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Alignment, Team Diversity, Knowledge & MoshPits
The challenges facing innovation leaders, as we confront the reality of 2018 is — how do you integrate new digital capability?
This is not innovation as we once knew it. This is not your Dad’s innovation. It’s not even Your Innovation of five years ago.
How do you innovate across your entire value chain? If you’re just focused on products you’re going to miss the boat.
How do you integrate all this new fancy stuff into strategy and ideation to create actual projects? Why is this challenge so different from previous innovation challenges?
Has there ever been a moment in time when so many new technologies are washing over us all at once? AI, Analytics, IoT, Big Data, Cloud, Mobile, Social Media, Sensors, Robotics, Augmented Reality, Voice Recognition… and the list goes on. It’s daunting. No, it’s scary.
This post has four suggestions for digital integration, and a bonus idea, but first…
The elephant in the room is that the new technology requires a truly different approach. Classic innovation frameworks and IT-centric team composition are not going to get it done. Innovating with digital technology requires a blended approach, truly diverse teams, training, and new ideation methods.
Why? Because it requires unique thinking skills to understand what’s possible technically, and, think up meaningful-to-consumers inventions and applications. IT can’t do it alone — they don’t typically understand consumers well enough. A team without IT involved won’t be able to do it either, because marketing-centric teams don’t know what’s technically possible. I’m generalizing but the point is the old style teams, and methods, aren’t well suited.
My four suggestions below are built around addressing these shortfalls.
Thinking about 2018, here are…
Four Ways to Amplify Digital Innovation in 2018:
- Get internal alignment. Be certain that there is alignment from the top down around the desire to integrate digital tech and get projects underway. This is not as simple as it sounds because you’ll need resources and involvement across the silos in your organization to enable the projects. Get this alignment and mandate, or, risk projects stopping dead in their tracks due to lack of top leadership support, or, watch projects fail because of incomplete understanding of need states and technical possibilities. The alignment needs to include the idea that the project might happen in a different way than before, with new ways to ideate, prototype, and test. Don’t be held back by a restrictive innovation process model; be flexible on new ways to innovate.
- Have a cross-domain, diverse team. Once alignment is in place, broaden the innovation team to include more people from across the organization. Teams need to be cross-silo, cross-functional, because digital tech ideas and projects spread across the entire value chain. Diversity means more than just cross-function, it also means getting people who think very differently than the norm involved. Of course, this new team will make for interesting dynamics (read: conflict). But you’ve got to do this in spite of conflict. This is conflict you need to work through! If you focus on the project, you’ll get through conflict by keeping the end in mind.
- Learn and understand the technology. You need to learn more about digital technology. You have to understand how this stuff works in order to think creatively about how to use it. You can’t think up ideas for something you don’t understand. If you have a more diverse team, this helps in coming up with ideas, but get training, and/or hire expertise. It’s difficult to keep tabs on what’s going on — and this is a big topic, but your research function probably needs enhanced. Consider buying strategic research. If you do this well, you might spot opportunities early. If you don’t your competition will. Or a start-up will be born. That start-up could steal your business from you.
- Concept blending in how you get out of the box. Ford is currently using tomatoes to develop new plastics for cars. Ford did a concept blend, mashing up the concept of bio fibers, with a need for more environmentally suitable types of materials. When you get to the point of ideation, further broaden your teams thinking deliberately by looking at Outside-Your-Industry concepts. Assign the team to bring insights about trends, materials, and un-thought of or un-examined digital tech. Then Mash-Up these items with your challenges and opportunities. Digital tech related ideation presents unique challenges to innovation project leaders and facilitators. What’s required is an approach that leverages Design Thinking and/or Lean/Agile and, in addition, does deliberate concept blending (what I call a MoshPit) of your challenges (and IP assets) with outside-your-garden-wall Domains of Knowledge (including digital tech, but also new materials, and current trends). You’ll think up ideas you wouldn’t have had by force fitting outside concepts; it will lead to fresh creative combinations.
A Note to CIO’s: While the innovation jargon of the day isn’t what you usually trade in, realize you innovate all the time. Suggestion #4, stated a different way is: Digital tech extends it’s fingers so far beyond the IT silo and typical areas for systems development that the normal approaches CIO’s use aren’t going to work well. IT professionals (as part of broader cross functional innovation teams) need to start coming up with ideas that reach across functions, and, outside the company completely. Broaden horizons and explore trends, customer behaviors, materials, and technologies — because if you do you’ll have better ideas. When you bring those non-IT concepts, and the input of other people, into your development process — and clash them with your challenges — you’ll come up with truly fresh ideas, real innovation, and IT can lead the charge.
So, get alignment, broaden the team, get education, and do concept blends. If you’re combining new digital capabilities with your current assets, and applying them to focused challenges and opportunities, you are likely to find breakthrough innovation.