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 Amazon.com 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!