Archives For innovation

Uno dei primi articoli scritti in questo blog (nell’ormai lontano 2011) era proprio legato a come i processi di creatività e di innovazione fossero (o meglio dovessero essere) legati a processi sociali.
Di recente mi è capitato sia di cimentarmi in progetti di Social Innovation sia di studiare più da vicino l’argomento. Un’interessante White Paper di SteelCase (che trovate qui – http://360.steelcase.com/topics/workspace-futures/) mette in luce anche altri aspetti – spesso non sempre considerati adeguatamente del processo di innovazione – che riguardano l’importanza del workplace aziendale.

Partiamo con una considerazione fondamentale: il mito del genio solitario è fasullo. Le grandi menti del passato (e del presente) difficilmente hanno “partorito” le idee chiuse in una torre d’avorio isolate dal mondo.
Come si legge anche nel report:

The myth of the lone genius achieving one eureka after another in a closed room is a cartoonish, outdated cliché.

In tempi di crisi e di difficoltà organizzative come quelli che stiamo vivendo l’Innovazione all’interno delle aziende può rappresentare davvero il fattore differenziante in grado di permettere un salto di livello.
L’innovazione – o meglio il processo di innovazione – non è un qualcosa che accade dal nulla (non sempre perlomeno) e nemmeno può essere forzato. Possono essere – però – create le condizioni perché “accada”.

Schermata 2013-02-22 alle 15.39.34All’interno dell’articolo sono messi in luce – inoltre – differenti modelli che le organizzazioni, nel corso della loro storia, hanno attuato.
Lo schema seguente riporta le diverse fasi, mostrando il percorso che porta da un modello di innovazione top-down, strutturato e pianificato a un modello più aperto, partecipato, collaborativo e bottom-up.

Schermata 2013-02-23 a 21.39.17

Lascio alla lettura del report completo l’approfondimento dei differenti modelli di innovazione, sottolineando solo alcuni aspetti centrali:

  • come in molte altre occasioni non esiste un giusto o uno sbagliato. Esistono piuttosto processi che funzionano – a seconda del contesto – più o meno bene. Ciò che appare evidente è che comunque un processo di innovazione socializzato gli impatti e i risultati possono essere molto più ampi ed efficaci rispetto a un processo identico ma verticalizzato e “calato” dall’alto
  • Ogni azienda è – ed ha – una storia a sé stante: è necessario pensare modelli e soluzioni sartoriali che si adattino alle singole e specifiche esigenze.
  • Il processo di innovazione non può essere improvvisato: una corretta pianificazione (come vedremo anche tra poco) risulta fondamentale
  • Il ruolo della cultura aziendale e organizzativa all’interno dell’adozione di nuovi modelli gioca un ruolo chiave ed è fondamentale.
  • Il coinvolgimento allargato dell’ecosistema aziendale tutto (clienti, partner, stakeholder, dipendenti) può essere il fattore differenziante per amplificare al massimo i risultati del processo di innovazione. L’allargamento esteso – sia in termini di creazione sia in termini di valutazione e di ricezione delle idee – a tutta l’azienda.

A proposito di questo ultimo punto particolarmente interessanti risultano anche le riflessioni di Scott Belsky nel suo Making Ideas Happen.
Belsky evidenzia – ancora una volta (e casomai ce ne fosse ancora bisogno) come le idee, la creatività, l’innovazione non siano un “buon accidente”, un qualcosa che capita, ma piuttosto un processo ben definito che si basa su tre punti chiave e fondamentali.

Organizzazione e Pianificazione
Le idee possono essere pianificate con task, responsabilità e scadenze ben precise. Esattamente come qualunque altro progetto è possibile strutturare attività organizzative e di pianificazione che consentano di passare dal sogno alla concretezza fattiva dell’idea. La capacita di execution, di mettere in pratica l’idea, di realizzarla è tanto importante quanto l’idea stessa. Quante sono le idee che rimangono chiuse in un cassetto? Quante quelle irrealizzabili? E’ perché molto spesso si rinuncia ancora prima di aver cominciato?
Sottoporre il processo di innovazione a una dettagliata organizzazione e gestione non significa ingabbiare le idee, non significa piegare la creatività a dei compromessi. Significa passare dalla visione all’azione, dal pensare al fare. 

