by Bansi Nagji and Geoff Tuff
published in Harvard Business Review
Management knows it and so does Wall Street: The year-to-year viability of a company depends on its ability to innovate. Given today’s market expectations, global competitive pressures, and the extent and pace of structural change, this is truer than ever. But chief executives struggle to make the case to the Street that their managerial actions can be relied on to yield a stream of successful new offerings. Many admit to being unsure and frustrated. Typically they are aware of a tremendous amount of innovation going on inside their enterprises but don’t feel they have a grasp on all the dispersed initiatives. The pursuit of the new feels haphazard and episodic, and they suspect that the returns on the company’s total innovation investment are too low.
Making matters worse, executives tend to respond with dramatic interventions and vacillating strategies. Take the example of a consumer goods company we know. Attuned to the need to keep its brands fresh in retailers’ and consumers’ minds, it introduced frequent improvements and variations on its core offerings. Most of those earned their keep with respectable uptake by the market and decent margins. Over time, however, it became clear that all this product proliferation, while splitting the revenue pie into ever-smaller slices, wasn’t actually growing the pie. Eager to achieve a much higher return, management lurched toward a new strategy aimed at breakthrough product development—at transformational rather than incremental innovations.
Access the full article via the Harvard Business Review website.
by Erik Kiaer
published in Innopreneur: 101 Chronicles on How Circumstance, Preparation and Brilliance Advance Innovation
One of our clients was trying to reinvigorate its building materials business in a recent project. The initial work focus centered on potential levels for innovation. The executives considered developing a more flexible manufacturing process, or possibly increasing the effectiveness of their distributors, or even reducing package sizes if that might meaningfully change the economics of their business. They argued that growth had to come through the existing business system. It was entirely rational, yet it entirely missed the mark.
In taking this focus, the executives were more concerned about their own business practices and not thinking about why people bought their products. It wasn’t because customers woke up in the morning with a burning desire to buy lumber, but because a homeowner dreamed of achieving a better life in a better home. By taking a step back, our client realized that the market didn’t want hammers and nails; it wanted walls and rooms.
by Larry Keeley
published in Steelcase 100
Most people think of the United States as a very young country. Given the childlike way we often act this is a natural enough impulse, but they are wrong. The U.S. is the oldest participative democracy on our small blue planet.
So consider this: perhaps countries have a natural life span, and we are at the end of ours. I am not a Chicken Little alarmist saying we will suffer the inevitable decline of all empires before us. Instead my message is positive and deeply focused on innovation: let’s reinvent participative democracy for the 21st Century.
And not just for the U.S. This reinvention should be a gift to the world – equally valuable in any land and for any people; useful at any scale: team, firm, town, city, state, province, region, country, and continent. To live up to its own promise, the U.S. should create it and should adopt it first but, hey, it’s an election year, so the odds that our “leaders” will do anything useful and path-breaking during this period of national embarrassment verges on zero.
How might we do it? Three revolutions, elegantly integrated:
by Larry Keeley
published in Fortune
People never seem to notice, but strategies have fashions. Just as cars had fins for a while, or business folks try to dress like they just stepped off the set of Mad Men, or phones get big touch screens and icons to chase after Jony Ive’s iPhone design choices, there are also conventions in how we think about what firms should do to create value. These ways of thinking even have names so we can refer to them in shorthand: focus, cost leadership, differentiation, core competence leverage, supply chain integration, and the like.
This came to mind over the last few days in the midst of the Kodak (EK) death vigil. Most of the Kodak conversation has been standard issue Chicken Little: the sky is falling; the American dream is dead; another classic company has bitten the dust. We’re all off to hell in a handcart and there’s not a thing we can do about it. After all, Kodak was a symbol of better times, an era when American innovation and invention was seemingly ubiquitous. But while George Eastman’s goal — to make photography ”as convenient as the pencil” has been realized and even exceeded — Kodak was not the company that capitalized on this new ubiquity.
by Brian Quinn
published in Fast Company Design
As an innovation consultant, I found the recent Co.Design post “Do Innovation Consultants Kill Innovation?” troubling. Jens Martin Skibsted and Rasmus Bech Hansen are right to castigate much of the innovation consulting industry, which is unfortunately full of firms that have rebranded themselves as innovation experts. Just peruse the website of any large consulting firm. Yesterday’s management, brand, or operations consultant is today’s innovation guru.
The problem these consultants run into is that most of them have no ability to actually create an innovation, and so they fall back on what they really know how to do: They analyze. They promote stage gate and pipeline management, statistically normalizing these by industry to tell you just how many innovation ideas your company needs at each point to succeed. Just don’t ask them to help you actually generate or improve any of the ideas themselves. So I’m happy to also cast a stone at the “custodians” and “wordslingers” described in their piece. But what I found really troubling is the article’s core thesis: That innovation is too “messy” to professionalize, and therefore enterprises should not invest in building internal innovation capabilities. That perspective is simply uninformed and needlessly reductive.
by Helen Walters
published in Core77
This year’s Cooper-Hewitt National Design Award for corporate and institutional achievement was given to furniture design company, Knoll. The award is a timely vindication for the design-focused company, which continued to invest in design even as the economy tanked (Knoll stock price in the first quarter of 2009 sank to just over $5; shares are now over $20.)
