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How relevant is talent for innovation?

By Culture, Talent No Comments

How relevant is talent for innovation?
Today, every organisation is working on innovation. There are tons of blogs, books and articles out there. There are labs, training programs and accelerators, but life isn’t getting easier for corporate innovators. Not so much, or in fact, very little attention is paid to innovation talent.

From our everyday practice, we get the clear impression that it is hard for companies to find the right people and it is also difficult to retain talent. Frequently we hear innovators being dissatisfied within their roles and with the corporate landscape. A Capgemini study found that getting the right people is actually a key constraint to innovation success.

What’s remarkable is that while working with startups, we see that the one thing that always stands out the most to investors is the team, whereas in corporate innovation there is a lot of talk about organisation, methods, processes and management.

We all know that in corporate innovation a great team will also make a difference, and that many projects are slowed down or killed by teams not performing well. As Eric Ries himself puts it,  a startup is ‘a human institution designed to create a new product or service under conditions of extreme uncertainty’.

As a former intrapeneur and coach to intrapreneurs, I am convinced that the motivation and passion of innovators is the key success factor. They need to have a ‘Founder’s Mentality’ (Bain & company). Founders are the ones operating under conditions of extreme uncertainty, fighting the battles, and pushing forward on a daily basis. Talent are the special forces in your organisation, and special forces need to be trained – continuously. They can only succeed in their tasks when the team members are motivated and fit.

What can you do about it? One way is to equip talented innovators with the right skill-set and mindset and to connect them with peers so they can share their challenges and frustrations. Learning is among the largest drivers of employee engagement and strong workplace culture, and not merely a way to build skills.

A new type of employee learning is emerging that is more “consumerlike” and that brings together design thinking, content curation and an integrated model offering an end-to-end designed learning experience (Deloitte, Global Human Capital Report). This is exactly what we are developing for innovators.

We call it ONTREK. Trekking is a journey undertaken in areas where there are usually no means of transport available, usually on uncharted paths, in challenging environments. It’s just like innovating and you can be part of this adventure. Contact us and ask for ONTREK.

Why Big Companies Are Losing When It Comes To Disruptive Innovation (And How To Get Back On Track)

By Culture, Ecosystem, Lean Startup, Open Innovation No Comments

Companies have money and resources, so why is it so hard for them to excel in groundbreaking, disruptive innovation?

Just before the iPhone was announced in 2007, BlackBerry phones were the most popular on the market. However, the iPhone with its revolutionary touch screen, turned the BlackBerry into an archaic device. Instead of turning to disruptive innovation, BlackBerry believed that their keyboard phone would remain appealing to business people and professionals. They were wrong, and with that, the company lost momentum. In 2013, they were down 50 percent in their quarter earnings, and were cutting 4,500 workers.

Other big corporations — Nokia, Yahoo and Hewlett-Packard to name a few — also felt the frustration of accelerating performance.

Why is it so difficult for big companies to establish (and maintain) the ability to innovate, while all of them have innovation programs, innovation departments, and/or innovation officers?

The Innovator’s Dilemma

One reason why corporations may have a hard time setting up successful innovation strategy is because of the innovator’s dilemma. This dilemma arises when companies are dominant and have a need to protect their market. Their focus moves from disruptive innovation to sustaining innovation.

At some point however, a competitor will emerge that will threaten their business with a better alternative. These companies are thus faced with a dilemma: sustain the market where they are excelling (BlackBerry example) but lose some great opportunities, or focus on these (“crazy”) opportunities that might only bear fruits in the longer run (if at all)?

Gary P. Pisano, Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School, notes that the problem is not with failure to execute, but is rooted in the lack of innovation strategy. What’s important about building good innovation strategies, he adds, is that they help align diverse groups within an organisation (a problem that startups rarely face), define objectives and help focus efforts on them.

The thing about innovation strategy is that you can learn from that of another organisation, but you cannot copy. There is no one system that fits all companies equally well or works under all circumstances.

It is a mistake to believe that what works for, say, Apple (today’s favourite innovator) is going to work for your organisation. You can’t copy culture.