La forza della Community
Da solo nessuno può fare nulla. Nessun uomo è un’isola. Una bella riflessione di Keith Sawyer – autore di Group Genius – ben sintetizza tutto questo:

All great inventions emerge from a long sequence of small sparks; the first idea often isn’t all that good, but thanks to collaboration it later sparks another idea, or it’s reinterpreted in an unexpected way. Collaboration brings small sparks together to generate breakthrough innovation

L’importanza della condivisione dell’idea, del knowledge sharing, dell’esporre le idee al confronto e alla “contaminazione” da parte di altri risulta fondamentale. E’ raro che le idee geniali nascano “pure”, di solito la contaminazione – almeno in fase iniziale – avviene sempre. L’incrociare la propria idea con quella di altri può essere un punto chiave per vagliarla, metterla alla prova e per poterla rafforzare o ampliare anche verso nuovi orizzonti che non si erano minimamente immaginati e ipotizzati prima.
Aggiungo un altro spunto di riflessione, che non viene trattato nel volume di Belsky: le piattaforme di social networking e le tecnologie che ci stanno guidando verso la social enterprise rappresentano un importantissimo driver e contesto abilitante per questo tipo di procedure. Piattaforme che consentano la socializzazione delle idee e la condivisione sono basate proprio su questi meccanismi (per citare alcune delle più famose: My Starbucks Idea, Dell IdeaStorm, il Mulino che Vorrei…)

Leadership
L’ultimo punto che viene approfondito nel volume è quello legato alla capacità – propria di un leader – di ispirare gli altri e di fare in modo che l’idea venga applicata e sia portata fino alla fase conclusiva del suo processo di “gestazione”. Senza una leadership chiara, condivisa e una direzione decisa non si può andare da nessuna parte.

A titolo di completezza della discussione metto sul tavolo altri punti che ritengo fondamentali:

  • Valutazione: come valutare le idee? Come capire quelle davvero efficaci? Riflettere sul processo di valutazione e di selezione delle idee, ancora prima del lancio di iniziative partecipate è sicuramente doveroso e sensato. 
  • Lavorare sull’engagement: utilizzare processi, strategie e tecniche che consentano di aumentare
  • Provare, fare: come dice anche il Maestro Yoda: fare o non fare, non c’è provare! Abbandonare la paura di fallimento e intraprendere nuove strade può essere la soluzione – anche – a comuni problemi quotidiani. Inutile dirlo: uno degli scogli maggiori che si incontrano in questa direzione è quello culturale. La resistenza al cambiamento può rappresentare il problema principale.

Paolo Calderari di Palazzolo, Andrea Pesoli
Originally part of the Social Business Manifesto published for Harvard Business Review Italia by OpenKnowledge team. Read more on: 
http://socialbusinessmanifesto.com/ 

“Creativity in itself shouldn’t be encouraged: we instead need to encourage creative solutions to real problems. Innovation is only “good” when it’s useful.”

“There’s no such thing as a bad idea! Just poorly executed awesome ones.”

Look beyond innovation for the sake of innovation. More and more organizations today find themselves having to find and exploit new ideas and opportunities in order to respond to growing competitive pressure and to changes in customers’ needs. The recent economic recession has only further accelerated the urgency of this change and the “demand” for innovation for companies.

The main objective of innovation is not (only) to create the next hot product. Various types of innovation exist and people need to be engaged and stimulated to recognise and pursue not only product innovation, but also process or business model innovation. We need a way to encourage innovation and make it “normal”, namely not to separate it from the rest of the business. It has to be treated systematically, like any process in which a problem is determined and a solution is found. Some of the key questions we need to ask ourselves are therefore: What do we want to obtain and how? What resources will we need? Who will be part of the team? What will be the factors to motivate people and what recognitions will be given? How will the initiative’s success be measured?

Creativity therefore doesn’t have to be seen as a mysterious gift or prerogative of few “talents”, but as the – daily – activity of creating not obvious connections, putting things together that are normally not together. Innovation is always more the product of a collaborative process among individuals rather than the result of the intelligence of a single person.

What is Idea Management?

