Innovation in the year 2020

03 September 2019

Innovation in the year 2020

by Javier Martín

2020 is just around the corner, and it’s catching the many businesses that had hoped to become more innovative by the end of the decade off-guard. While the 21st century promised rapid technological change, many of its years have been marked by companies scrambling to overcome the financial crisis and political uncertainty. All in all, many organizations have missed the opportunity to innovate, the opportunity to embark on fundamental technological transformations. While most have managed to digitize, only a few have been able to take the necessary steps to become companies of the future. 

At a time when new companies are developing products that had previously been reserved for science fiction (see Elon Musk’s company Neuralink that aims to merge the human mind with computers), we still see that some of the most important legacy companies’ websites look like they were, unironically, designed in the ‘90s. Many of them don’t even offer apps, which is key to connecting with users who browse the internet on their smartphones. 

 “It is not because things are difficult that we do not dare, it is because we do not dare that they are difficult.” –Lucius Annaeus Seneca

What all this means is that although there is still a lot of work to be done, no one can blame a lack of tools, knowledge or models to improve technological innovation. What is missing is boldness. What’s missing is action. And perhaps what’s missing is the drive that comes from understanding the reality that in any moment our business can disappear, whether at the hands of giant technological companies or simply because consumers change their tastes and habits. 

Gone are the days when a company can coast on its success. A study by research firm Innosight found that the average life-span of companies listed on the S&P 500 was 61 years in 1958. By 2011, the lifespan had dropped to less than 18 years. The study also predicts that three-quarters of the top US companies will be replaced by 2027. 

Confronted with this situation and conscious that the opportunity to reach big innovative targets by 2020 is fading as fast as a rainbow, what we can do now is change our perspective and think of the new decade as a place to start. But this time, let’s put in place the necessary measures and guarantees to face and embrace the rapidly changing business and technological landscape. There are a few months left to get ready. We know what needs to be done and how to do it, the only thing missing is the decision to make the journey towards innovation. The train’s leaving January 1, 2020. 

Shall we plan the trip together? 

Starting with people 

Are the individuals in your company ready to get on board with this transformation? Are you ready? Although it is forecast that machines will take a lot of protagonism over the next ten years, it’s becoming increasingly clear that people will remain as relevant as ever. Yes, machines are getting better at doing routine work, but when it comes to creativity and innovation, human beings are indispensable. That’s why, when preparing for the journey to innovation in 2020, the foremost question to ask is whether or not individuals are open to unleashing more of their creativity at work and are seriously committed to innovating.

Here we get into the first actionable task that we can put into our preparedness checklist for 2020 – inciting creativity in the staff. Luckily, we have a multitude of tools to help us joyfully tick that box. So, let’s reach into the toolbox and begin by organizing workshops on some of the following themes. A note: side effects may include team building and the chance to have fun at work. 

  • Design Thinking
  • Lego Serious Play
  • Improv
  • Creative writing
  • Avant-garde cooking 

The first step will be introducing some of these workshops into the training plan of the company, using them to make the staff feel motivated to be more creative at work. Through these playful tasks, people will be encouraged to experiment, work collaboratively and think outside the box when it comes to performing daily tasks and problem-solving. Overall, the point is to teach them not to conform to simply doing what is asked of them, but instead to give them the confidence to go further and strive for professionalexcellence.

Professional excellence can have huge benefits for both workers and companies. But, ask yourself this: if we did a survey in your business or even asked the subscribers of this newsletter, how many people do you think would say that professional excellence is one of their main priorities?

Innovation comes in many forms. For example, incremental innovation aims for people and companies to continually improve upon existing products or services so that every day they get better at responding to client and market demands. In striving for professional excellence, we can find that making even more radical changes in the way we work or do business is worthwhile. With that attitude, we can move to disruptive innovation, where we can create entirely fresh products or services to attract more clients and offer new solutions to those we already work with.  

Next up, technology 

The fact that people continue to be more important than machines does not mean that we can ignore technology that does traditionally human jobs. On the contrary, the ideal model at the moment is forming a symbiotic relationship between humans and machines. As fully relying on artificial intelligence is not an option for the vast majority companies, the concept of Expanded Intelligence is interesting to consider. It puts forward the idea that a professional’s skills and efficiency can be enhanced and expanded by new technology. 

In business, fully capitalizing on new technological developments has become one of the main sources of competitive advantage. The question: “what can a machine do now?” should become a mantra. Although it has provoked worry, machines have been replacing biological workers for generations. With the invention of tractors, you don’t see many mules plowing fields anymore. Likewise, why would a construction company pay ten men to dig a hole when a machine can do it? 

Even more intellectual tasks have been undergoing automation for decades. The film Hidden Figures, which tells the story of three women who worked as “calculators” for the NASA project to put John Glenn in orbit, aptly reflects what happens when machines start substituting people. It shows how some people are able to adapt and stay indispensable, while others are not able to support the trauma caused by technological evolution. 

As a business would hope to both keep talented employees while also gaining the competitive edge offered by technology, fostering a sense of adaptability is crucial. If the Cloud is coming, figure out how to get in on the cloud; if Artificial Intelligence is on its way, find a way to use it to your advantage; if a company begins to talk about digital transformation, realize that it doesn’t only have to do with technology, but that it’s about a new mindset surrounding efficiency, connectivity and collaboration. 

Let’s help with agile methodologies 

When we talk about innovating in companies and transforming business models, the main problem is that all the talk can sit comfortably in the realm of good intentions if we don’t use the right tools to turn ideas into action. As the famous tire company slogan goes: “power is nothing without control.”  

