About Innovation Capital
Inspired by the words of U.S. inventor Charles Kettering, “if you have always done it that way, it’s probably wrong,” Innovation Capital, presented by PatSnap, was born out of a desire to go where no other innovation podcast has gone. Just as the world’s top innovators have pushed the boundaries of what’s familiar and accepted, host Ray Chohan takes a completely fresh and unfiltered look at some of the biggest topics shaping innovation today. From the key drivers of innovation, to its role in the economic value chain and groundbreaking outputs, Innovation Capital leaves no question unanswered. When it comes to innovation, we are your capital; your mecca for daring discussion and the fuel for your growth and scalability. Welcome to Innovation Capital.
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In this episode of Innovation Capital
Now more than ever, the responsibility for innovation rests on everyone’s shoulders within the organization. This episode will look at shifting accountability for innovation out of the hands of the select few, to build a unified, idea-driven employee base that delivers more ideas in a shorter amount of time.
- Companies that struggle with innovation lack a clear organizational purpose.
- You need to be able to create space for innovation to happen within your organization.
- Innovation is inefficient, it often involves failure.
- Great innovation makes others jealous they didn’t come up with that idea.
- Carla shared her remarkable 5-step formula that anyone can follow to use inspiration from the world around you.
- Get our #1 Amazon bestselling eBook, The Definitive Guide to Connected Innovation Intelligence (CII). In this white paper, we explore what CII is, who it’s for, and how the world’s disruptors are using it to win in hyper-competitive markets. Download your FREE copy.
Author & Innovation Strategist
Carla Johnson is a world-renowned storyteller, speaker, and prolific author. Consistently named one of the top influencers in B2B, digital and content marketing, Carla regularly challenges conventional thinking. Today, she travels the world teaching anyone (and everyone) how to cultivate idea-driven teams that breed unstoppable creativity and game-changing innovation. Her work with Fortune 500 brands served as the foundation for many of her books. Her tenth, RE:Think Innovation busts the myth that innovation is something that requires a specific degree or special training. in fact, Carla explains why, to be a successful company in today’s hyper-competitive, customer-driven world, innovation must be everyone’s business. Her goal is to teach one million people how to become innovators by 2025.
Founder West & VP New Ventures, PatSnap
Ray is Founder West & VP New Ventures and the founding member of PatSnap in Europe. He started the London operation from his living room in 2012, growing the team to 70+ by 2015. Prior to PatSnap, Ray was BD Director at Datamonitor where he was an award-winning revenue generator across various verticals and product lines over an 8-year period. This journey gave Ray the unique insight and inspiration to start the PatSnap ‘go to market’ in London. Ray now leads corporate development where he focuses his time on creating new partnerships and go-to-market strategies.
Ray Chohan: Carla, welcome to Innovation Capital. I just wanted to share that many of our team members have enjoyed your book, Re:Think Innovation. It’s opened up some really fun conjecture here at PatSnap, over the last kind of five to six months, so we really enjoyed that and just want to dive in. We’d love to kick off with learning a little bit about your story and your background, and how you ended up in the wonderful world of innovation and R&D.
Carla Johnson: Absolutely, thank you so much. And I’m delighted to be here, Ray. We are going to talk about some of my favourite things and, I know, things that your team and I have in common, so this is always really fun. And I have to say that my interest is in innovation, and, at its root, solving problems, and how I got really excited about it. It started early in my career when I worked for architects. It was that ability to look at, What’s this? What is it, ultimately, that we’re trying to solve for? And the experience that we want to create? And now, how do we reverse engineer that into what we do? And that was my background. I started in marketing for architecture firms, then when I left the architecture industry and went into tech, it was still that ability to look at, What are we trying to solve for? And then how do we reverse engineer that into whatever we do, whether it’s marketing, whether it’s customer experience, and ultimately for me, now, it’s innovation. And I think it’s that ability to reverse engineer how we think about solving problems, what we need to do to solve a problem and how we even identify and understand and figure out what exact problem is it that we need to address. I think that’s the biggest background that led me to where I am today, and my whole mindset about innovation and how we approach it.