But where are all of these innovative ideas hidden that are so necessary to drive growth, productivity and value creation? When innovation is more important than ever, the collaborative management of ideas (collaborative idea management) through functions and geographical areas can help organizations to make new ideas emerge, and to refine them and ensure that they reach the right people. This approach is also a way to make employees more responsible and recognise the ones who are more active in the innovation process, so as to measure and stimulate creative activity and to promote a more open, collaborative and social culture in organizations. In other words, to create one or more innovation communities that work in a vertical or cross-cutting way in organizations.

Idea Management is a structured process – an integral part of the innovation process – aimed at the collection, management, selection and sharing of ideas. This process is typically supported by specific technologies (Idea Management Platform) that provide methods and tools that make the union of ideas, their assessment and – in some cases – even their execution, more effective and amplified. Idea Management can be applied in various contexts, from incremental improvements to more radical ones, and it can even cover the entire company ecosystem, including external stakeholders, partners and customers.

It is the social evolution of the traditional “idea box”, where, however, the use of the social processes and technological platforms of Idea Management profoundly transforms its nature:

  • Various forms of participation: these systems value the contribution not just of the idea proposal but also of the cross-valuation (vote), comment or criticism of the idea;
  • Contamination: everyone sees proposals from colleagues and a consistent idea can be born out of a proposal which in itself is not very concrete, or is unfocused, by enriching the information and/or concept;
  • Emergence: the most read, most commented or most appreciated ideas emerge and stand out from others, allowing the community to rapidly see the selection process in progress;
  • Collective Intelligence: if duly supported, the community can make proposals evolve by exploiting the intelligence and knowledge present in the system;
  • Focus on people (and not just on ideas): the proposals that stand out also identify a group of people who believe in the idea and who could also be involved in its implementation.

How to make the innovation process social

There are quite a few contributions that underline the importance of considering innovation as an open process that must involve many players within or outside the same business ecosystem.

The concept of “players” in the innovation process is important and interesting, because it reinterprets a “social” company role that is not always made clear in an organization chart (or rather not only focused on the R&D function) or in a specific organizational role. Unlike the traditional stage-gate selection process, the social approach to involvement and to the realisation of ideas and improvement projects is based on the activation of three different communities: he who brings or generates ideas (explorers, perhaps the most common meaning of innovator), he who carries them out (exploiters), and he who has the task of selecting and assessing them. It is precisely this last role, typically concentrated in Management, which is of fundamental importance for facilitating and “bridging the gap” between explorers and exploiters. Instead of acting as a restraint or gate-keeper (as a team would act by sticking to the assessment methods based on expert committees), the team has to act with a role of broker, a key figure who supports and accelerates the realisation of an idea.

A typical innovation process will therefore have the structure shown in Figure 1.

PHASE 1: Setting of objectives and scenario

  • Identify the topics and main areas of applicability of the initiative. A punctual analysis can help to understand both the sensitivity of an organization towards specific business topics and the level of cultural alignment on the social approach to innovation (readiness);
  • Identify the key players in the innovation process: therefore not only the formal figures, but above all – as we have already seen – those who already play an important role at an informal level (e.g. broker);
  • Specify and define the topics on which to start the first phase of idea production;
  • Involve and form the support team (experts, assessors, moderators, …).

PHASE 2: Generation of ideas

  • Launch the initiative on a restricted group of people (soft-launch) with the twofold objective of having a punctual feedback from end users and starting to populate the platform;
  • Involve a wider group in the generation of ideas (full-launch);
  • Punctually manage the growth of the community, timely intervening to “correct” negative behaviours (e.g. unconstructive comments, missing information, inappropriate language) and award positive ones (e.g. connections between ideas, precise comments, …);
  • Communicate the state of progress within and outside the community, also giving visibility to Top Management.

PHASE 3: Idea selection

  • Give visibility of the phase of approval of single ideas directly on the platform, punctually engaging the experts in the assessment;
  • Select the ideas (or groups of ideas), based on various KPIs. Ideally, the services on which it is important to concentrate are impact on the company (e.g.
    turnover increase, cost saving, scope of the idea, brand value, …) and feasibility (e.g. resources necessary, time to market, investment, …);
  • Award those who come up with the best ideas and…realise them!

This process, especially in phases 2 and 3, can obviously be repeated whenever new innovation initiatives on specific topics are to be launched (see figure 2).

