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INNOVATION SPORT: A few more tenets

posted by Ravi Arora September 13, 2018

This is my last post before I take a sabbatical from this exciting ‘weekend-activity’ of writing posts about Innovation. It has been a very satisfying experience since July 13, 2015 when I began publishing my posts on the 13th of every month. I am sure to be return, once I finish another assignment that I am embarking on.

I have followed a practice of writing one comprehensive article after every 12 posts – one that connects all the previous thoughts. The first such comprehensive article was ‘Enabling organizations to play the high-risk, high-reward sport – INNOVATION’ and the second one was ‘Innovation sport – Established company vs Startup’ . Continuing with the same practice, I am weaving the previous 13 posts in this article.

I have taken a position that Innovation is the best organizational sport. Like any other sport, it is exciting to play as it has uncertainty and risks, it results in winners and losers for every game (innovation), allows players to make mistakes and learn and finally it is rewarding for the players, stakeholders and audience. The captain of this sport is whom I call the Chief Innovation Officer (or one may call Chief Innovation Evangelist) for whom I detailed the Job Description in one of the posts. For any organization that wants it employees to play this sport and improve fast, the role is important, but I am not suggesting companies to necessarily create a position to perform this role – It could be managed by anyone else – CEO, Chief Strategy Officer or someone else.

Innovators in the organization are the players of this sport. Unlike other sport, players for this sport certainly constitute – Bosses/managers of innovators although they may not be in action! I explained in details that people who regularly play this sport never undergo the midlife crisis, which hits much early these days.

I also reinforced my earlier point of having a balanced innovation portfolio – laced with plenty of incremental innovations and a few big innovations. I used the example of Mahendra Singh Dhoni to illustrate the importance of having a portfolio approach for a sustained performance.

Startups play this sport from the very first day, until they too become an established company and grapple with the same problem. To play this sport effectively, established companies should learn to partner with startups.

Many startups these days are based on a new technology that solves an old problem or solves a (newly) identified problem that had become an integral part of the life or a new problem. Managers need to practice and develop the skill of spotting newer problems and the ability to find new uses of a newly developed technology. I illustrated three such problems, which triggered ideas: traffic in Bengaluru, the problem that passengers face when the train approaches a railway station, and the problem of potholes and darkness on the city-roads.  Megatrends are used to paint a future picture and initiate innovation projects. Managers should also learn use well-known megatrends to develop newer trends related to their own industry. I gave one such example of bitcoin or crypto-currency, which triggers an opportunity for finding a new low-energy computing material or a new method or harvesting sustainable energy. Lastly, it is not sufficient for managers to use only the already known megatrends. They should develop their own future scenarios and develop a conviction to use them to bet on innovations. One such example was of eSports, which I feel could have far reaching impact on several businesses.

In the last few posts I had attempted to explain my view point on the difference between design-thinking and innovation. Innovation is an end outcome – either a new process or a new product or a new service or a new business model. Design-thinking doesn’t indicate an end outcome. It is a process of thinking and making choices, all of which results in better outcome.  I used the example of suitcase to illustrate the difference. Design-thinking strengthens the process of innovation, but it cannot replace it due to its limitations.