Insights from the Strategy and Innovation World Forum
People are key to innovation
According to Tim Sharpe, Head of Design and Innovation at Speedo International, we have a tendency to focus on the product we are creating rather than the ecosystem around the problem. Innovation should be seen as a different way of solving the problem, rather than just producing a new product. The key to this is to integrate and work with the people who use the products every day and who live them.
In addition, Francine Stevens, Director of Innovation at Vodafone, underlined the importance of the people in the organization when implementing innovation processes. The organizational structure and set-up is critical to how we approach innovation. Comparing the process to music, you can say that jazz is based on improvisation and does not necessarily have any specific structure. Classical music, on the other hand, is stringent, rehearsed and sticks to very specific ways of playing the music and timings. Some organizations, which are structured like a ‘classical orchestra’ and have ‘classical musicians’ as employees, will often expect them to play ‘jazz’ when they try to innovate. As this is in no way a process they are familiar with, it will never succeed optimally.
Innovation begins with the people and, as the military strategist Sun Tzu said, “every battle is won or lost before it is even fought” – simply because you can judge the future success of something by looking at the people taking part in it.
The innovation scaffold
Andreas Roos, from Google Zoo, emphasized that psychological safety is critical to creating high-functioning teams for innovation. What this means is that participants or employees should feel safe about presenting silly or stupid ideas, because these can often be transformed into great ideas. It needs to be okay to fail.
On the same note, the key to innovation is to think big and then scale back. Get people to go all out and think 10x bigger than they should and then take those ideas and scale them down. It’s far easier to scale a great idea down than to scale up a mediocre idea.
Finally innovation and tech is moving at lightning speed and it’s only going to grow rapidly. If you want to innovate, start getting your team and structure in place for it now, because, otherwise, you simply won’t be able to keep up.
Don’t make assumptions about innovation
One of the most interesting talks of the day was from Jamie Credland from The Economist, who talked about their approach to using Snapchat for their content. One of the key points was that some people might have expected The Economist to fall short on Snapchat, mainly because people on this platform are more interested in Ex On the Beach and the Kardashians. In fact, some of their most popular stories turned out to be about North and South Korean relations and Putin. We might have a presupposition about our audience only wanting a specific type of content on a platform, but they may actually be open to an entirely different type of content.
As mentioned earlier, people are key to innovating, but there can also be too much of a good thing. Even though you might have an extremely talented and knowledgeable team, there should be a limit to the size of that team when innovating. According to the Ringelmann effect, the more people you add to a team or group, the more they will slack off or become unproductive. This makes it even more important for you to consider the people you select for your team, as you should concentrate on quality rather than quantity in this respect as well.
Innovation strategy is like a game of bowling
The key to innovation is trust, trust in your team and their ability, as well as trust in the acceptance of potential failure. Trust is important here because it’s impossible or at least counterproductive, to control the process too much. Innovation is very much like bowling with buffers on either side. You should not control every direction of the bowling ball, but set up buffers that ensures that it, ultimately, reaches the end. At that point, it’s up to the people to make sure they hit as many pins as possible.
Of course, there’s always that one guy who manages to toss the bowling ball and throw it over to the next lane. We have those within strategy and innovation as well.