Posted by: chimbunde | June 21, 2011

The Future of Innovation

The future of innovation

The coming of Web 2.0 has enabled transformational changes to the way we communicate, create, exchange information and buy goods & services. Blogs, Wikis, mash-ups and communities have transformed the user into the creator. If one looks at communities like Face Book, MySpace, Flickr, Wikipedia or LinkedIn, people are searching for more to do and are self-organizing and motivated.

Anybody who has taken a keen interest in innovation would notice that years and years of research have shown that there is no silver bullet, no formula for success. Nothing is static in life. There is a continuous creation of new combinations of patterns emerging from the mind and introducing new ideas into the physical world. There is also a continuous process of adapting and reconfiguring, realigning and mix and matching from the already available solutions. It is always difficult to predict the future with certainty, the future is on the contrary, but by looking into the past, present and what is emerging helps any futurist to thread a scenario. This is the approach that has informed this article in projecting the future of innovation.

The reality is all innovation is cultural, situational and people unique (people specific/driven). All organisations are different as they mirror their people and leadership, so is innovation. Best practices are there but do not become the sweeping but are just broad templates that need to be adapted. Templates provide a generic road map and a traveller (company) if it intends to use the map have to find the coordinates and orienteering.

From time immemorial, human beings have been inventing and innovating, but the last 100 years has witnessed the ascendency of innovation mainly from technological to non-technological. R&D was the main vehicle through which innovation was driven and now R&D is giving way to Open Innovation. Regardless of all these developments, one thing that has remained constant is “uncertainty”. Predicting the future with certainty has always intrigued human beings and it is even more difficult now given the rapidly changing environment. Within my conclusive remarks the following it noted as the likely future direction of innovation:

Locating Future Innovation: What future then do I envisage?

We are moving into a new paradigm – a more pervasive internet infrastructure and mobilization of devices, fueled by the digitalization of goods and services where customers will care more on the goods and experiences but careless on the goods and its ownership. The competitive battlefield has been widened by the internet. The internet has created a super information highway enabling companies to reach out to a wider audience and at the same time increasing the competition. It is now possible to compete for goods and services from anywhere in the world. Geographical location is not much of a limiting factor. Organisations are now innovating not only for their local valued customers but also for potential customers anywhere in the world.

The fact is, the days when innovation was focused primarily on technological breakthroughs and new product development are gone. Fast-paced environmental shifts require constant change in systems, people, and processes. Organizational flexibility and agility are now critical capabilities for any corporation trying to lead. So any executive looking to innovate needs to invest significantly in a way to support the change needed to make that revenue become a reality. The following four points are pertinent in visualizing how the future might unfold:

1. This shift will tap into internet ecosystems (different players interacting in symbiotic relations to make the global internet for the common good) where the networks of consumers and small businesses will get stronger relations that will spark collaboration among them creating immense value. The boundaries and roles of these entities will be difficult to define, and the recognition systems will have to combine fortune, fame and fun to ensure the level of engagement. Emerging out this environment will be what I call “super-magnet organizations”. These are highly innovative organisations that are characterised by the ability to creating rich, compelling and exciting experiences for the customers. Super-magnet organisations not only innovate with customers but also focus highly on their employees. These new generation companies would have mustered the art of getting customer insight and retaining high skilled work force. They are characterised by undertaking constant change in systems, people and processes. They will establish workforce backups in the form of a federated worker associates residing outside the company. In these organisations non-technological innovations will be increasingly important, for example, the need to re-align or come up with new business models aimed at changing the way the firms operate to deliver customer value.

I further argue that Super-magnet organisations will also be specialists in taking advantage of technological innovation which will not be science-based but will consist of adapting existing technologies, knowledge or practices to specific contexts. Employees` skills and training, the design capabilities or the ability to forecast the evolutions of technologies and markets would be very important sources in this more distributed model of innovation. At the center of a super-magnet organisation is people/employees.