Schermata_2012-11-04_a_19

What to do and what not to do.

We end this article with a series of pieces of operational “advice” based on our experience:

  • Establish clear objectives. At times collaborative innovation initiatives are born within organizations as experiments or as extensions of collaborative social aspects. In these situations, the “learning by doing” approach sometimes takes over, and risks defocusing and dissolving the experience. In reality, to ensure the project’s success it is useful to initially identify clear business and result objectives, so as to strongly link the innovative process to an additional value brought to the organization and to its stakeholders.
  • Know the target. Before launching an innovation initiative, it is important to know who the participants in the process will be, in terms of profile, role, business unit and localisation in order to outline the best engagement strategy possible. Culture-country aspects must also not be underestimated. Tools like Social Network Analysis can also shed light on the existing collaborative dynamics and on the roles that some key players already play within the organization. These people should be punctually involved.
  • Manage the change and the alignment with the company strategy. The addition of an Idea Management tool must also be accompanied by a process of change management and alignment of the innovation initiative with the company strategy. There are many hidden barriers, firstly the natural low propensity to sharing and collaboration and the calling into question of formal roles. The communication, sharing and engagement of stakeholders in the process, especially if the approach is new within the company, are key to the initiative’s success and adoption.
  • Balance quality and level of engagement. Quality of ideas and level of engagement (e.g. number of people who actively participate) are two often conflicting objectives. We therefore need to know how to balance these two aspects in the various phases of maturity of the initiative, initially favouring engagement and introducing metrics to assess the quality of contributions once a certain consistency and stability has been reached in the community.
  • Exploit online and offline communication. As visually engaging and refined as it may be, online communication alone (email, launch videos, ….) still shows its limits. The best initiatives always mix online and offline elements in communication, especially when specific populations have to be involved in the initiative.
  • Being transparent in the assessment process. One of the weak points of the idea box approach is its lack of feedback in the assessment process. On open and social platforms, every remark, every feedback (e.g. a critical comment from an expert indicating the weak points of an idea) can be both the mainspring that makes the idea itself evolve and a moment of personal “formation” and formation for the community as a whole.
Schermata_2012-11-04_a_19

Finally, a few points for attention:

  • Only concentrating on the “numbers”. Modern platforms offer very refined and punctual analysis and reporting mechanisms. It is however important to avoid concentrating too much on the numbers alone (e.g. ideas, votes, comments posted, …), because the real value is in the interactions between people and the connections they generate. Different cultural backgrounds produce creativity and innovation. Favouring and appreciating different opinions, identities and perspectives therefore generates a greater level of innovation. Although it is possible to measure these dynamics, a linear relationship does not always exist with real added value. The phrase “Not everything that counts can be counted” is therefore valid.
  • Lowering the guard on community management. The promise to involve employees in an open, collaborative process of research and development of new ideas is certainly compelling. However, once the initial novelty and interest period has worn off, the community’s activity must be supported by constant specific communication and engagement initiatives. Be careful not to overestimate the impact of gamification dynamics which, alone, cannot increase and sustain the participation and involvement of users.
  • Sidelining usability and graphic aspects. The consumerisation of IT cannot be ignored. Users, whatever their profile or role, will definitely pay attention to aspects that are easy to use and access. It is therefore better to spend a bit of time making the user experience easy and pleasant.
  • Not involving sponsors/executives in the process. Innovation within large organizations is often thwarted by the presence of inflexibility, a uniform company culture, and communication flows that are too formalised. Executives therefore have the fundamental role of facilitating and accelerating the various phases of the innovation process and, ultimately, realising the ideas. Having finally stressed the aspects of change, the involvement of senior figures is important to lead (in terms of leadership) the cultural and – where possible – organizational change.

Innovation Today

October 19, 2012 — Leave a comment

Rosario Sica, Paolo Calderari di Palazzolo
Original version of this article is part of the Social Business Manifesto project – 
http://socialbusinessmanifesto.com/innovation-today/ 

What is innovation? If we take the dictionary definitions, we find things like “introduce something new” or “a new idea or method, or tool”. In short, a novelty. So then, if one morning you get out of the wrong side of bed, have you been innovative? If you find a new way of using a document are you creating innovation? We believe that this ends up trivialising what is truly innovation. Let’s try to start again from the definition of innovation. From our point of view innovation regards problem solving. It consists in finding new solutions to present problems, or even in discovering problems that people might not even know they have, thus improving their lives.

