Kitchener Waterloo is known as the hub of innovation in Canada. Recently the region held their renowned True North conference. This year’s theme, “Bridges, not Walls” brought together 2,800 people from across Canada, and around the world, to hear some of the brightest and most interesting minds in business, technology, journalism, and the public sector provide stories and examples of both bridges and walls.
As someone who has attended both True North events, and many of the Tech Leadership Conferences (which predated True North), I thought I would share some of my experiences and lessons from this tremendously important conference.
In a previous series, I went through all the essential stages of Design Thinking. Through this important process, people and companies are able to gain important insights into what customer’s need and are looking for, most importantly, what they are willing to pay for. This stage of new product development is important. You are making small bets, with the hope that you will learn enough to make a big bet.
The big bet is a lot harder to make than the small bets. Let’s look at why.
It is what people have been trying to do for as long as humans have existed. Trying to figure out what’s next. As hunters and gatherers, we tried to predict where herds will migrate to, what the weather will be, or where the next dangerous animal will attack from. Eventually we figured out ways to store our food so we didn’t have to rely as much on predicting the future.
As farmers, we predicted weather, seasons, and pests but we tried to find ways to store and process the foods we grew. We tried to use systems and technology so we wouldn’t have to predict the future as much. With the industrial age it allowed us even more freedom to not have to predict the future. We could produce thousands of widgets and wait for customers to come. As long as we continually produced them cheaper, more efficiently, and with minor improvements, the customers kept coming and the business kept growing. With the fourth industrial revolution upon us, the connected age, our world, our customers, and our markets are changing so fast we are back to having to try to predict the future again.
In the 1960’s J.P. Guilfold published a number of research papers on the concept of Divergent and Convergent thinking. He was able to clearly articulate the differences between convergent thinking and divergent thinking. This can relate to innovation and why existing companies and managers often have a difficult time connecting new innovations to successful business objectives.
A convergent mindset is represented, simply stated, in a person who is able to take a number of options and distill it into one right answer. In many cases, this is a very valuable approach. Do you want an engineer to not be focused on the best answer when she is designing a bridge? Companies want the engineer that can make the best choice, with all the information in front of her, do the math and come up with the right answer.
Considering the snow that most of Ontario got over the weekend, this week’s article had to be renamed. The content is the same, but now you get a snow-related title. You’re welcome.
Diane Vaughan is a professor of Sociology at Columbia University. She is most famous for her work on explaining how the ‘normalization of deviance’ created the situation where standards were reduced over time because of the absence of a negative event. This means that inspectors, engineers, scientists, etc saw the absence of a negative event as confirmation that their expansion of parameters were within the limits of acceptable risk…until it wasn’t. That’s the problem with catastrophic instances…they happen with no warning, yet the organization has been pushing the limits of acceptable risks, until it’s too late.
Sometimes good companies will do a post-mortem of a product launch or innovation project, and they will take a look at the feedback they are getting from customers, find out where the negative feedback is and fix it. Seems like a natural and smart thing to do. It is. But for those companies that want to build a system for innovation, not just a series of projects, they need to take it up a few notches. Companies need to build a system-thinking approach to innovation.
So often organizations get focused on simple measurements of success. Not necessarily because they are good ones that measure the actual success, but because they are easy to measure. The most adaptable organizations are the ones that look at the system behind the outcomes, and measure impactful, and difficult to find, metrics that look at the system as a whole, not just one phase. How can companies build this thinking into an organization’s culture and management process? Here’s an example and how it can apply to any business.
In innovation circles, success is usually measured in home runs. How many new products make it to the store shelves? How many millions of dollars did these new products generate? Sometimes, innovation teams have great stories to share, and sometimes they don’t. Does that mean that the teams that don’t have those successes aren’t doing […]
I recently ran a workshop with a local small business. They were looking for ways to identify significant friction points in their customer journey. At what points did the customer feel extreme frustration and where in the journey did the company deliver on delightful experiences.
Who leads innovation? This is a question that is asked on a regular basis. Who should lead the efforts on innovation, new product development, cultural changes, etc? There are many good choices, and a few bad ones, and none of them require a certain position. But there a few requirements that will help an innovation leader succeed.
