My feeling about the routines of ideation are that they drive innovative thinkers either towards their favoured ideas (giving them an idea to get a pet project out into the open) or towards “good bets”, ideas that are worth taking a punt on. Few organizations have the challenge-design skills to create substantial innovation in the way that Procter and Gamble did at the beginning of the open innovation movement.
One impact of a low-discipline use of innovation platforms, one where the challenge design is still a work-in-progress, is that companies become, or remain, captive to their system vendors. It is the system vendor that does the deep thinking about disruption and transformation, that buys up the thought leadership and proselytizes the next big advance that you need to buy in to.
I’ve seen this happen extensively with social business. Social business is co-owned by companies like IBM and SAP and of course platforms like Jive, yet I think everyone in the innovation business knows that few social business platforms or initiatives change very much. They are a statement of principle, we are social, and they give CEOs a few things to say about “engagement”, i.e. we have 80% of our people signed up to platform x or y.
Think back only five years and IBM was a major proponent of virtual world Second Life, even to the point of mandating its employees to meet as avatars. Second Life has since more or less disappeared from the radar of most companies.
The same vendor-driven phenomenon is visible in smart cities. Mobile banking apps have similar characteristics. They require big middleware changes in the bank and they result in big consulting contracts. That’s not to say they lack value.
I am trying instead to raise a question – should the innovation platform be used by companies to be disruption and big transformation-ready? Should they be strategic assets? Because if you haven’t thought through the potentially disruptive futures for your business then major vendors will do it for you and major vendors can make major errors.
Another way of saying this is that innovation platforms need to be designed in ways that make them channels from the edge, feeds for those people in the organization who see the sea-change on the horizon. But asking any organization to listen more is akin to consigning necessary information to the waste bin. Organizations are not designed to listen; hierarchies and channels rarely work well for ad hoc communications or for information unrelated to the company’s transaction-focus.
Conversely the range of disruptions or threats that companies face is actually quite limited and eminently collectable. It should be possible to create a company-inventory of what might happen out there. It should be possible to structure the involvement of the wave watchers to create original, competitively valuable knowledge about change. The only way to do it though is through skilled challenge design or in their absence to become or remain consultant-dependent.
So what might a disruption challenge look like? In June I was lucky to attend the launch of the Respect Network, a grouping of 70 companies who have signed an agreement to take a completely new approach to customer data. That approach means being more managerial about the data, managing it on behalf of users rather than collecting and selling it on behalf of advertisers and brands. It is a response to the post-Snowden reaction to surveillance. Similar types of development are taking place at Bit Torrent and in the security sector at virus protection leader F-Secure. In effect each is seeking to reverse the current data collection paradigm.
The details of a growing “reverse data” movement are too intricate to explain quickly. But they are a good example of a new paradigm that is very human-driven, relying less on technology than on how people feel about things and how their sensibilities are attuned to the world around them.
Here is the challenge – how many of these human-centric changes can you identify? Where are similar coalescences of principle, human sentiment and technology taking place? If you can identify these you can begin to generate new ideation programs based on significantly new trends. If there is to be a reverse data movement how might your company participate? Who will be the prime holders of customer data in future and what will be the cost to you if you are not a leader? What does the change pathway look like?
These might not be the normal types of challenges that companies deal with in ideation but my suggestions are that one strand in challenge thinking needs to be the challenge of transformation and that it needs to be accompanied by structures that draw people in from the edge of the organization. Framed properly it is a good way of listening in on the future.