Nokia, once the world’s leading mobile producer, sold to Microsoft for €5.4 billion with only three percent of the global smartphone market share in 2013. Technology didn’t kill Nokia, neither did ideas or the people. Nokia had the technology to build an iPhone but didn’t. It was the lack of a burning platform and innovation culture. The company was massively underestimating competition just because they believed Nokia was the untouchable market leader – wrong.

As we can see, corporations can make wrong assumptions and what’s more, they are great at killing “bad” ideas.

The problem is that disruptive ideas at first seem bad. Renting out an airbed does not sound like a great idea, but today AirBnB overshadows some of the world’s largest hotel groups.

There’s no culture of supporting bad ideas, but there’s a culture of killing them. This creates a situation in which employees don’t want to share ideas anymore. Additionally, corporates often lack the right innovation strategy and structure particularly for disruptive ideas.

So going back to the innovator’s dilemma, it seems that companies face this question (even if they don’t explicitly ask it): “should we sustain the market where the sailing (seems) clear, or should we rock our boat and explore uncharted waters?

In many cases, such as in life, staying in the clear is more comfortable, but at some point this comfort can turn into grief.

The good news is that this dilemma is not a Catch-22, and there are ways for corporations to keep their comfort, and still explore new territories.

Three horizons…
Steve Blank discusses the way to bridge the Lean Startup methodology with corporate innovation. He incorporates two strategic principles. The first proposes that companies who want to be innovative need to execute their core business parallel to focusing on innovation. The second proposes that a company should distribute its innovation to three horizons:

  1. Mature businesses
  2. Rapidly growing business
  3. Emerging businesses

Activities in horizon 1 support existing business models (where the sailing seems clear). Horizon 2 is focused on extending existing businesses with partially known business models (the boat starts rocking) and horizon 3 is focused on unknown business models (the storm is near).

Most corporates are not that active in Horizon 3, but remain in the (partial) comfort of horizon 1 and 2. Horizon 3 is long-term and risky. It doesn’t pay-off till the next CEO is in place, so there is little incentive for the current CEO to invest in it, leading this horizon to be the first to suffer from budget-cuts.

Interacting with four zones
Geoffrey Moore provides an interesting way to deal with this situation by proposing four zones that interact with the three horizons. These zones help companies separate the resources that go into sustaining innovation and disruptive innovation.

In the Performance zone (horizon 1) operation of established business models happen. It is about making the numbers. This zone is supposed to make up about 90% of the company’s revenue. One mistake is to believe that shareholders only care about this zone and focus all the resources here.
The Productivity Zone (also horizon 1) has no direct accountability for the revenue of the company. It is the space for shared services such as: marketing, manufacturing, customer service, finance, etc. These enable the company to perform. The zone’s task is to target efficiencies, improve operations, and direct resources to core activities.

The Incubation Zone (horizon 3) acts as a host to fast-growing offers in emerging categories/markets that did not yet materialise. Here nest the next-generation teams, who will hatch up a number of projects. The funding needs to flow to projects with a potential to scale.

The next zone is in charge of scaling up such projects. The Transformation Zone (horizon 2) is supposed to materialise and scale up disruptive innovation. The goal is to create new business that makes up 10% (or more) of the revenues. Success in this zone would affect how investors value the company, and attract new partners. However, failure here could pull the company down the pecking order.

It is important to keep these zones separated (similar to the first strategic principle from Steve Blank) because each zone requires a different kind of management with a different set of objectives. However, they must work alongside each other. How though?

  • By providing a structure that keeps them apart, and prevents methods and metrics getting mixed up between the zones.
  • Apply best practices for each zone, separately.
  • Have (lightweight) governance that keeps an overview of the all the zones, and helps with planning and resource allocation.

Ideally, there is a balance between the four zones, so that your organisation is able to promote and embrace disruptive innovation, but such balance is what they frequently lack. Often, they miss the knowledge and people to build it. Executives have never (or rarely) learned about this type of business, but are now confronted with the swift reality of the Information Age.