Andrew Cogan has been CEO of the East Greenville, Pennsylvania-based company since 2001. I talked with him about the company’s ongoing commitment to innovation, and he described how Knoll has learned to evolve and adapt along with the market even as it continues to emphasize the importance of design to the bottom line An edited transcript of our conversation follows.
Helen Walters: Can you describe the research process at Knoll?
Andrew Cogan: Florence Knoll started the Knoll Planning Unit in 1946. She was well-known for trying to understand the problem clients were trying to solve for, particularly as they were moving into the modern workplace. She spent time studying what was going on in an office, how people interface with each other and equipment and tools. And we continue to do that to this day. We’re very client-driven. We engage with a range of individual clients, looking at all the problems they’re solving and we think about how furniture can play a role in that. We also do research on a broader level, so we think about a topic such as office seating and spend hundreds of hours filming people in office chairs to see how they sit and move, and that gives insight into designing products. Then we also do third party trend research looking at trends in the workplace. We bring all those insights together into our product design process.
by Bansi Nagji and Brian Quinn
published in The Conference Board Review
Whether or not we have truly emerged from the painful downturn of the past two years, a long-hoped-for shift has come to pass in the tone of management teams’ recent conversations. Executives are no longer spending the majority of their working (and often waking) hours obsessing about cost-cutting, optimization, and reorganizations. Their attention has returned to growth and finding fresh opportunities.
In other words, innovation is no longer on layaway—it is an imperative for right now.
The hard part is figuring out how. Executives looking to re-energize their innovation programs face two stark realities. First, after the cost-cutting and restructuring activities of the last twenty-four months, they have fewer resources and capabilities available to pursue new initiatives—as with everything else, they must achieve more with less. Second, when it comes to past innovation efforts, most remember— even if they’d rather not—that their suc- cess rates were dismally low. So as they try to carry on with tightened belts, they recognize that today’s innovation efforts must be more effective than ever before.
Compounding the challenge, most executives aren’t starting from prime positions. They’re returning to innovation portfolios that are broad and diffuse, padded with pet projects, half-measures, and stale initiatives. Their employees, while well-intentioned, lack the focus, discipline, and energy to develop winning innovations. Having survived the economic storm, their organizations are feeling a little aimless in making plans to rebuild competitive advantage in a dramatically different world.
Read the full article
by Bansi Nagji and Matt Locsin
published in Pharmaceutical Executive
Pharmaceutical executives understand that they must confront multi-layered demands. They have to explore new business models while attending to their existing, highly profitable commercial model. The important question is: How can they actively pursue both paths to create their own future?
Designers, who are trained in creative problem solving, excel at solving these kinds of complex, multi-dimensional challenges. While designers are respected for their vision and creativity, their disciplined approach to problem solving often yields solutions not discoverable through traditional business methods.
Though design has historically been applied to the development of new products, in recent years leading companies such as Intel, Toyota, GE, and P&G have implemented design in conjunction with traditional business thinking to create new offerings, customer experiences, and business models.
by Larry Keeley
published in Step Inside Design
Two summers ago I was biking in the Alps and got a call from a client CEO who expected me to drop everything and meet him in New York City the very next day. I said it was impossible, that it would take me two days to get there. He said he would wait, though in a tone of voice that clearly suggested he shouldn’t have to. Thinking it unwise to appear in biking duds, I bought some business-meeting clothes and flew to New York, got to his conference room, and he promptly walked in to tell me a tale.
Three days earlier this CEO, head of a $70 billion financial services firm with offices in 40 countries, had met with stock analysts. He was reporting on his achievements—which were numerous and impressive. Over the prior year or so he had cut $100 million of annual costs out of the firm; consolidated a bunch of bad data centers into two great ones; dumped several businesses that were not core to operations; improved customer response time; and a dozen other advances. He sort of expected the analysts would at least give him a standing ovation, or perhaps carry him out of the room on their shoulders.
by Jay Doblin
published in STA Design Journal
Editor’s Note: One of the last pieces he wrote before he died, Jay summed up his philosophy towards design and innovation. This article gives a wonderful impression of his wit and attitude and his forward-thinking approach to a discipline that has been widely adopted in the years since.
For years, most design problems could be solved by using a combination of design training, experience, and applied intuition. But as the world and its design problems have become more complex, traditional approaches have become less effective.
The notion of design theory may seem woolly-headed and irrelevant, but it has a place: theory can provide a structure for understanding problems and help generate methods for solving them. After many years of being confined to a few oddball schools, design methods are starting to find widespread practical application. Indeed, there are today many classes of design projects (big positioning studies, complex identity programs, massive electronic publishing systems, and systems of products produced in robotic factories among them) that would be irresponsible to attempt without using analytical methods.
Read the PDF of the full article.