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  • Writer's pictureHugo Pinto

12 insights to accelerate the impact of corporate innovation

Innovation is the hype word of the last decade, ever since companies realised Moore’s law and technology doesn’t just affect IT, they know they need to change, and they need to be prepared to do so continuously.

That helps us understand why everyone needs to become an innovator and  understand how all the new things like #AI, #Blockchain, #IoT and even #Cloud and #Mobile are going to affect what they do. I’ll share some of the insights I’ve gathered from working with Fortune 500 Leaders from around the world and many industries since I’ve joined IBM iX, a bit over 2 years ago.


For the Innovation team @IBM iX, innovation is a framework and a way of researching, thinking, making and learning continuously. We believe in co-creation with clients, their customers and any partners or startups who can add different views to the exercise. We know a typical project we generate will have a huge suite of reasons to be blocked, but instead we use those arguments to further develop the idea and augment its impact on the business.

Many corporates have been quite busy building Innovation Labs (like reported by Bryan Solis here) and creating nifty things, but from my experience, and a lot of conversations with experts in the industry, accelerators and VCs, there’s a few recurring pitfalls many corporates are still struggling with.

  1. We’re not sure how or where to begin!

What are you expecting to achieve? Ideas, Cultural change, Products, Cost-savings, World domination?

A strategic intent will clarify direction, resources, metrics and governance, and it should be defined with the board, and be sponsored by the CEO. You’ll need time and dedication from the business, access to customers, create sandboxes and even break some rules – you’d better have a strong buy-in!

  1. We had a great workshop (or hackathon) but don’t know what to do next.

It’s not the linking of workshop outputs with deliverables that is difficult. What’s difficult is doing so while guaranteeing 3 things:

a. The business will want it when you finish 

b. You have enough resources to demonstrate value (test it with users)

c. You can build it at scale

I’ve led 70+ workshops this year and can guarantee that creating a prioritised backlog of ideas and a roadmap with strategic 10x goals (we call them the Hills @IBM Design Thinking – more info here) is paramount to catalyse sustainable outputs that get these projects to the hands of the customers/employees.

  1. We’ve spent six months building this but there are so many flavours of it out there already

There is a great metric from a Csuite study from IBM last year that said the difference between leaders and fast-followers was 6% more collaboration with external partners in their innovation experiments. Mind the ecosystem – understand what you want to own, need to build and can partner or reutilise – this will save time and investment to get to the testing of the idea – you can take the time to build it if it actually works!

  1. We have the prototype and showed it to the board but they’re not convinced about the business case (snif!)

You need to have independence to go from concept to test with users without any hurdles. A key component of the strategic set up is to define the ground rules – and within that framework, you shouldn’t have to stop, until you have a business case that shows user KPI’s, not spreadsheets with simulated projections and certainly not with feasibility studies. Make sure when you go to the board you have hard numbers, and you’ve tested it with end users. There are several smart ways of doing this as it is a critical set of decisions! find more on the topic here)

  1. We need to agree with the business how to take this to market but they’re not cooperating!

If you get to this stage it might be too late for this project. One of the reasons why we involve product owners and actual doers is not only for their invaluable knowledge, but also for buy-in and ownership. If you and the business build something, it’s a shared idea that you’ll both champion – if not, you’re just another service provider, and one that works in swankier space and “steals” precious resources they could use to get a few more clients served, more cost-efficiently.

There are a few fundamental things to add to this list that need to be clear (and accepted by your CEO).

6. There is no real Innovation without risk – there are ways to use innovation projects to generate short-term benefits, cost reduction and efficiencies – numbers speak louder than words.

7. If the business doesn’t take the time, it will never reap the reward, and possibly no one will! Bring the people that do the jobs into the room and even your customers and partners – but make sure you deliver working solutions – show me, don’t tell me!

8. Every new project will keep revealing new barriers and bottlenecks – it’s the job of the core team to remove them and make sure they are integrated on the Playbook. And then shared with the wider business – that increases buy in and starts supporting the bigger goal of your company – cultural transformation!

9. It is possible to identify cost-savings as you develop innovation projects – use this to build a business case instead of gambling with the uncertainty of innovation initiatives. With a bit of experience this will almost always happen, but make sure you don’t just deliver that part of the project!

10. The future of business lies in ecosystems – you need to think what your part is in yours, what you want to open, and who you partner with to enable yourself to be faster and more efficient than all the others trying to do the same things your innovation team is – either in a garage, and co-working space or the Innovation Lab of your competitor.

11. The first year is often the most critical one for corporate innovation, so make sure you breakdown the KPI’s and objectives into demonstrable value of path to value, and that means affecting cost, revenue or satisfaction. And that means physical stuff, not just powerpoints or post-its.

12. The most important one: There is no universal recipe to succeed at innovation, but if you don’t try it someone else will. One of the best sentences I’ve heard about this: “It’s better to shoot yourself in the foot than letting someone else shoot you in the head”

Feel free to contribute as the best lessons come from experience – please share yours!

via twitter @hugomcpinto

The buzzword bingo disclaimer: we use a customer centric approach (IBM Design Thinking), deliver in agile and use continuous delivery to improve and test features with every new sprint. We are obviously sitting on a huge bucket of technologies (AI, Cloud, Blockchain, IoT) and experts on all key skills, so the sky is the limit.

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