The Why, What, and How of Rapid Innovation Centers
Rapid innovation, why?
Paul Sloane, innovation consultant and author, recently pointed out a study by Capgemini Consulting, entitled The Innovation Game, charting the rise of corporate innovation centers: actually, 38% of the world’s top 200 companies have set up innovation centers.
One key goal for these innovation units is to accelerate the speed of innovation.
But why do we need to fasten innovation?
- In a globalized market, competitors from the other end of the world are close to you; they may even come from another industry and bring with them their own development cycles, shorter than yours, revisiting your business model in what we call Uberization: you have to react fast.
- Reversely, rapid innovation may offer you the possibility to enter a new business because your speed will give you a competitive advantage over the industry’s incumbents.
- While it’s difficult to secure consumer loyalty, innovation is key to seduce them, and has to be done fast because it quickly becomes obsolete. Speed is also necessary for iteration, since the second version is often the right one! And it helps you focusing on the indisputable features: “The faster, the better” they say at Google, and “Less is more” (Muji design);
- Finally, if development speed increases the qualities of the forecasts that can be made, above all, it strongly impacts the return on investment, much more than the cost of development itself.
Rapid innovation, what?
Capgemini categorize four types of innovation unit:
- In-house innovation labs;
- University residence, establishing a collaboration at a university;
- Community anchor, providing mentors and support for start-ups;
- And outpost, a small team located in a technology hub, in many cases in the Silicon Valley.
One might think of some slightly different arrangements, translating the main intent of the innovation initiative :
- Dedicated innovation teams, like skunk works or corporate garages, and Lab to market channels;
- Internal incubation and nursery, and participative innovation at corporate Fab Labs, office of innovation, center for creativity, and innovation idea helpers: these are innovation centers acting as coach and catalyst for innovation; they can punctually set-up idea improvement program, business plan competition, innovation tournaments, or start-up boot-camps;
- Open innovation task-forces (Connect and Develop at P&G), and open innovation platforms;
- Corporate accelerators and incubators for start-ups, and acceleration programs;
- Multi-corporate innovation labs (CHILL, Cisco Hyper Innovation Living Labs);
- Corporate venture for innovation.
Depending of the company maturity for innovation, we see innovation take the clothes of a lonely hero, a guerrilla team to cultural islands, and finally to an integrated RD&I.
No matter the type of innovation centre, if you want to foster speed and agility, the Rapid Innovation model I have designed involves 4 principles:
- Autonomy: give autonomy to the innovation team. Autonomy is cornerstone for motivation, opens the door for creativity and fast innovation, developing a risk-taking culture in an environment of trust, and letting the team lead the team in a start-up mode, progressing collectively. “Small is beautiful”: small innovation teams hit the nail. By aggregating all necessary skills to design a functional module (feature team), you move much faster. Nevertheless, delegation and empowerment is sometimes the hardest thing to obtain from managers;
- Creative tension: following-up on creativity, you need to execute, translating concept into elegant realization, and powerful experience; fuzziness does not help the innovation team: company’s leader and innovation center should agree on stretched goals (‘time boxed’ project), and scope the problem to solve, embracing then an iterative approach, based on develop, test and learn short cycles; besides, innovation is a discipline, like marketing, design, and engineering. Open innovation, Disruptive innovation, Agile, Design Thinking, Lean Start-up, Blue Ocean, and Business Model innovation are not only words: they are books to teach you how to run faster and better!
- Strategic alignment: being different does not mean being separate, innovation center needs alignment with the core, and create the desire to change that will facilitate innovation acceptance, turning innovation to a solution, not a problem; sponsorship, a shared innovation portfolio, and nurturing a network of innovation peers in the business units will contribute to a vivid relationship, and knowledge circulation in closed loop between innovation center and the core co, and prevent you from the NIH syndrome;
- Modular design: to streamline cooperation, keep options open, and present your innovation in bits and pieces: design modules (APIs in the digital world) that business units can reassemble, and let them create value on top of your platform. Thus you create an innovation capital that can be reused across multiple projects, and let an ecosystem thrive: when every business is an API, new businesses form instantly by linking.
Rapid innovation, how?
Depending on where you are on the innovation curve, your context, your timing, your innovation framework will vary:
- Are you looking to thrive a global innovation culture where innovation is every employee’s job? Stress on Alignment.
- Would you like to strengthen your current value proposition, plough your land without distraction toward customer’s interest, and unfold consistent business model or user experience? Stress on Creative Tension.
- Or would you like to open the box, and prepare the launchpad for a new business unit, diversification and growth relay? Stress on Autonomy.
- Or your priority is more to anticipate threat from new digital players, and a risk of Uberization? Stress on Autonomy.
A slick exercise is to design your ideal innovation portfolio, and see how it balances between exploratory probes, disruptive innovation, quick wins and incremental innovations. This will give the shape of your innovation center.
Not every innovation will be accepted or reach success: innovation is a game of numbers: keep in mind that the innovation center is here to last, and sustain a continuous flow of creative projects.
A few milestones over a 9 months’ timeline for setting-up an innovation center will take you from creating the framework for your organization, to implementation of methodologies for creativity, and execution, and searching for engagement on your innovation portfolio.
Building your innovation center is a primordial essence of your identity, it’s like your “tao”: the road where it goes and you feel like going, where it’s viable and you think you will harness innovation opportunities. Design, test, and iterate, only you can make this path, and “become the innovator you are”.
image credits: Cap Gemini Consulting, theubercloud.com, shutterstock.com
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Nicolas is a senior VP at Orange Innovation Group. Serial innovator, he set-up creative BU with an international challenge, and a focus on new TV experiences. Forward thinker, he completed a thesis on “Rapid Innovation”, implemented successfully at Orange, further developed in his writings. He tweets @nicobry
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