2. Super-magnet organizations will be ready to exploit the positives from the open innovation system model, adapt them to their own mission so as to avoid the problem of “not invented here” and the problem of “innovating to specifications” instead of innovating to mission. Thus the emergence of organisations that coalesce into the super-magnet concept will be driven by the need to innovate to mission instead of innovating to specifications. This is primarily because super-magnet organisations would want to employ systemic innovation to keep everything under control. The idea of open innovation denotes dispersed control and I envisage a situation where this will not seat well with super-magnet organisations. So all they will do is to go out to buy innovation and quickly coil back into their element. As an increasing part of technological innovation will not be science-based but will consist of adapting existing technologies, knowledge or practices to specific contexts.

3. Another, key element of the future innovation competitive arena which cannot be ignored, is the concept of “management innovation”, defined as the implementation of a management practice, process or structure that is new to the state of the art and is intended to further organisational goals. Well-known historical management innovations include Du Pont’s development of capital budgeting techniques and Toyota’s investment in the problem-solving skills of its line employees. More recent examples are Procter & Gamble’s “Connect and Develop” open innovation model and Motorola’s Six Sigma quality methodology. Because of its systemic and hard-to-copy nature, management innovation offers firms the potential for competitive advantage in ways that product and process innovation do not. Indeed, it has been argued by Gary Hamel (2009) that “over the past 100 years management innovation, more than any other type of innovation, has allowed companies to cross new performance thresholds”. But because it is systemic in nature organisations drag their feet to embrace it as they view the approach as cumbersome. The future of innovation will not be controlled by a single central authority, but by millions of individuals and small private entities.

4. The future of innovation is all about meeting customer passion. I see a future marked by an explosion of complexity and an explosion of devices raging from computers, mobile phones, house gargets to motoring devices given the earlier explosion of application software. And network options will become central in our lives in that connectivity will no longer be an option but a must have as we stay connected with global communities. Our social live and professional live is converging. The distinction is becoming blurred and what this entails is that devices we use in social and professional life are becoming uniform. So if devices are becoming uniform, the challenge for innovation and would be innovators is to be able to strike a right balance of the network solutions/options that represents a seamless switch from home to professional use and vice versa. With telecommuting (working from home) gaining traction, it becomes pertinent for future innovation to find the right mix of technologies that are required to make us more productive from our social communities. In which case competitiveness will be more closely linked to coming up with a network options/solutions that optimise the use of these technologies.

All this will impact our social dynamics, how we socialise and interact with each other will definitely change. In fact we are in the midst of the biggest social transformation ushered in by the facebook, twiter, linkedin etc. This has even affected how companies do their business. Businesses follow people and wherever people are gathered – virtual or physical. There is going to be an explosion of social commerce, borne by using the platform initially used for social games but now used for commerce.

It is quit interesting to note the developments that are setting in from sensor management platforms as well. Sensor management are now starting to become part of home management, its now possible that the computer system in the house will advise you on your dressing, can monitor kids playing and will advice if there is an impeding danger about to happen and even assisting people on managing their health by constantly reminding old people to take necessary medication and tests.

Now it is crucial that we are not left behind in understanding how the ground where we stand is shifting. Here is how I think it is going to play out: When you combine the explosion of applications, smart devices networks and sensored data, this results in the provision of “intelligent solutions” (a variety of software applications used to analyse an organisation’s raw data). For example, digitalisation of content is getting more pronounced, books are going digital now. The advent of intelligent solutions will give rise to the emergency of digital fortresses. This is where you have somebody, a trusted outsider where you can have your information managed, coordinated and distributed. In fact this already happening in organisations like with “clouding computing” However, all gadgets and network solutions have got to get simpler and compatible.

Therefore, more innovation is likely to come from the social communities such as the games communities. I see the virtual communities becoming the hotbeds for innovation. The strength of virtual communities is that they have a strong appeal in human perception and once something can be pictured in the mind, humans will strive towards it. More importantly, the virtual world is going to influence innovation, something great is going to emerge from the virtual world but I cannot put a finger to it now. Let the dream go on!

Posted by: chimbunde | March 1, 2011

Creativity explained

1. Creativity
In the last article a we established that creativity is the thinking process that helps to generate ideas, whereas innovation is the practical application of such an idea towards meeting the organisation’s objectives in a more effective way. Creativity requires an undemanding environment, whereas implementation requires the opposite. Because demands actually impair creativity which is necessary to start innovation process, it is therefore, necessary for individuals/organisations to create an environment conducive for fostering creativity. Creativity is a cognitive task. Indeed, a wealth of research suggests that creative cognitions occur when individuals are free from pressure, feel safe, and experience relatively positive affect. Conversely, time pressure can increase rigidity in thinking on work related tasks such as selection decisions. This implies that there is a need to strike a balance between time pressure and creativity. This is only possible when organisations/individuals know how to be creative and allow creativity to occur.

