Innovation: it’s better when it’s done together

Every month that we are preparing for blog posts and podcasts, Justin and I meet with a group of executives and leaders who are currently in organizations of various sizes. We bring a topic to the table, and open up a discussion about whatever we are working on that month. This month we brought up the topic of “we are better when we innovate together”. One of the members of our group immediately chimed in: “You seem to have the uncanny ability of bringing up whatever our company is working on right now.” Another female executive agreed, and they began to talk about how their companies each have different innovation systems to bring new products and services online, and she, too, spent many hours virtually and face to face working with cross-functional teams innovating together through various phases of the process.

These two women are representative of the pressure on companies in the “innovate or be disrupted” environment. It reminds me of a very popular movie, Apollo 13, which tells the story of that moon mission that suffered the breakdown of its oxygen filter, and how the engineers quickly innovated a new filter by using only what was available in the space capsule. The unforgettable scene in the movie was when the chief engineer threw everything out on a table that was available to the astronauts, and said to his team that they had an extremely short period of time to innovate a new oxygen filter from these parts. Talk about pressure with short time windows. That is what many organizations feel like today, because the pace of change is rapid. What it illustrates is that we innovate better together, rather than leaving it to one expert. No longer can one person in a shop or lab create something new without the help of multiple feedback loops to help shape and mold the development of the service or product over time.

How they do that can vary widely from company to company. One of the best systems we have come across is called Discovery Driven Growth strategic planning and product development. It assumes that products must be created where they are called an MVP (minimum viable product) and then quickly exposed to the environment where the actual sale and use of this product happens. Many experiments designed to fail fast allow for rapid prototyping, and iterative development of the best. These developmental teams need to be as diverse as possible, so that many points of view can vet the product as it evolves over time.

A second critical system is the need to understand the specific audiences that will be buying or renting the product or service you are developing and refining over time. People on these teams feel like they are “always in beta”, which means they are dynamically changing products in real time from input where people are actually using the product. This more and more requires sensors of all kinds being put in place to give a constant stream of information directly from consumer use in order to personalize and adapt over time as the customer behavior changes. One author put it this way: “Companies need a mobile sensing network to innovate on an ongoing basis.” Thus, what is being built all over the world is, using our metaphor, a giant sensory system of the body to survive the ongoing changing world.

One very interesting text in the Old Testament is called the “Issachar men, 200 strong”. They are described as “men who could discern the times (which means they could see, hear, sense) and knew what Israel should do. David leaned on them to help defeat Solomon, and take back the throne. Whatever the circumstances, no longer is innovation a one person show, but a group of teams, networked together, working together towards a whole.

Want to go deeper into the conversation on innovation? Check out our podcast on the same topic.

Categories: Capability, Communication, Culture, Design, Process, Strategy, Structure

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