The recent Deloitte study focused on innovation pointed out that few Canadian companies were prepared for future disruption. In fact, 35% of Canadian companies self-reported they were totally unprepared for a future disruption, and a further 29% have no plan and are tentative about what to do next. This is significant as almost every industry is going through some level of disruption, and most of these are driven by technology. Others might argue there are other causes, but most of these are rooted in significant technological advances which ultimately drive new consumer behaviours, cost reductions, globalization, etc.
The past five articles talked about how innovation teams can use first hand research and customer feedback to find new opportunities for growth. They use Design Thinking to constantly empathize with the user and find where there are gaps and build better solutions. This seems great and important work, and also a heck of a lot of fun. Great for the innovation team, but what about the teams grinding away in operations, putting out fires, and dealing with customer complaints for products already on the market?
Companies need to come up with ways that hold innovation teams accountable for delivering value to the organization. Sales teams, operations teams and admin teams all have accountabilities that are directly related to business objectives. However, innovation teams aren’t always directly connected to these business objectives. Here are a few issues that can arise when creating accountabilities for innovation teams.
If you’ve gotten this far in the Design Thinking series, then you’ve bought into the concept that being customer centric matters. Great, and welcome to this side of the tracks. It’s a humbling place to be, but it does inspire you to create things customers actually want to buy.
You’ve just finished reading “There’s a proper way to brainstorm” and we’ve taken you through a structured way to find explore some new ideas. Constantly diverging and converging. Now we need to test those ideas to see if they are any good. The goal of this phase is to prototype the idea, feature, concept as quickly as we can and get it in front of potential customers to gather feedback.
In my last article, Ideas are the easy part, we focused on empathizing with your users and customers, and defining a problem from their point of view. Too often we spend our time defining the problems from the company point of view and expect our customers to follow…and because of more choice and more information available, customers aren’t following like they used to.
I received some feedback from the last post, and most of the questions were around how to do ideation and brainstorming effectively. Let’s spend a few minutes diving deeper into that process. Last post we spent a little time on ideation and talked about the need to not brainstorm too quickly, before we’ve validated that the problem is a real problem for the user; one that they are willing to pay to have solved.
In my travels around the world working and advising leaders and companies on innovation activities, I hear a similar challenge:
“We ran this idea challenge, and it was great. We got a lot of ideas but nothing ever came after that.”
Employees are full of great ideas, and some bad ones too. Customers often have really practical ideas to solve their problems. Vendors you work with may have wonderful ideas that they have seen work in different areas, competitors, etc. So many great ideas. The challenge is, ideation, or brainstorming, is actually the middle step in a 5 step process built to generate new ideas, but also new products (and revenue) from those ideas.
As a kid we want to go fast. Faster on a bike. Faster in a car. Faster on a ski hill. The repercussions of going fast weren’t as impactful as the immediate fun we were having with the wind blowing through our hair or the thrill of living on the edge. The reward was high, the cost was low. So we did it.
As we became teenagers, our teachers, parents, police officers, and others told us to slow down. Be careful. Take your time. You don’t have to rush. These were drilled in us and the consequences of the mistakes of going too fast seemed to get bigger. Or so we were told.
John Boyd is widely regarded as the person who pioneered the design of modern military jet fighters in the 20th century. His theories led to the Lightweight Fighter program (LWF), based on his Energy-Manoeuvrability (E-M) Theory, which states that excessive weight would have debilitating consequences for manoeuvrability of an aircraft. At the time it was controversial as the pilot would have to sacrifice key elements, such as speed and weaponry, to optimize agility.
The other significant framework Boyd developed was the Observe Orient Decide Act (OODA) Loop. This is the process by which an entity (an individual or an organization) reacts to an event. According to this idea, the key to victory is to be able to create situations in which one can make appropriate decisions more quickly than one’s opponent.
As we head into 2019, it’s a great opportunity to evaluate the past year (or more) and look to the new year with an eye to improvement, change, and focus. With that, we’d like to introduce you to the concept of a Nimble Hippo.
The Nimble Hippo is a representation of what an agile, nimble, and innovative organization looks like. Nimble Hippos are big, they are smart, they are curious and they ask great questions. They partner where they can. And, finally, they are cool, they are the company that people want to work at, and work with. The most innovative companies in the world express these five traits across their organization and tend to be very successful because of them.
The Nimble Hippo will take you through the process of innovation in large organizations. He has talked about open innovation and how to engage with innovative ecosystems, with companies and people not like you. Nimble Hippos understand that culture, people, and processes that support new ideas and technologies will ultimately determine the sustainability of innovative companies.
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