Where do people actually get their creative ideas from?

1. Cognitive ability
Intellectual innovation is born out of brainstorming sessions, where individuals or organisations look at different scenarios, invoking their episodic memories (memory for episodes in one’s own life) to examine their situations now and in future. An important function of a constructive episodic memory is to allow individuals to simulate or imagine future episodes, happenings and scenarios. Since the future is not an exact repetition of the past, the simulation of future episodes requires a system that can extract from the past in a flexible way that extracts and re-combines elements of previous experiences. Past experiences will always play a part in informing how an individual/organisation arrives at a solution.

2. Nature inspires instinctual innovation

In the past people have looked to nature for creativity: “Leonardo DaVinci got his idea for the airplane by watching birds in flight”
“The creators of Kung Fu developed many of their techniques by watching animals fight”.
“The pharmaceutical industry develops many of its “miracle cures” by studying the natural healing properties of herbs and plants”.

In corporate environment times of high demand makes it imperative for organisations to become more creative and creative ideas may originate from more frequently outside the organisation. In contrast, in times of low demands, creative ideas may originate from within the organisation. The necessity to act triggered by high demands may help individuals to pragmatically and quickly adapt an old or existing idea and implement it.

For those concerned with the philosophical aspect of creativity, it could be argued that nothing is really new; only a re-organisation of certain knowns or existing things that have been put together in a new way – a re-shuffling to fit a new order – whether product or service. Staying closer to the philosophical aspect of creativity argument, one example that springs to mind is that of Wood, an associate professor of electrical engineering at Harvard University. As founder of the Harvard Microrobotics Lab, he is trying to identify the unique factors that make a variety of insects efficient. He’s figuring out ways to replicate those biological advantages into tiny robots. He and eight graduate students are working to build a menagerie of mechanical creatures, from bees to termites. They’re using the locomotion of cockroaches and centipedes as models for gizmos that can navigate any terrain, perhaps to seek out victims in earthquake rubble. They’re also studying the flap-and-glide of butterfly wings and the hovering of dragonflies to help them make tiny robots that can fly for miles. Conceivably, these could be equipped with cameras or sensors and used for areas where it is difficult for human-beings to access. Wood hopes his $10 billion National Science Foundation-funded project robo-insects will be as simple, sturdy, and powerful as the real critters. A horde of machines programmed with the same single-minded determination as real swarms might be useful in agriculture, construction, medicine, and other fields.

Of course the challenges are immense. Once the imitation insects are aloft they need a power supply and navigation system. Early versions of electronic flies, cockroaches, and worms already exist in Wood’s lab, and his goal is to have bee prototypes by the time the project’s funding gets exhausted in four years. Only when that day arrives will the advantages of each creature become apparent. Termite colonies, for instance, can build enormous nests, some of them more than 300 feet wide. Mechanical termites made by Wood’s team might be used to build bridges or dams in situations too dangerous for humans. Worm-bots could deliver drug injections in tight spaces, such as the intestinal tract.

Similarly, Lames Watt was struck by the notion of steam engine while watching a kettle boil. Isaac Newton developed the notion of gravity after seeing an apple fall to the ground (instinctual innovation as opposed to intellectual innovation which is born out of brainstorming). Most organisations seem to promote intellectual innovation as opposed to instinctual innovation.

Bottom line is that nature is a great source of breakthrough ideas. The secret for meeting your biggest challenge, in fact, may have already been worked out thousands of years ago by a cockroach. Look out to nature for more creative and innovative ideas!

