By: David Franke, Director, Innovation
Autonomous cars will shepherd us safely from point A to point B. Genotyping and smart drugs will allow for more personalized treatments. Advanced robotics will introduce an entirely new genre of companionship that is just as real and fulfilling as the companionship we find in people and pets, though with the added benefits of agelessness and upgradeability.
And this could be considered the beginning of a new period of disruption that will fundamentally alter the way people and companies organize, operate, and innovate.
The World Economic Forum describes this period as the Fourth Industrial Revolution, which, according to the organization’s founder and executive chairman, Klaus Schwab, “entails nothing less than a transformation of humankind.” Driven by advances in and collaborations across diverse disciplines – from artificial intelligence to biotechnology – it’s easy to see this transformation as progressive and inevitable.
This all sounds well and good, though perhaps a little one-sided. If innovation is, at its simplest, invention plus implementation, the conversation around the transformative potential of innovation in this Fourth Industrial Revolution has largely focused on the invention half of the equation. The risk we face – as individuals, as companies, as a society – in failing to prepare for and manage the implementation half is that innovation stalls or, worse, results in net regress rather than progress.
Good ideas are abandoned due to lack of consensus or unaligned interests. Consumers continue to suffer under antiquated systems – from cable providers to health care organizations – until these systems eventually, finally, mercifully, collapse and are replaced by something new.
To succeed in this era of rapid transformation, we don’t just need to modernize our things, we need to modernize our ways. In their report, The Future of Jobs, the World Economic Forum declares that “social skills – such as persuasion, emotional intelligence, and teaching others – will be in higher demand across industries than narrow technical skills, such as programming or equipment operation and control.” And, according to Adobe and Accenture, business leaders have started to take note by placing new emphasis on cross-functional collaboration and fluid, project-based team structures.
Modernizing the ways in which we implement an innovation will create a seismic shift in business. And customers are the epicenter. However, the reality for most businesses today is that they are massive, siloed giants. Offices span oceans. It therefore becomes easy to lose touch with the customer perspective. The conversation shifts to brand strategy or operational capabilities, and soon enough you’re solving for business needs rather than customer needs.
The key to overcoming this challenge is to engage with the right people -- customers and internal stakeholders -- continuously (rather than episodically) throughout the end-to-end innovation process. Weaving their ideas, opinions, feedback, and experiences into the fabric of the organization ensures that it all gets represented at the decision-making table. This cultivates a customer-inspired culture – one that is fixated on innovating for the needs of the people you serve, from invention to implementation.
With the perspectives and needs of everyone – including customers – as your instrument for implementation, we can become more than collaborators. We’re conductors orchestrating a score of diverse talents and ideas – from customers to executives – to create new value at the intersection of shared interests. And, we can find what my friend and artist Aithan Shapira calls “the music in the middle” – the hidden opportunities within the competing, and at times conflicting, points of view. This is the harmony of invention and implementation, a modern innovation masterpiece.
About the Author: David Franke helps companies find and develop great ideas that work. With nearly 20 years of experience in strategy and innovation consulting throughout the US and Asia, David has partnered with leading companies and organizations in health care, financial services, CPG, consumer technology and more to develop and launch new products, services and experiences that deliver against the needs of customers and businesses alike. Prior to joining C Space, David led insights and innovation consulting with firms in Asia and the U.S. He holds a master’s degree in applied linguistics with post-graduate certificates in strategy and negotiation from Harvard.