Ray: Brilliant. And obviously, we talk about the winners a lot publicly, and they’re all over the internet in terms of the high performing innovators, but we’d love to unpack where some of the folks struggle. So, organizations who do struggle with innovation, and staying on top of their game, what are the some of the common characteristics you’ve noticed, which lead to an organization not really living up to their potential on the innovation front?
Carla: Oh, man, and I know you’ve seen this before. In organizations, one of the struggles that companies who aren’t good at innovation have, is that they’re always chasing after the flavour of the month, or the process of the month, or the fill-in-the-blank of the month or the year. You see groups go through this. And the reason that there’s so much flip-flopping (and, to be honest, wasted money, energy, and frustration not just on the employee side, but on the executive side) is because they’re never able to fully realize the true potential of innovation. First and foremost it’s because they lack a clear organizational purpose. They don’t have that one North Star that points everybody into the same same direction and aligns people in that way. And I think, pretty close behind that, is they don’t have the values that back up what needs and what behavior employees need to exhibit in order to fully present that purpose and make that purpose a reality. Now, there’s a couple of other things that I see really successful companies with innovation do, and the next one is they’re able to create space for innovation to happen. And I know a lot of people are still working from home right now. So, it’s not just physical space, which is one aspect of it, it’s also allowing the time to do it. And we look at so many companies who have so much on their plate right now. And they say innovation is important, but they don’t give people the space or time to actually do anything about it. To practice their skills, to try out even in, you know, small, incremental ways, ideas that they have. And I think that third space is emotional. You have an oftentimes corporate culture that says innovation is absolutely key for us. It matters a lot and on and on and on. However, it’s very clear those unspoken rules, that innovation is great, trial and error is great, as long as you never error. As long as you never fail. And you know innovation is inefficient. It involves failure. And I would say that those are probably the top three things that I see when organizations struggle to be truly innovative: that they’re not giving full credit to, and heed those as guiding principles of innovation.
Ray: Interesting. So you mentioned some pieces around, obviously “North Star” culture. It’s people in execution from what you shared there.
So are there certain hotspots, certain geographies in this world where they get it? Right? Obviously, Silicon Valley is the obvious one where they do embrace failure. Well, not celebrate failure, but just have a good mental model around it, and have a healthy way of synthesizing failure. But outside of Silicon Valley, are there any geographies that have caught your imagination as raising hot spots, when it comes to being a hotbed for innovation?
Carla: I would have to say, I think there are different urban centers that may be more likely. Chicago has redone some of their downtown business structure and created something that feels a little bit more like a mini Silicon Valley. There’s areas in you know, different areas in Europe. I mean, I look at some things that are going on with Berlin and some of the design institutes. I think there’s a lot that’s going on in Barcelona that’s really driving toward innovation. I have some colleagues who work in in Stockholm, and I see that that’s another area where people understand that in order to create innovation, you have to create an environment that allows it and it doesn’t just mean an environment to test and prototype products. It’s an environment in which we rethink how we approach innovation, from a whole cultural organizational standpoint. So, when you do have those R&D, product, and service breakthroughs, that they can move through that organization faster and with less friction, so that they can go out and actually serve a customer faster. And with greater support, passion and enthusiasm from that organization.
Ray: On that cultural level, unpacking that, slightly, what are some of the, the low hanging fruit that you advise potential clients or current clients about when trying to create that space and trying to adapt that mindset? Are there some potential quick wins which allow businesses to transform?