Posted by: chimbunde | August 6, 2010

What is Innovation

Creativity and innovation
This is the first contribution to the topic of innovation in this community (blog). It is therefore, fitting that we lay down the parameters by defining innovation. Defining innovation alone and not touching on creativity runs the risk of confusing the audience as the two concepts are interdependent. Practitioners at times use creativity and innovation interchangeably. These two terms sometimes mirror a chicken and egg situation – there is a bit of which one comes first. But of course, creativity is likely to be more evident in the earlier stages of innovation process when those in teams are required to develop or offer ideas in response to a perceived need for innovation. In the near future, we will return to discuss whether it’s feasible to execute an innovation intervention without having to employ creativity first.

Creativity and innovation Defined
Creativity is the thinking process that helps to generate ideas, whereas innovation is the practical application of such an idea towards meeting the organisation’s objectives in a more effective way. Innovation is about creating value and increasing efficiency, and therefore growing your business. It is a spark that keeps organizations and people moving ever forward and to new heights. “Without innovation, new products, new services, and new business models would never emerge, and most organizations would simply continue to do what they have been doing in the past—a clear formula for stagnation, decay and ultimate burst. In order to innovate, a firm needs creative ideas. Without ideas it is impossible to innovate. In other words success depends on the dual relationship between ideas and the conversion of the selected ideas into practical innovations. Innovation only occurs when the implemented ideas meet some clear objectives such as performing a task in a more productive way (better, cheaper or more aesthetically). Innovations must be useful, practical and achieve results. On the other hand creative ideas can be unusual, even eccentric or bizarre. The development of innovation requires these two ingredients. Creativity and innovation are so inter-dependent that a firm cannot hope to be innovative without a significant creative input. At the same time, creativity alone does not necessarily make a firm an innovative one as an idea is only the raw material for innovation, and does not inevitably bring it about. Between ideas and innovation there must be a systematic screening and development mechanism aimed at converting the raw ideas into tangible and valuable innovations.

Majaro (1998) offering a practitioner view, described creativity as ‘the thinking and idea generation process’, and innovation as ‘the practical conversion of such ideas towards meeting the organisation’s objectives’. It is your ability to combine ideas in a unique way or to make useful associations among ideas that makes creativity an inseparable partner to innovation. In summary these two terms are defined as follows:

Creativity vs Innovation
• Creativity is coming up with ideas.
• Innovation is bringing ideas to life.

Invention vs Innovation
• Invention is the creation of a new concept.
• Innovation is reducing that concept to practice, and making it a commercial success.

Is creativity for a chosen few then?
Creativity is not a prerogative of the few. You don’t have to be a special kind of person to be creative – everyone can do it. It’s not about who you are, it’s about what you do. You just need to start looking for multiple solutions rather than settling for just one, and give yourself permission to be playful and inquisitive, flexible and versatile. Always look for alternative perspectives or solutions to a problem.

Challenge yourself to think outside the box
Psychologists call the activities associated with idea generation “loose associative thinking” processes. Associative thinking is not linear or sequential. It is cyclical. To invent new connections, the maintenance of uncertainty is important for a time. To find a better creative solution to the current practice, force yourself to reframe the problem to break down its components and assemble them in a different way.

Ask probing questions
Until you start asking plenty of “Why?” “What if” questions (as in scenario planning sessions), you will not generate creative insights.

Where do people actually get their creative ideas?
There may be generated from times of high demands, where creative ideas may originate from more frequently outside the organisation. In contrast, in times of low demands, creative ideas may originate from within the organisation. The necessity to act triggered by high demands may help individuals to pragmatically and quickly adapt an old or existing idea and implement it.

Posted by: chimbunde | July 7, 2010

Welcome Everyone

Welcome to my new Business Innovation evangelism blog. My aim here is to create a thriving debating platform for Business Innovation practices and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) issues, using the power of the media. I intend to contribute to the news  and awareness in the spread of Business innovation practices in a way that shades light to the challenges confronted by the corporate and social  world today. Debate and discussions with other authors and readers will spur me to capture my personal passion and interest in the topics covered, thereby, revealing  my unique perspective on innovation strategies and best practices in general. I hope to leverage my academic and practical working experience in my discussions in a way that brings out value.  If you are one of those uncomfortable with business innovation, perhaps, by taking part in  this debating community (blog), you may realise that its something we confront daily in our social and corporate life. Constructive criticism is expected and you are encouraged to be part of this debating community.

I wish to thank you very much for taking your time to look at this introductory note.