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As we start to close out our 2016 year, apart from the rush to finish certain tasks off, it is a time of reflection and some forward thinking to welcome in the New Year.

From my standpoint I am simply amazed at how the world seems to be spinning faster and faster. I am convinced my working days are shorter or the clock is moving faster. I never seem to finish what I had intended to complete by the end of a day or week. I get caught up in the spill over effect. Something always gets in the way, something has to give. So we make a resolution to change something to improve on this constant catch up state we find ourselves in.

Innovation is just the same, it needs evolution and resolution.

Here are some thoughts for our future. The need for innovation results has sped up considerably. The belief that lean management principles will get the innovation out of the door quicker, has been one of those management adoptions that often trick us into believing we are achieving more than we actually are, but it is only been tackling part of the innovation process and the end results often remain the same - a slow process of innovation.

Certainly in the majority of cases we have found nothing wrong at all with applying lean management, as it tends to lead to improvements in a final outcome, but does it actually speed up the process? I’m not sure it does.

For me, I think this speeding up of the whole innovation process is the only path to tread in 2017; we need to broaden out the whole process of rapid innovation application beyond the two current favourites of lean and design thinking.

Designing the complete rapid innovation application process.

Digital technologies are beginning to have a real impact on the methods, approaches and rates of our innovation outputs. Social technologies are giving us real time understanding. We continually learn, at our cost, that intuition and ‘gut feel’ or research set up and gathered weeks or months ago is becoming out of date before we can learn from it and sometimes highly dangerous to follow or believe in. They cannot be the basis for any justifications for high stake bets. We need to change our thinking and design in the digital insight part more specifically within and along the innovation process.

Digital technology and transformation are changing the innovation ‘game’.

We have, in the past, tended to take a safer route to market, by trying to achieve well-defined problems, place these into process maps and worked along the timelines, often impervious to the market conditions changing before our eyes. We continue to couch our bets and gravitate to solutions that are as close to what we currently offer, and that just keeps reinforcing the incremental route regretfully.

Yet digital threatens this entire incremental pathway. Markets continue to have even greater uncertainly and we need to respond in very different ways. Competition is changing, markets are blurring and customers are becoming far more vocal. To respond we need to reconceive innovation into a constant and rapid learning approach.

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The  need to be highly iterative, full of experimentation, testing and adjusting lends itself to the minimal viable product approach, where we continually test assumptions, checking what we are thinking against the concept of value gained from the customer or market feedback.

Digital is also pushing us to shake off complacency, since customers are increasingly further connected and interacting in new ways, we need to find paths to ‘plug into’ and join the conversation, to help shape that conversation and through these exchanges recognize how the brand and reputations become increasingly important in all things innovating.

Digital tools are changing how customers discover, evaluate, explore, make their purchases and use products and then how they react, share, interact and make their connections to our brands. The whole process is highly dynamic and reliant on the ‘network effect’, and the job of the innovator is to translate this and respond in fast, nimble, agile ways, to fulfil the needs and capitalize in responsive ways. This demands a radical redesign of the innovation process.

The need in 2017 is to “test to learn” and adapt

  • Without doubt it is finding and using more techniques and tools that help you make far greater rapid prototyping, testing, piloting and learning from these understandings and how they can be quickly translated back into the innovation process to improve on what you have known, into one of what you have become aware of. “Testing to learn” will become the new innovation mantra and the accepted innovation process; a dynamic, fluid and rapid experimenting that makes it a constant learning one.
  • We are today, partly down this route of early learning, with the help of software that can capture ideas, offering a sound vehicle for communicating these and a place to gather and define solutions that can be taken forward. Yet we have to push the path of constant evolution and that will continue to come at increasing speed from technology to keep providing new knowledge so as you can constantly improve on your eventual value proposition but that is going to require an ever-increasing agile organization and adaptive system.
  • We will need to find different ways to redesign the manufacturing process (more outsourcing) to have more adaptive points where we can intervene and change product design. We will need to find different ways to ramp up or dampen down finished goods and that is going to push ‘agile’ even further. The ability to balance “scale, speed and scope” will become paramount in this.
  • We will need to learn to focus on the seizing of emerging opportunities in quicker ways but also take a much tougher approach to divestment, so as to release resources from declining positions of advantage. The whole lifecycle thinking needs challenging and thinking through.
  • We will need to push for “agile systems” where we can design new applications, find better communication and collaborative social technologies to reduce delays of getting the right information to the right people to advance the process and reduce the duplication of work or the search for the information needed to complete the job. We need to focus much more on reducing innovation process cycle time for faster deployment.
  • We will also need to invest in more data-driven front ends to build a more sophisticated process of discovery. The whole concept of divergent experiments and convergent testing and validations, will become the way to think along the innovation process as a re-looping process. This will require a critical mind set change from a linear one on how you set about it, in the design of the process and the use and application of the digital tools you deploy to move this through this constant, ongoing iterative process. Nothing can remain ‘static,’ we need to make it ‘highly’ dynamic.

Rapid innovation matters, and it will become even more central in 2017 as digital takes hold.

Rapid-iteration needs to replace the fixed product release date mentality. We are in a world, driven by digital that requires us to constantly adapt to new learning that is coming from real-time market feedback. The way we learn from this and our rapid innovation application process will be all about this continually testing new assumptions to improve our (final) product and service propositions.

This, I believe, requires a rethinking of the innovation process, as we will need to transform the existing methods and make them increasingly digital and social, in real time. We need to focus on the rates of innovation output from our learning and improvement in the eventual offering, as our constant bearing. It is how we design this in a more comprehensive manner will be a real challenge in 2017.

I predict that 2017 will be the pivotal year of the rapid innovation application process becoming established, as the one to fully design and adopt as our new innovation discovery to execution process. One that is a constant path of innovation understanding and evolution that fits far more with these digital transformational times we are going through.

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Paul Hobcraft

Paul Hobcraft

Paul Hobcraft researches and works across innovation, looking to develop novel innovation solutions and frameworks where appropriate. He provide possible answers to many issues associated around innovation with a range of solutions that underpin his advisory, coaching and consulting work at www.agilityinnovation.com . His aim is to support individuals, teams and organizations in their innovation activity applying what he has learnt to further develop core innovation understanding so clients can achieve positive and sustaining results from their innovating activities to extend and build their capacity and capabilities.

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