Archives for category: Innovation PROCESSES

The most recent McKinsey Quarterly has a concise article that sums up a multi-year research project by the organisation.  As the title suggests, it breaks the findings into eight areas.  While the article is rich in highly quotable insights, the one below caught my attention:

Innovation also requires actionable and differentiated insights—the kind that excite customers and bring new categories and markets into being. How do companies develop them? Genius is always an appealing approach, if you have or can get it. Fortunately, innovation yields to other approaches besides exceptional creativity.

The rest of us can look for insights by methodically and systematically scrutinizing three areas: a valuable problem to solve, a technology that enables a solution, and a business model that generates money from it. You could argue that nearly every successful innovation occurs at the intersection of these three elements. Companies that effectively collect, synthesize, and “collide” them stand the highest probability of success. “If you get the sweet spot of what the customer is struggling with, and at the same time get a deeper knowledge of the new technologies coming along and find a mechanism for how these two things can come together, then you are going to get good returns,” says Alcoa chairman and chief executive Klaus Kleinfeld.

(Source: The eight essentials of innovation | McKinsey & Company )


One of the issues that leadership teams often wrestle with is the length of time it takes for innovation to bear fruit.  I don’t think there’s a magic bullet for this, but that organisations should try a range of approaches.  For large organisations, innovation at scale can be achieved through a range of software solutions including MindJet SpigitEngage.  However it’s still hard to beat the face-to-face interaction of small teams racing against a clock in the same room.  With that in mind a new book from Michael Schrage favours the 5×5 approach:

…half of Schrage’s new book is devoted to an innovation methodology called 5×5 that captures the benefits of experimentation. In the 5×5 approach, writes Schrage, “A minimum of 5 teams of 5 people each are given no more than 5 days to come up with a portfolio of 5 ‘business experiments’ that should take no longer than 5 weeks to run and cost no more than 5,000 euros to conduct. Each experiment should have a business case attached that explains how running the experiment gives tremendous insight into a possible savings of 5 million euros or a 5-million-euro growth opportunity for the firm.”

Schrage says that he’s been facilitating these 5×5 exercises in companies, under the auspices of MIT’s Sloan School of Management and the Moscow School of Management since 2009. The results: “There are always—without exception—at least three or four experiments that make top management sit up straight, their eyes widening or narrowing, dependent on temperament, and incredulously ask, ‘We can do that!?’”

via How to Avoid Bad Investments in Good Ideas.

This week I’m in Singapore in a series of workshops that I’ve been invited to.  It’s been a fascinating first day, exploring how to evolve the next generation of horizon scanning tools.  I’ll blog some of the more interesting insights over the next few days, but in the meantime here’s the workshop today and key insights.



For the last two weeks, and the next few weeks, this is my office. Temporary, adaptable and inhabited by a team of people that are creative, flexible and hard working.  In short – the perfect working environment for innovation….

It’s been a busy year on the publishing front.  Firstly there was Really Bad Workshops (and how to avoid them) which I self published mid-year, and now there’s Sustaining Innovation.

It’s a collection of insights from various innovation initiatives around the world.  I wrote a chapter on the Shell GameChanger Technology Futures programme, and co-authored it with my colleagues Tim Jones and Leo Roodart, the recently retired head of GameChanger.

It’s on pre-order here: Sustaining Innovation: Collaboration Models for a Complex World (Innovation, Technology, and Knowledge Management)

UPDATE: You can now read the chapter online here.

Here’s a great video about how a large corporation has created a nimble innovation lab that’s free from the shackles of bureaucracy that normally stifle innovation.  The  full story is here  but watch the video first:

Crowdsourcing innovation internally can be extremely productive for large organisations. Over the last year I’ve started to work very closely with Spigit – a US company that has the leading tool in the innovation crowdsourcing market. Late last year the Wall Street Journal had a nice summary of why organisations are buying into the idea of innovation from within:

It’s often the employees—rather than outside consultants—who know a company’s products and processes best. According to management experts, many of the most innovative companies tend to solicit ideas from staff throughout the organization, not just the executive ranks.

But it’s often hard for rank and file workers to be heard: Research has found that the average U.S. employee’s ideas, big or small, are implemented only once every six years, says Alan G. Robinson, a professor at the Isenberg School of Management at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

Now though, more companies are realizing the value of their workers’ input. Spurring the process are so-called innovation-management programs such as BrainBank Inc., InnoCentive Inc. and Spigit Inc., which help companies set up online idea-submissions systems in which employees can enter, comment and vote on ideas.

