This week I attended the Front End of Innovation conference in Boston. I made a presentation about the KaosPilots and about how the way we learn can improve our ability to be innovative. My main point was, that in order to create something genuinely new we have to become new ourselves.
One attendee told me that probably twenty percent of corporate world power measured in economy was present at the event. So by listening to the other presentations and talking to attendees I had the chance to hear what is on the minds of leading companies when it comes to innovation.
Recurring themes on the conference were: The difficulties of bringing people on board in innovation projects; the importance of rich communication to engage the organization; and the challenge of co-creation with stakeholders outside of the organization.
The risk of complacency and importance of communication
The main speaker at the event was John Kotter, Professor of Leadership at Harvard Business School. He made a point about how we are imprisoned by our habitual thoughts and fail to see the world as it is. The consequence is collective complacency that keeps us from adapting to a world that is changing at an ever-increasing speed.
One of the things Kotter pointed out, as a main challenge for the leadership of the future is the ability to engage the diversity inside our organizations through rich, visual and living communication; because it is only by engaging diversity that we can create a shared movement towards a new big opportunity.
The importance of communication and the fragmentation inside organizations was a recurring theme in many presentations. Alec Bernstein, Senior Director at BMW Group DesignWorks, made a convincing case in his presentation about cinematographic storytelling as a method for engaging the top management at BMW in the design process of new products. Scriptwriters, market researchers and designerscreated small compelling stories together about future users based on lots and lots of research data.
A sense of disconnectedness
What surprised me during the conference was that while co-creation with the customer was a recurring theme, it was the internal collaboration between innovation departments and other parts of the organization (especially top management) that seemed to be the challenge addressed by most presenters. And when the topic was methods for involving consumers and other stakeholders in the development of new products and services, I noticed a certain sense of disconnectedness.
The relationship between a company and its stakeholders reveals itself through language. Phrases like “in order to serve the market” and “to create value for the customer” is good business speak. What I noticed was that nobody said phrases like “in order to work with the market” and “to create value with the customer”.
Believing that we only have to work with people inside of our own organizations and that our most important task is to convince the top management of our good ideas can lead to another kind of complacency. It keeps us from engaging in co-creation with the world around us and leaves us reactive in relation to the change that is still speeding up.
Learning to collaborate
The last presenter I heard was Carlos Domiguez, Senior Vice President at Cisco Systems. He made a clear point about collaboration. “The only reason for collaboration is to produce results”, he said. I would suggest another reason for collaboration, which is simply to learn how to do it.
In order to proactively embrace a future that will bring more change and complexity, companies need to learn how to collaborate. And that is not only internally but with all of their stakeholders. Companies must learn how to operate from a “we” that includes not only their innovation department but also their customers and other stakeholders that could potentially shape the company.
Peter Kragh, expert practitioner in user innovation at Coloplast, shared a good of example of this. The company develops products and services for patients with very personal and private medical conditions like ostomi, continence or wounds that don’t heal. Coloplast allows its customers to participate directly in the innovation process through peer-to-peer knowledge sharing and mutual education.
Designing new stages
On the way home in the plane I read the book “Redesigning Leadership” by John Maeda, president of the Rhode Island School of Design and author of “The Laws of Simplicity”. He is also a designer, and as the leader of an educational institution he still regards himself as a designer; only now what he designs is “how to talk about/with/for” his organization.
Reading this book (as a kind of epilogue to the experience from the Front End of Innovation) made me think that probably one of the next big things that companies have to learn is to design “how to talk about/with/for” their organizations in ways that connect them more to the stakeholders around them. And especially in ways that allow companies to learn with their customers about how to provide valuable solutions to real needs.
Companies will have to change the game of “trying to convince each other” into a new and bigger game of “trying to learn with each other”. So they have to start designing new stories about themselves and what they do. Stories that are rich, visual and alive. Stories that include the customers and set the stage for collaboration. Quoting John Kotter; it is only by engaging diversity that we can create a shared movement in our organization towards a new big opportunity.
And in order to create something that is genuinely new we have to become new ourselves.