to reach the goals you set forth? Organise some quick internal audits to test your organisation’s innovation competency. Don’t forget to focus on the role of leadership. Are your board and managers willing and able to support bottom-up processes? Do they believe in emerging strategies? Arrange some workshop sessions where needed to shift thinking.

Make sure that engagements are always tangible and specific. Write down the big goals you agree upon for your innovation plan and define criteria to navigate your way around what is pushing the plan forward and what is not. Make people of all levels in the organisation part of the discussion and let teams approve on the shared manifesto. If not, your innovation strategy will be at risk of failure because of a lack of focus or an unclear definition of what succes means.

2. Create a collaborative environment and nourish it.

Today’s pace of societal change and technological evolution is so fast, it’s impossible to predict the relevance of your strategy in 12 months time. People and their ability to change are what makes an organisation successful. Set up an environment and define programs that enable flexibility and stimulate creativity and initiative.

For meaningful innovation to happen, different departments and teams will need to work together. Put practices in place that uplift barriers between silo’s and encourage working in cross-functional teams. Don’t isolate innovation in labs or small teams, because it will be very difficult to integrate the results they generate outside of their department if others aren’t involved from the start.

A good way to start and learn new skills is by running programs. An ‘outside-in’ co-creation track will boost energy and provide feedback from customers. Intrapreneurship grows ideas into improvement routines and even new businesses. Hackathons help you learn more about the potential of new technology and build you a network of partners. Mix and match methods to see what suits your strategy, but whatever you do make sure your aim is to install a climate where people can feel unburdened by everyday work and build connections with new people spontaneously.

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3. Run pilots. Think beyond technology. 

Define some pilots to put your ideas into practice. Make sure to look broader than just software or hardware trends. New technology is an important enabler for change, but it should never be the sole focus of your innovation initiative. The main point is to make a meaningful difference for your customers. Understand their needs first and define what solutions work best second.

Get hands-on experience with emerging technologies — so you can understand how they will impact your business — but look further than this alone. What new business models and team structures could work? How can redesigning important touchpoints improve your customer experience? How is your product system performing? Is your brand experience engaging the right customers? Be sure to focus on these questions equally as well as what tech you ‘re going to use. Successful innovations never come from technology alone. Innovation isn’t a thing of software. It’s a thing of people.

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4. Put processes into place that scale success.

If you want to change your organisation, playing sitting duck and waiting out is not the way to get ahead. Don’t spend weeks and weeks pondering your ambitions or strategy. Taking initiatives, connecting with customers, making the plunge and finding out what works and what not: this is how innovation is put into practice and how transformation happens as a result of it. Preparation is important, but equally so is the ability to just to do stuff and learn from it.

Don’t just set all cannons loose however. Make the scope of every innovation project as specific and unambiguous as possible. Plot out a process for people to understand how to start, run and get feedback on their project and its results. Expect succes, so you ‘re prepared to integrate and scale projects quickly when things work out. But consider letting go of initiatives just as fast, when validations prove that they don’t match user needs. Visualise the possibilities and the steps in the process — so that everybody understands them and knows the potential outcomes from the start.

We’ve seen that acknowledging this vulnerability is often the most difficult thing for organizations to accept. Every initiative is valuable to someone and halting it midway is not a simple thing to do. However it’s the only way to change things fundamentally and move into more flexible structures — where adaptiveness and quality are aligned. 

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To sum things up

Delivering customer-centric innovation consistently requires confidence and dedication. The challenge is to think big, but act small. Align a set of people on shared causes and let collaborations resonate across your teams. Have a supporting environment in place and be ready to deal with both failure and success. Execute pilots that answer to human needs, not just trends. Be explicit about the proces and the possible outcomes from the start. 

Do this and you ‘ll find out change is happening sooner than you think.

Author image

Dave Van de Maele

Managing Partner

Passionate about innovation, design & new technology. I enjoy getting things done with people. Never stop learning.