This is where agile methodologies come in. When we talk about transparency, autonomy, commitment and all the other values that these methodologies focus on, putting them into practice is nearly impossible if we don’t contain them within a strategy that gives us points of references.

In this context, the OKR (Objectives and Key Results) framework can serve us greatly. It is used to set and track objectives and their outcomes. It’s also an ideal way to define a company’s priorities and decide what role innovation will play. For example, we can use this objectives management system to organize team projects related to innovation or other innovative projects that we are considering. An added bonus of the system is that if we test it out on innovation, we can get a clearly delineated use case that we can scale up or apply to different areas.  

Using OKR to launch an innovation plan

We know what we want to do – improve our innovation strategy or at the very least become a company where the adjective “innovative” doesn’t inspire mass eye rolls. Now, it’s a question of deciding what we have to do to make it happen.

The Objectives are the “what” in the equation, telling us what we’re going to do to achieve the desired results. The Key Results will tell us how to do it:

  • Objective #1: Perform an Open Innovation action to get greater exposure in the community of innovators 
    • Key Result 1: Decide on the kind of activity (competition, event, conference, etc.)
    • Key Result 2: Prepare the innovative activity and carry it out
    • Key Result 3: Follow up on at least two opportunities that are related to the activity, for example, forming a relationship with a start-up or expert
  • Objective #2: Develop an Intrapreneurship pilot program for the company’s employees
    • Key Result 1: Decide what prize the employee who comes up with the best idea will win
    • Key Result 2: Create an internal team to evaluate the employees’ ideas
    • Key Result 3: Carry out the competition, gather at least 10 ideas and choose the best one
  • Objective #3: Launch a communication plan related to the company’s innovative activity
    • Key Result 1: Announce the Open Innovation and Intrapreneurship activities 
    • Key Result 2: Carry out three tasks related to innovation in our sector 
    • Key Result 3: Organize an event that will feature thought leaders from our sector

These three objectives will be carried out during the first quarter of the year. Depending on the results, the plan could be extended for the second quarter. At that time, the new Objective could be to launch a pilot project that involves collaboration with the start-up or expert from the Open Innovation activity. Another objective could be to begin developing the project that won the Intrapreneurship contest, dedicating a certain portion of the company’s budget to making it happen.

So, now you know that OKR can be extremely helpful when it comes to structuring our strategies. But that’s not all. When we have clearly set out what we want to do and how our goals can be achieved, we can start to employ other tools that will help in the day-to-day workflow. 

Scrum, for example, could be one of these tools. It is a framework that helps teams work together and encourages people to learn through experience, self-organize and reflect on their results in order to continuously improve. This is a great tool overall because it provides a new level of discipline at work and brings about especially positive results when a company wants to move forward with new projects and start seeing results quickly. 

Since all of these methodologies share the same values, it’s really just a question of starting to use them so that they can begin serving the company in its quest to innovate. 

This way, if the company decides it will start using OKR to define and organize its innovation strategy, it could start using Scrum to manage the team that will be in charge of carrying it all out. For the team, we would name a product owner, who could be the CEO or someone responsible for innovation, and then bring together a team of several people, as if it were a software development team. However, in this case, the team will be responsible for all the tasks required to organize the Open Innovation and Intrapreneurship activities as well as all the communication. A Scrum Master should also help to ensure that the system is perfectly applied and that the team has everything it needs to complete the tasks in the best way possible. 

Rejoice! Now we know how to take advantage of the agile methodologies in terms of our company’s innovation strategy. Best of all is that once we’ve applied them successfully, we can extend them to other areas of the business where they can also be of great use. 

Finishing with culture

Peoples’ interests change, technology has an increasingly powerful impact on our lives, and the markets fluctuate to accommodate these ever-shifting circumstances. Therefore, our companies should also go with the flow and adapt to these changes. 

In the processes of change within organizations, there are three key words that strongly resonate: Autonomy, Responsibility, and Transparency. The business that continues to be guided by hierarchies and their own particular interests simply won’t make sense in the future that we are moving towards. Businesses must put their clients and workers at the heart of their business model, think of society as the main beneficiaries of their work and understand that everything that they do has an impact on all that which surrounds us. That impact should be positive. 

Of the latest trends in terms of business organization, there is one that stands out for its ability to embrace these ideas and help companies remain relevant throughout the next decade. It’s called Teal organization. 

The three revolutionary concepts that Teal organization puts forward are:

  • Self-Management: When everyone, not just a few at the top, has control and agency, power multiplies. This is a system based on peer relationships with no need for central command.
  • Wholeness: Power is wielded more wisely when workers are encouraged to bring their whole selves to the workplace.
  • Evolutionary purpose: A teal organization is viewed as a living organism with a direction of its own. When people align their power and wisdom with the organization’s vital force, everything becomes more meaningful.  

If we think about companies as living beings, we can draw a parallel with biological evolution. The organisms that can best adapt to new circumstances will survive. Considering that peoples’ interests (now changing more quickly than ever) are the key raw materials that businesses of the future will work with, the ideas proposed by new models like Teal Organizations should become foremost in our minds.  

One of the most amazing benefits of this is that when we follow all the previous steps – putting people at the center of innovation, taking full advantage of all the technology we have access to, and using agile methodologies to make the innovation strategy happen – the cultural change will come about naturally. That’s much better than when it is forced or happens in a way that’s traumatic to workers.  

Now that you know, pleading ignorance is no longer an option. So, take advantage of the juicy round number that is 2020 to finally become innovative. What’s on the line is not just bragging rights about getting the latest gadgets, but whether or not your company will thrive or wither in the future economy. Luckily, if you take these steps, there is little to lose and so much to gain.

The train’s taking off January 1, 2020. Have you bought your tickets yet? 

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