How can we be both a corporation and a startup?
Innovation is another kind of business, which requires a unique structure, KPI’s and management. Companies, that want to remain in the game, need to find ways to transcend the innovator’s dilemma. They need to employ a strategy of innovation — one that can contain parallel operations. They need to ask themselves: how best can we allocate our resources to both sustain and innovate? How can we think inside and outside the box simultaneously? How can we be both a corporation and a startup?

Although corporates are becoming more and more aware of this situation and are raising these important questions, reforming their strategies is not easy and cannot happen overnight. Changing/building/shaping the culture of the organisation takes time. Implementing changes, especially in regulation-congested organisations, takes time; finding out what works and what doesn’t work takes time too. Nevertheless, there is also no time to not do it. The transformation is real and it is happening, and although it’s scary, exploring uncharted waters can lead to real treasure.


By Nitzan Merguei and thanks to Rob Aalders (Startup Spirit) for his contribution to this article.

Lean Startups Need Lean People

By Culture, Lean Startup No Comments

5 Traits to Look for in the People YOU Need to Make It Work

Do you have a business idea? Do you have an answer to a problem? Do you have the key to the next “best thing”? If so, you may be familiar with the idea of the Lean Startup. The concept of Lean Startup was brought about by Eric Ries and Steve Blank as a method to follow through and make your best ideas come to life. The concept is innovative and produces great results, but there is one key element that not everyone talks about. That element is the people behind the startup.

The ideas that create the methodology behind building a Lean Startup are fairly simple: look at the big picture, always experiment, constantly evaluate, be flexible and don’t be afraid to fail. In a Lean Startup, these ideas are applied to production and research methods as well as marketing and sales in order to create success. Now, think about if you applied these ideas to the people inside of the startup. What if your people were just as lean as your processes?

Unfortunately, it’s not always as easy to groom the people inside of your startup as it is to groom the practices. That’s why you have to find or nurture the right people to make your Lean Startup possible. If you are already inside of a company and looking to grow new ideas, these people may be all around you. If you aren’t beginning from within a company you may have to go out and find these people. However you do it, it will be worth your time.

1. Find People who See the Big Picture
In a Lean Startup, there is a methodology that goes into developing a successful business. In order for your Lean startup to be successful, you and the people within it will have to understand that there is a continual process that must be followed, and there are many small goals to reach within the larger, overall goal.

Now, the question is – how do you identify the people who see the big picture? In most company positions, someone applies for a job, gets the job, comes to do the job they were given and nothing more. These are not the people you want, or the person you want to be in a Lean Startup. The person you want (the person who sees the big picture) is the person who asks questions about how their position or projects align with the needs of the client. Are we doing the right things, and are we doing things right? The person who sees the big picture is the person who understands what you need. If you have this type of person in your Lean Startup, they will be able to take a step back from their role and help to solve problems at every level in order to create the best outcome possible.

2. Find People who Develop Themselves (People need to know that they don’t know)
A Lean Startup project is in a constant stage of development. The simple motivation behind the constant development of a Lean Startup is that the product will always be improving in order to create (more) revenue and grow the company. This means, while finishing one goal, the team must already be moving forward to the next stage in order to stay relevant and on top of the ever-changing market. This theory applies to all aspects of a Lean Startup and the people should be no exception.

In order for your Lean Startup to be successful, you and the people within it have to constantly be working to improve your thought processes and your skills in order to keep up with competition.

These people are identified as the people who are always looking towards learning the next “new skill” or “best practice” in order to help move the business forward. People who are constantly developing themselves come to their supervisors with new ideas or share insights from materials that they have read. In a Lean Startup, these people will be beneficial to have as stakeholders because they can move themselves forward with the product. People who develop themselves can easily move from one position to another as is needed in the project, and they can easily adapt because they do not fear change. If you can find people who can develop themselves, they will be able to improve their skills and knowledge as the company grows in success.

