Learning From Above
by Robert F. Brands
When the brightest minds across disparate industries gather to discuss open innovation, parallel – and completely fresh – thinking can emerge.
Two days spent at this month’s World Research Group Open Innovation Summit among the best-of-breed innovation leaders in the space revealed consensus on the imperative for open innovation. From Fortune 100 corporations down to the most agile mid-sized companies, all embraced the need for innovation. This was refreshing indeed.
Executives from P&G shared the news that the company’s Connect & Develop initiative is now taken to the next level in cooperation with Ohio’s state universities. Unilever reviewed the essential seven soft skills of teamwork-focused innovation. Johnson & Johnson spoke of its “Innovation Sandbox,” where the company unleashes and leverages the power of its entrepreneurial employees.
“It’s all about enabling, and not just one way to do things,” J&J execs said. Open innovation, they said, removes early risk from projects, leverages internal knowledge, capitalizes on executive air cover to support initiatives, and – ultimately – can guide, drive and optimize investment decisions and greater shareholder and stakeholder value.
Among the imperatives discussed were the need for …
- Open innovation. The foundation of the summit, this concept was embraced as the most effective way to accelerate innovation in today’s highly competitive and dynamic marketplace. Don’t reinvent the wheel, speakers explained. Use existing, proven and protected technology to expedite your next efforts.
- Commonality in communities. Team work is vital, but each member must embrace ownership, individual responsibility (the “I” in Team) and the soft skills of interpersonal relations.
- Inspiration. Innovation requires a spark to light its fire. At PepsiCo, many of the best ideas are borne from market-watching. When market forces collide, and trends emerge, unique market dynamics are created. Consider Business 1.0, where corporate marketers fed the message, and Business 2.0, where social networks and mobile marketing have empowered consumers. Where will 3.0 take innovators? Digital savvy brands will feed consumers who are better informed – and less inclined to make impulse buys. Decisions will be made in-home and out-of-home – but not in retail. Tomorrow’s innovation-inspired organization will feed that pre-shop diligence through lasting and engaging connections via differentiated experiences.
- A new perspective. To innovation think tank Maddock Douglas, getting “outside the jar” lets innovators see the label unseen from the inside – and create a culture of learning.
- Internal understanding before external engagement. In short, your house has to be in order before you can embrace open innovation. Big ideas fail because of misaligned innovation. Clearly define innovation and inspire a culture that embraces it. Have a structured repeatable process in place so the well-aligned organization can capitalize on the leverage of others, leading to the collaboration needed to compete effectively.
- Networking and collaboration. Internally and externally, networks build camaraderie, cohesion and shared learning.
- Evaluation – continual and measurable. In PepsiCo’s experience, such observation, measurement and evaluation has fed ideation – and continued value creation.
- Repeatable processes. Successful innovation done once can be attributed to luck. Innovation done repeatedly must be attributed to a successful process.
- Sustained innovation. Repeating the process often sets the stage for future success. Evaluate, improve and deliver “new” in business and organizations.
- Communications. No innovation occurs in a vacuum. It is essential to share progress, early wins and challenges. Communications across the team, disciplines and members can help ensure continued success.
- Willingness to take risk. All innovation has inherent risk. Accept the existence of and the possibility (even the probability) of failure. If failure results from an honest and well-reasoned attempt at innovation, it is not cause for disciplinary action (lest you discourage future attempts at innovation). Instead, learn from risk and failure alike.
The summit revealed the cornucopia of possibilities and pitfalls facing open innovation. Is your organization adaptable, with the courage to face change and challenge? Does your collaborative model draw on persistence – especially when faced with failure? Does it realize the urgency of Innovation Today, and have the vision and a “clear sense of why” innovation is essential?
In Robert’s Rules of Innovation, the ten imperatives that drive innovation were in full regalia during the Chicago conference. Those include Inspiration, No risk, no innovation, New product development process, Ownership, Value creation, Accountability, Training and coaching, Idea management, Observe and measure, and Net results, net rewards.
Recognizing imperatives is just a start. Applying them in an orderly, planned fashion is the key to sustained, repeatable, effective innovation.
Robert Brands is the founder of InnovationCoach.com, and the author of “Robert’s Rules of Innovation: A 10-Step Program for Corporate Survival”, with Martin Kleinman – published March 2010 by Wiley (www.robertsrulesofinnovation.com).