Bran Ferren on the Art of Innovation

 

There’s a plethora of good advice in this article on innovation, especially the sections on art, business and innovation.  However the one piece that will probably ring true for large organisations is this:

At most companies that care, you can set up creative, innovative environments and teach everyone to function better within them. You can hire a Picasso. Or, better yet, you can hire several Picassos: Several extraordinary people with complementary talents, who each have strengths that the others don’t have. Having picked them, you can empower them. You can put them with 15 other people as good as they are, but in different ways. You then get a type of generative activity and creativity that you don’t get otherwise. Even then you still have to take that creativity, massage it, and create an output that’s valuable for a customer. Which is hard for most companies to do.

Meanwhile, odds are that the rest of your organization, especially middle management, will strive to eliminate them. So you need to give them top cover.

Never underestimate the need for top cover.

Source: Bran Ferren on the Art of Innovation

Why A PayPal Executive Is Being Mentored By His Millennial Employees

When I give presentations at conferences, I often get asked by people one simple question: “how do I keep abreast of all this new stuff?”  My response is that people should think about getting mentoring from people younger from themselves – ‘reverse mentoring.’

Fast Company had a short piece on this recently, and it highlighted some of the benefits:

Shivananda says reverse mentoring also helps leaders connect with millennials. “Often leaders look at millennials and don’t understand them,” he says. “Reverse mentoring gives me an opportunity to do that, not just by learning in terms of technology, but by engaging and maximizing the workforce. It gives me an ability to demonstrate that this is a place to come to work and be appreciated. Somebody wants to understand and learn from them.”Reverse mentoring works best when it’s a reciprocal experience, says Shivananda, and this can help the junior employee grow in his or her own career by discussing their aspirations.

“Reverse mentoring should always be a mutual experience; I provide value by sharing my years of experience,” says Shivananda. “They give me value through sharing what’s new, what’s happening, and what’s relevant.”

Source: Why A PayPal Executive Is Being Mentored By His Millennial Employees

Scanning to stop being ‘Ubered’

Over the last couple of years, and connected to the work on Sensing City, I’ve been advising Infratil on technology advances that could disrupt their business or provide opportunity.  This was referenced in the annual meeting where the Chair, Mark Tume said

…the challenge was to stop their investments from energy to the retirement sector getting “Uber-ed” or being able to “Uber” some else, in a reference to the Uber taxi service. Infratil would not be able to recognise the next Uber, Tume said and it was “incredibly difficult” to pick winners in new technology.

But Infratil’s board and management had to be open to the risks and how to react.  “So we don’t act like possums in the headlights” he said.

For example, Infratil had seen the rapid rise of solar power in Australia and the potential for new battery technology which would change the power sector landscape.

“The one I’m scared of is the one that blind-sides you”

Many organisations are increasingly susceptible to being blindsided, but only a few – like Infratil – have the foresight to seek to understand the risks and opportunities.

 

Full article here.

strategy and business article: 20/20 Foresight

strategy and business have published a very readable article with specific tips for developing foresight capability, and it’s well worth the five minute read:

Many business leaders need to improve their perceptual acuity. Here’s how you can develop the ability to look around corners — and become a catalyst for change.

Source: 20/20 Foresight

Linking strategy and innovation (article)

I’ve posted previously about the need to link foresight to strategy to innovation, but rarely seen concise articles that elaborate on this.  Strategy and Business has just posted one, and it’s worth looking at.  Here’s the first section of the article:

Strategic planning is different from innovation. When developing a strategy, you decide what your activities will be in the future, and you have to stay true to your predetermined course to see results. Furthermore, your plan includes a set of activities that you know how to do. But with innovation, your course of action is inherently unpredictable, and you know in advance that you’ll have to learn to do things that you don’t yet know how to do. Only after your innovation succeeds will you know what those things are.

That’s why your business strategy and your innovation practice must be kept apart: otherwise, the consistency of your plans may constrain your creativity and verve, and the surprises of innovation may distract you from your plan. At the same time, your strategy and innovation must also be aligned, or your organization will be incoherent and risk dissipating your efforts. So how can you integrate strategy and innovation, but still keep them separate?