3. Find People Who Evaluate Themselves
Due to the constant state of movement that is required in a Lean Startup, it is important to understand the importance of evaluation. In a Lean Startup there are multiple goals to meet that often overlap, and people take on more than one role at a time. Therefore, one has to be able to step back and look at which factors of the plan worked and did not work and use that information to create momentum for the accomplishment of the next goal.

In order for your Lean Startup to be successful, you and the people within it have to be able to evaluate yourselves and your processes / data.

To find the people who are able to evaluate themselves, you must first look to people who value feedback in all forms. These are the people who reach out to others for second-opinions on their work and search for both positive and negative criticisms. The people who are able to evaluate themselves realize that there is always the possibility of a better person or a better product out there. People who are able to evaluate themselves create multiple versions of their work before submitting it, because they know that they are always able to do more. The individuals who can evaluate themselves will be able to look deeper into the lean process to identify which factors can be improved upon in order to create overall success.

4. Find People Who are Flexible
When moving from one stage of development to the next, it is important to be able to adapt to the ever changing projects and conditions that are needed in order to be successful. As in all business, sometimes creating a successful product takes one-step forward and two-steps back. While the processes of a Lean Startup are designed to create a flow from one stage to another, it is inevitable that at any given time, there will be unforeseen circumstances. When these circumstances hit, it is important to have people in place who can handle setbacks without a major meltdown.

In order for your Lean Startup to be successful, you and the people within it have to be flexible in order to adapt quickly and overcome challenges.

You can pick out people with professional flexibility by finding people who can keep up in a position where the job description changes regularly. In an innovation project, the day-to-day routine is never the same; one day there could be problems to solve regarding manufacturing and production while the next day may call for market research for the next phase of the product. To make the business successful, a person has to be able to take on multiple challenges and not be rattled by roadblocks.

5. Find People Who are Not Afraid of Failure
With a constantly developing product and market, multi-levelled plans, and an ever-changing market comes the very realistic possibility of failure. When setting out on a Lean Startup venture, there is always the possibility that the idea could come to a crashing halt and that the overall product will fail. However, because the Lean Startup methodology is designed to be more streamlined with outlined stages, the risk of complete failure compared to an average startup is decreased. That being said, it is nearly impossible that someone setting out on a Lean Startup venture will never experience failure. At some point throughout the process failure is inevitable, and that’s okay. In a Lean Startup, one has to be able to take risks in order to see rewards, and risks that fail teach lessons that lead to risks that succeed.

In order for your Lean Startup to be successful, you and the people within it have to be willing to fail.

People who are aren’t afraid of failure are usually fairly easy to find, because they are the ones who stand out. If someone isn’t afraid of failure, they usually speak up regarding ideas they don’t believe in, spearhead new projects, and are the first to volunteer in uncomfortable situations. People who are not afraid of failure understand that through their failure they will be able to find a key to something that ultimately leads to success. Essentially, finding people with this quality will be the biggest key to success, because these people are the kind of people who don’t give up.

Get the People to Get it Done
The lean process has proven itself time and time again in many different industries, and continues to guide entrepreneurs on towards success. If you have a Lean Startup or are intrigued by it, you can learn the processes, methodologies, tips, tricks and secrets to success through research and education. However, the implementation of all that you learn and know will prove to be much easier if you have the right people in place.

If you think that you have the ability to be the next Apple, then you have to invest in your idea. Most entrepreneurs are willing to invest the necessary time and money into finding the best manufacturing, marketing, and research to make their product a success. What many fail to remember at the beginning is that if you invest the time and money into finding the best people to put behind your product, your success is more likely to last.

The Lean Startup process is exciting, fun and challenging. It is the best way that you can accomplish bringing your “next best thing” to the market. It’s worth taking the time to learn how to implement the Lean Startup process; if you are able to learn it, put your resources into finding individuals who are as lean as the processes that you implement, so you can get on the road to your success.