One of the biggest problems that we have noticed over recent years in innovation concerns the spending and investments that are being made in research and development, expressed as a percentage of the gross domestic product: they have continued to decrease significantly as shown in the table below:

Country R&D (in billions of euros)
USA 368.8
Japan 138
China 86
Germany 69
France 43
South Korea 34
GB 35
Russia 24
Taiwan 16

Source: Main Science and technology indicators, OECD

We have less research and development. All the resources are in fact concentrating on development, which means that we are developing products and services for which we know a market already exists. The majority of research laboratories that once existed now no longer exist. All of them, without exception, have cut out projects in which they were investing, in order to concentrate on the four or five projects for which they are certain there is demand. In other words, they are only creating what is commonly called incremental innovation. If we think of the size of problems that the company is dealing with (energy, economic crisis, environment, etc.), these are not problems that will be solved by choosing the colour of an iPhone. These are fundamental problems that have yet to be solved, and we cannot solve them if we remain anchored in what we already know. We need new knowledge, we need to explore new intervention paradigms, and new research, that allow not the expected results, but the unexpected results, and that as a result are capable of changing things.

A search in Google for books with the word “innovation” in the title finds 120,000 books. Just five years ago there were only a few hundred books with the word “innovation”! There are too many books on innovation and too few on real innovation.

Potentials of the Social Web

Where can we find true innovation over the last few years and what are the new paradigms in line with the “network society”? Think about the internet and how it has profoundly transformed our lives. Think about how much time it took for the internet to be successful: 30-40 years for it to become what it is, for it to have such a profound effect on our lives. The internet came out of the Bell laboratories of General Electric. There they invested in pure research, without the slightest idea of what concrete results would have been obtained. The internet itself was an unexpected result, among many, of a great amount of intense research driven by military needs. Where is the research that may generate unexpected results with regard to media communication, new materials, and new energy frontiers? Where is investment being made today to achieve these critical results for our future? We have not seen many initiatives going in this direction.

We are at a turning point, a consequence of the internet: social web. We are starting to see that there are strong possibilities that collaboration will become a fundamental driver to accelerate processes and information exchanges. The possibility for billions of people to start to connect and communicate in new ways has never been possible in the past; it is a significant step forward and offers enormous potential.

The true challenge is how to seize this potential, both as companies and as a society, in order to change the way of innovating. We see two different types of companies: one includes those that we call “winners”, i.e. those companies that are willing to take risks and therefore to upset the market by making things that previously did not exist; the second type includes those companies that we’ll call “losers”, those who are afraid of changing, i.e. companies that have a strong position and are trying to defend it, rather than create new positions for it.

Let’s take the case of Apple: did it listen to its customers, and use an “open” process, when it was thinking of creating the iPhone? No, contrary to what we usually hear, it was a completely closed process, based on the quality of internal Apple resources that carried out research, investigated the problems experienced by people, and had the vision of how a new service could have been. They had the leadership, ability and willingness to take risks. They had the courage to say: “People have never heard of an iPhone, but everyone needs one”, and they created it. We can’t go to customers and look to them for answers, or get a concept of a new product from them when they don’t even have an idea that the possibility of it exists. These are the limits of crowdsourcing.

Leadership and social capital

The heart of the question is leadership. We remember Kennedy’s speech when he announced to America that a man would have been sent to the Moon: it was a risky challenge, but taking this idea forward meant discovering and finding solutions to many of humanity’s problems: this extraordinary vision ruled American society, dragging everyone behind it, because in taking man to the moon America created new industrial sectors, it created innovation, and Silicon Valley was in large part driven by this research. The spin-offs generated by the technology developed for this venture were numerous, but when the space program began no-one could have imagined what the developments would have been: new materials, new technologies for calculation and communications, etc.; or that companies would have been created that today have an annual turnover of billions of dollars and that these new activities would have given jobs to millions of people throughout the world. These results after the fact did not drive the action. People developed the space program because they believed in a problem-solution process that would have allowed them to discover new areas of knowledge.