The answer is simple in principle, but hard in practice. You probably have an annual strategy cycle of some kind; in most cases, the corporate office gives guidance to each unit, and then each unit maps out a strategic plan for the next one to five years. It is during this strategy cycle that you must ask the leaders of each unit to do two things:

1. Come up with a plan over the coming year for what that business unit knows how to do. This will involve about 99 percent of its time and activity.

2. Identify one or more innovations that the unit’s team would most like to tackle over that same year.

Source: The 1 Percent Innovation Solution

Linking strategy to innovation – short article

From strategy and business comes a quick read about the links between innovation and strategy.  It misses the link between foresight and strategy, but makes it’s point well:

Strategic planning is different from innovation. When developing a strategy, you decide what your activities will be in the future, and you have to stay true to your predetermined course to see results. Furthermore, your plan includes a set of activities that you know how to do. But with innovation, your course of action is inherently unpredictable, and you know in advance that you’ll have to learn to do things that you don’t yet know how to do. Only after your innovation succeeds will you know what those things are.

Source: The 1 Percent Innovation Solution

McKinsey article: The four global forces breaking all the trends

There’s a concise piece on McKinsey that sums up four macro trends that are coming down the line:

  1. The age of urbanization

  2. Accelerating technological change

  3. Responding to the challenges of an aging world

  4. Greater global connections

Each of these topics has a wealth of information written about them, but this short piece is a useful primer if you are unfamiliar with where the world is heading.

Admittedly the list would be more complete if it included something about bioengineering, but that’s probably able to be captured in point three…

Source: The four global forces breaking all the trends

Biohackers develop night vision eye drops to see in the dark

Expect to see a lot more of this in the future, as the cost of biohacking falls significantly, and interest picks up from students, tinkerers and makers:

A biohacking group in California has managed to develop eye drops that temporarily give a human being powerful night vision. The chemicals used are still very much at the experimental stage – this isn’t something you’d want to try at home just yet – but the first trial has been very successful.

Source: Biohackers develop night vision eye drops to see in the dark

The implications of quantum computing

At the last Foresight Week event in Singapore two years ago, Peter Schwartz and I had a long discussion about the implications of quantum computing. Where we ended up was that we thought that there was a ‘computing arms race’ developing between Governments and consumers.

At the highest abstract levels, the foundations of computing have remained unchanged since the development of the transistor.  The development of the PC meant that it was inevitable that consumers would possess extremely fast computers, and among other things these would enable levels of security and privacy through encryption.  No matter how fast Government computers became, there would be enough horsepower available to consumers to secure their privacy.

Now this is changing.  The development of the quantum computer means that the next evolution of computing will put the average person into a state of inherent insecurity, because quantum computers will be able to unlock any security currently in use.  An article in the Washington Post highlights this:

Quantum mechanics is now being used to construct a new generation of computers that can solve the most complex scientific problems—and unlock every digital vault in the world. These will perform in seconds computations that would have taken conventional computers millions of years.

This also means that Governments and corporations will once more be leaders in computing, harking back to the days of mainframe computing – when state-of-the-art computation power was unaffordable to the average person.  However unlike the democratisation of computing power that has taken place since the development of the desktop, it’s likely to be a much shorter time span before quantum computing is available in the home – or in your pocket.

In the meantime however, the deployment of this new type of computing is likely to add to global volatility through it’s deployment by security agencies.

The importance of vision (McKinsey article)

Again from the McKinsey Quarterly comes a useful article about the challenges faced by new entrants to C-level positions. Of note was the reference to the difficulty of creating a shared vision:

When asked about different aspects of their transitions, executives rank business-related activities among the most important to the transition’s overall outcome. The largest share say it was very or extremely important to create a shared vision and alignment around their strategic direction across the organization (Exhibit 2). This is also among the most difficult aspects to carry out: just 30 percent of all respondents say it was easy to create a shared vision in their new role.

This has been an extremely important piece of the work that I have assisted the Canterbury DHB with over the last seven years, and has been one of the keys to the successful transformation programme (for more detail see here).

Visions are not created by black and white typing on a Powerpoint slide, neither are they broadcast down from a stage.  The best visions are co-created with the people that work in an organisation in such a way that they share ownership, and feel like they are part of something bigger.

This directly links to some previous work – also from Mckinsey – about strategy co-creation which you can read about here.

 

Source: Ascending to the C-suite | McKinsey & Company