Spigit was also the subject of another article in Canada, which referenced an airline implementing the software.  The interesting thing about this example is that it mentions the return on investment from just two ideas:

WestJet has implemented a number of employees ideas, including getting rid of ticket jackets – which saves about $700,000 a year – and making the employee standby travel line automated, rather than going through the call centre. Tilbury says that reduces costs by about $1 million a year and freed up the centre by removing about 18 per cent of its calls.

You can read more about the Wall Street article here and the full story from Canada here.


The Harvard Business School Working Knowledge site has published an extract from “The Innovator’s DNA”, the latest book from Clayton M. Christensen (with Jeff Dyer and Hal Gergersen). They outline the five discovery skills that distinguish the Steve Jobses and Jeff Bezoses of the world from the run-of-the-mill corporate managers.

The key concept is that research supports the idea that innovative tendencies are not genetic. Rather, they can be developed. The authors identify five discovery skills that distinguish successful innovators: associating, questioning, observing, networking, and experimenting.

Reading the extract it felt like someone had just described my day job.  Read more here : Five Discovery Skills that Distinguish Great Innovators — HBS Working Knowledge.

In my experience there are only a handful of ways of unleash innovation at scale across thousands of employees.  The best of these is to employ idea management software, and in this category my favourite tool is called Spigit. It creates an environment of ‘gameification’ in innovation, and The Guardian wrote about it today, showcasing how it works in the UK civil service:

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has already taken steps down the gamification route. In the past it used suggestion boxes to encourage its 120,000 staff to come up with ideas on how to improve the way it did things. But it found this did not help in evaluating, selecting and developing those proposals with the most potential into meaningful business cases for implementation.

David Cotherhill, the DWP’s deputy director of innovation, explains: “It’s important to have a structure in place for supporting and making decisions on ideas that come into the system. Where you don’t have that they tend to stagnate.”

To try and address this situation, the department used Spigit’s platform for enterprise ideas and innovation management in creating a marketplace for developing and trading proposals for change. The platform, which was dubbed ‘Idea Street’, was also tweaked to support a number of gaming techniques such as points, leader boards and a ‘buzz index’ in a bid to make it more engaging.

The DWP now has more than 6,000 staff actively using Idea Street and says it has implemented over 60 proposals, which are expected to save it more than £20m by 2014-15. The system has also been rolled out across a number of other government departments, including the Ministry of Justice.

via Gamification for the public good | Guardian Government Computing | Guardian Professional.

You may have already picked this, but I’d like to formally introduce The Growth Agenda. It’s a global network of smart thinkers with proven track records that collaborate to help organizations address big challenges and exploit major new growth opportunities.  The network spans both geographies and sectors.

The organisations that have already worked with the Growth Agenda have found the insight and innovation produced to be far richer and deeper than available elsewhere. What makes the offering different is the implicit link to concrete growth platforms for the future  – the identification of tangible, sizeable and credible opportunities that will shift a sector are the outcomes of our projects.

As you can see from the website ( the Growth Agenda builds on the proven approaches from the past and takes innovation and growth strategy the next step forward:

  • It is already enabling major organisations to identify emerging changes and develop growth strategies to create and capture value from innovation,
  • It provides access to a wealth of expertise and different perspectives to help organisations to find new ways of creating significant and sustainable growth.

What is different (and we think unique) about the Growth Agenda is not just the scale and level of challenges being addressed, but also how this is being achieved: As well as a transparent approach that links together a bespoke talent group to each project, it also provides organisations with a simple way to engage and work with this expertise so that is just like partnering with a single entity – but one with a great combination of insights and experience. This is explained in more detail here.

For every project, a core team member of the Growth Agenda acts like a film producer – bringing together the ideal combination of global talent and expertise to deliver the best results. They select the most appropriate experts to help address the challenge / opportunity; choreograph how and where this expertise is most effectively involved; and ensure that the questions addressed help to push the boundaries and identify the biggest, best and most sustainable growth platforms.

The Growth Agenda itself is incidentally a not-for-profit organisation with no overheads as exists solely to bring a bespoke group of leading talent together in a equable and impactful manner:

  • It operates as a network where all organisations involved are able to support and be supported by the very best expertise available.
  • Within the global network we have people leading growth in major businesses, leading academics, expert consultants and government advisors.
  • Some see that this approach is reinventing how organisations access the best talent to identify major opportunities well ahead of the competition.

From a personal perspective, the Growth Agenda provides me with the opportunity to work with great people in terrific organisations on big issues with a unique combination of talent that work together as one seamless group.

If you have any questions about this and our perspectives, please do not hesitate to ask.