Now the situation is completely different: there is no driving vision; everything revolves around cost-cutting, and that is a very serious problem. Companies like Nokia, who had dominant positions on the market, are very cautious, and do not want to squander the advantage and destroy or deteriorate the ecosystem around them in which many benefit from the value chain they created. Take what happened, for instance,
with the arrival of IP voice servers that made the voice nothing more than another Internet application: everything that the business had been built on, and everything that had been defended for years by keeping others out, now seems like a common commodity, because anyone can create a voice application. Thus, these companies end up adopting very defensive behaviours, which in fact become major obstacles to innovation: the people inside these companies are isolated and the chance of them being able to do things that are truly new is becoming all but impossible.

These heritages are becoming serious obstacles; we have business models that are no longer up to date, that no longer allow us to generate past earnings: the CEO of a telecommunications company must think in the short term, three or four years at the most, trying to maximise the value of shares in that restricted period. This means that what the company can do is limit itself to what it already has, to what can give in the short term a certain return – even if small – and what it cannot do is invest in long-term research, necessary in order to have a future.

As a result, the staff within an organization end up destroyed, as they are deprived of an environment of exploration, of reasons to take risks, to do something truly new. It is no coincidence that the breakthrough innovations of the last 15/20 years did not come from telecommunication companies.

It is time to talk about social capital and innovation. Today we have real possibilities of creating great innovations if we are able to combine two things: the vision and leadership of a Steve Jobs with the potential of the people within the company, or rather its social capital. If a company can do that, it can take assume a dominant position on the market.

Social innovation: building communities for innovation

To focus on social capital, a starting point is the digital generation: a generation of young people have grown up with this technology and no longer consider it “technology”, but rather their way of being in the world. They are not digital children because of digital technology, but because they were children when this change happened. This technology has been internalised by them because it allows them to carve out spaces for themselves, where they can do the things they need whilst growing up: create their own identity, have fun, do crazy things. MySpace or Facebook were not successful because of the technology, but because there was a new form of expression by this generation, in which they could express and acquire knowledge or simply act like kids. The crucial point of all of this is that new generations are established on social relations, and their way of existing in the world is today mediated by this technology. When individuals from this generation start working at an organization – such as a large company – they feel suffocated if people start telling them what they cannot do, and if they are isolated by those social tools that have made them what they are. These tools, instead of being seen as a threat (as many CIOs do), should be seen as opportunities: the consequence of social networking that these individuals experience and that has created their identity, is that in this way they have created collaboration without wanting to, they are collaborating in ways that were inconceivable in the past. This is the potential that is found in what they do, but how can it be exploited within companies?

The social capital or, in other words, the network of formal and informal relations existing within the company, represents how the company itself truly works. Each organization has a formal structure, from which it can be deduced who holds what positions and who reports to whom; but when we try to understand how things really work, we discover a completely different network: people know who to turn to in reality to make fast and effective decisions, regardless of what the organization chart says. Each person knows who to turn to if he/she has to collect up-to-date information on a technology or on the product market. This relation network – the social capital – is what we must free up today if we want to exploit it to our advantage. So, how can we make it grow?

Today platforms exist that allow people to find others like themselves, who can be found in parts or roles that are very different from the company, but who share the same passions or the same experiences. For the first time people are allowed to discover and rely on this sort of intangible network within organizations, whose existence was not even known about before. It is a way of seizing the possibility for these people to find each other and start working together in ways that were unimaginable up until now. Organizational silos are bypassed. These platforms also highlight the contribution that the individual can bring to the group.

Should we tend towards incremental innovation or towards radical innovation? We believe that this is the wrong question, and that the right question is: can we have both? Is it possible to have the leadership, vision and culture that allow an organization to take risks, at the same time allowing people within the organization to come together in completely different ways than in the past, in order to use this strength to guide the change? It is possible if we are able to create the right motivation and the right context.

The answer is not just in the technology. Everything depends on the organization and its culture. It is not about “capturing” ideas, but rather about building communities. The fundamental point is that key players be identified, the right people at the right time, to transform their network and their informality into a business value. From these assumptions – of social capital as a true element of a company’s distinction and advantage – approaches such as Idea Management and Social Innovation are born.