5 ways to overcome obstacles to innovation

By Culture, Design, Ecosystem, Lean Startup, Open Innovation No Comments

5 ways to overcome obstacles to innovation:

#1 Lengthy projects
Anу given рrоjесt, whеthеr it’ѕ dеvеlорing a nеw рrоduсt or сrеаting аn updated vеrѕiоn of an оld one, саn tаkе mоnthѕ tо соmрlеtе. Thе рrоblеm with thiѕ рrосеѕѕ iѕ that if ѕоmеthing iѕn’t right with thе еnd result, уоu may find уоu’vе just wasted a уеаr оr mоrе оf your timе. Yоu саn wоrk in a vеrу еffiсiеnt mаnnеr аlоng a two to fоur-wееk сусlе, whеrе you implement, рuѕh to рrоduсtiоn аnd measure the imрасt, but уоu nееd to bе on the spot аt аll times for thе tеаm to undеrѕtаnd whаt’ѕ аt ѕtаkе.

Look at thе individuаl раrtѕ оf a ѕуѕtеm that rеquirе сhаngе, brеаk thе сhаllеngе down intо ѕub-соmроnеntѕ, assign small teams with dеfinеd timelines, сеlеbrаtе ѕmаll ѕuссеѕѕеѕ аnd fоllоw uр with rарid itеrаtiоn.

#2 Not making enough time to innovate
Arе уоu mаking rооm fоr innоvаtiоn in уоur day-to-day operations? Companies оftеn gеt caught uр in mееting short-term реrfоrmаnсе criteria, which lеаvеѕ nо time for innоvаtivе thinking аnd соllаbоrаtiоn.

“Professionals nееd tо ѕеt аѕidе time for innоvаtiоn оn a соnѕiѕtеnt basis — and the timе nееdѕ tо bе prioritized”. “The еntеrрriѕе nееdѕ tо knоw hоw to ѕроt innоvаtiоnѕ, аnd hаvе a соnduit fоr dеvеlорing innоvаtivе соnсерtѕ. Wоrk tо сrеаtе a ѕimрlе аgеndа that dеfines hоw to funnel innоvаtivе idеаѕ thrоugh.”

#3 Break down internal walls
If you think that аll gооd idеаѕ соmе frоm the C-ѕuitе, think аgаin. Putting uр “walls аnd оnlу listening tо thе executive tеаm for inѕрirаtiоn will асtuаllу hurt innovation mоrе thаn it helps. Sоmеtimеѕ the bеѕt idеаѕ соmе frоm team members whо aren’t packing the реdigrееd сrеdеntiаlѕ оr wоrking in thе C-ѕuitеѕ,” Lеvу told Buѕinеѕѕ Nеwѕ Daily. “Thе соmраniеѕ that hаvе risen аbоvе others сhаllеngе thеir ѕtаff tо be innovative in an аll-inсluѕivе соmmunitу. Exесutivеѕ muѕt соnѕtаntlу соllаbоrаtе with ѕtаff at аll levels and make each реrѕоn feel that nо idеа iѕ bad оr tоо fаr-fеtсhеd.

#4 Imbalances between speed and data collection
In an аgе whеn companies hаvе ассеѕѕ tо mоuntаinѕ оf dаtа оn nеаrlу еvеrу facet of thеir buѕinеѕѕ, it’ѕ еаѕу tо ѕау thаt уоur оrgаnizаtiоn needs to be data-driven. “Put processes in place аt both thе individuаl аnd company lеvеl thаt еnсоurаgе finding the hарру medium between ѕрееd and dаtа collection. Whаt wе’vе found is thаt everyone iѕ nаturаllу mоrе inсlinеd to fаvоur mоving fаѕt, or tо fаvоur in-depth dаtа-drivеn decisions. Whеn diѕсuѕѕing any business innovation, wе fоrсе dеbаtе оvеr thiѕ tорiс at multiple ѕtаgеѕ of thе process to еnѕurе [орtimаl] momentum.”

#5 Fear of change
Chаngе iѕ аt thе heart of innovation, аnd уеt, as a соmраnу grоwѕ biggеr, ѕhаking up thе ѕtаtuѕ quo bесоmеѕ a littlе mоrе diffiсult than when it wаѕ in thе еаrlу ѕtаrt-uр phase. “Evеn whеn еvеrуоnе аgrееѕ [а change] is for thе bеttеr … you are аffесting the habits аnd rоutinеѕ оf hundrеdѕ оf individuаlѕ, аѕ wеll as thе lеgасу platforms that thеу hаvе been uѕing.
Whеn ѕоmеоnе brings fоrth a nеw рrосеѕѕ or idеа, lеt him оr hеr run with it, hе ѕаid. Have thе team member flеѕh it оut in writing, аnd if thе idеа has mеrit, аѕk him or her to test it, аlоng with some other соllеаguеѕ.
“Inclusion is also imроrtаnt, as it еmроwеrѕ individuals аnd givеѕ thеm a ѕеnѕе of оwnеrѕhiр,” Ontrа said. “And in thе еnd, if it wоrkѕ, it turns intо a tеаm win.”

Want to be more innovative. Here are 3 ways to do so:

#1 Willingness to Change
It ѕtаrtѕ with a rеѕtlеѕѕnеѕѕ and willingnеѕѕ to соnѕidеr сhаngе. Many реорlе саn think of a nеw, fаѕtеr, mоrе efficient wау to get thingѕ dоnе. Hоwеvеr, change takes еnеrgу, discipline, and a willingnеѕѕ tо dо ѕоmеthing that’s nеvеr been dоnе bеfоrе. Fоr many асtivitiеѕ that will ultimаtеlу mаkе uѕ mоrе еffiсiеnt, thеrе is a learning сurvе. Whеn wе сhаngе from a mеthоd wе’vе mastered to a nеw process, we are invariably аwkwаrd at first. The new tool makes uѕ feel at bеѕt unсоmfоrtаblе аnd аt wоrѕt incompetent. It takes timе and рrасtiсе fоr uѕ to return to our рrеviоuѕ lеvеl of ѕkill, but оvеr timе we ѕее thе vаluе оf сhаngе аnd perhaps even wonder why wе laboured ѕо hеаvilу оn infеriоr аррrоасhеѕ bеfоrе. For innоvаtiоn tо еxiѕt, уоu hаvе tо fееl inѕрirеd. Thiѕ comes frоm a сlеаr ѕеnѕе оf рurроѕе аnd mеаning tо thеir wоrk.

#2 Not Settling for Good Enough
Thе реорlе who wеrе mоѕt likely tо bе innоvаtivе were thоѕе whо wеrеn’t ѕаtiѕfiеd with gооd performance but wеrе rеlеntlеѕѕlу lооking fоr wауѕ to rаiѕе thе bar. Thеу rесruitеd exceptionally tаlеntеd реорlе whо wоuld challenge them аnd thеir оrgаnizаtiоn. Thеу avoided bumblеrѕ, whееl ѕрinnеrѕ, аnd рhоniеѕ. However, thе mоѕt innоvаtivе реорlе were соnѕtаntlу lооking fоr bеttеr methods and орtiоnѕ. They еxсеllеd bу ѕеtting ѕtrеtсh gоаlѕ. Thеѕе gоаlѕ rеquirеd реорlе to gо fаr bеуоnd wоrking hаrdеr, but required thеm tо find nеw mеthоdѕ in оrdеr to achieve thе gоаl. Thе challenge оf meeting thе gоаl wаѕ оftеn framed as “getting tо thе nеxt level.”

#3 Assembling an Innovative Community
Thе wonderful thing аbоut using innоvаtiоn tо increase ѕрееd iѕ thаt when уоu imрlеmеnt it wеll, it becomes аn indереndеnt аnd powerful force that propels thе оrgаnizаtiоn fоrwаrd. It augments lеаdеrѕ аnd inсrеаѕеѕ their реrfоrmаnсе. Knоwing this, a key quеѕtiоn to аѕk yourself is: “Whаt is hоlding mе back frоm being mоrе innоvаtivе?” Your dеlау mау bе limiting уоu more thаn you know.

So there you have it. Overcome those obstacles and become more innovative. It all comes down to you!