Carla: There are, and I think the the one that I continually go back to, that can help every employee across the board regardless of what seniority they’re in in an organization or what their role is, or how long they’ve been there, is that the organization really, truly has to define their purpose. And what it does is it helps people come to work every day, one with a spring in their step or a swagger. A sense that I’m not here just to process invoices in accounts payable or receivable, or I’m not here just to set up somebody’s computer or laptop or, you know, VPN connection. I’m here to do something that actually changes the world. My little piece of the puzzle just happens to be IT or in finance or marketing, or you know, whatever your area is, and people take this for granted. Or they say; “Yeah, it sounds great.” But absolutely, if you want to infuse an innovation mindset across your organization, the first thing you have to do is establish that core purpose that goes beyond making money that expresses to every employee, this is why you are here every single day. And that it actually is a low hanging fruit because as soon as you can do that, and articulate it and consistently support it, organizations absolutely see a change in behavior very quickly. And one of the first places that they see it is the outcome in the sales process, because all of a sudden now the conversations that sales teams have with prospects or actual customers take a very different and much more strategic slant. And every business that is looking to buy something is doing so because they need to solve a problem. And unless an organization can truly articulate, “Here’s the bigger problem that we solve, getting down into the nitty gritty of you know, here’s what we do, here’s how it functions. Here’s how much it costs.” Those will always be very tactical and and price-driven conversations, and when you are always put in that price-driven conversation, it’s really hard to be innovative in how you solve customer problems.
Ray: Carla, that reminds me of and echoes a great speaker and author called Simon Sinek. And he published a piece called, Start With Why, where he very much talks around an organization or an individual’s North Star, and what’s at their soul in terms of what they’re trying to achieve? So, is it similar to that? An organization having a very clear why, how, what, around the North Star, and how innovation dovetails into those, that kind of came to that type of mindset?
Carla: You know, it absolutely ties into that. And there’s a great example that Simon uses, looking at the difference between how Apple sells, and how Dell sells and how they tell their story. And if you start with, Here’s what we sell. I sell you a computer that has this much RAM, you know, this much memory, you know, these kind of details, do you want to buy one? It’s like, well, you know, let me shop around. But if you start to talk about, here’s a computer that I have that helps you become more creative, helps you think differently, and helps put the power of a business in your hands, right now. Do you want to buy one? Well, that’s a whole different sell. And when you look at a company like Apple, they’re selling a vision, they’re selling a purpose of what they want to do in the world. And yet, you looked at the competitor, Dell, and they continue to talk about the technology and the features and the benefits. Well, those are all tactical things. Those aren’t aspirational things that get you excited about, you know, hopping out of bed and getting to work and changing the world. And it is that difference that really makes a broad opportunity for how employees solve problems across an organization. Because if you come to work every day, and your purpose is to help people think differently, help put the power of creativity in their hands, you have a much broader base and reference point from which to solve problems, compared with you come to work every day and you look at how can I sell 400,000 more computers this month, that have these specifics of memory, and RAM and all these details. It’s a very different mindset that you put in the hands of every single employee. And it’s this micro-change in mindset across an entire organization that culminates in a huge and, actually, very rapidly-shifting approach to solving problems, which is the foundation of innovation. And how you find what problems matter to your customers the most, and how you go about solving them. And it actually creates a much more collaborative environment within an organization because you’re all there for the same reason.
Ray: You mentioned a fascinating point, which we’re obsessed about, and we work with our clients on, is getting really close to the customer. So, really becoming best in class and understanding end-user insight. And I think PWC, they publish an analyzed piece of research, Carla, called the Innovation 1000. And I think from 2018, that close fidelity to end-user insight is one of the top characteristics. Well, one of them, I think there’s seven altogether, but end-user insight’s right up there on best in class innovation. So that’s easy to say, but really hard to execute. There’s not many companies who do that well. So, when it comes to getting close to the customer, and intrinsically trying to understand that end-user insight, is there specific patterns that you’ve observed in the market? Which is common between best-in-class innovation practitioners and organizations?
Carla: Yeah, there are, that’s such a great question. And I think the research from PWC is very fascinating. And looking at these traits and, again, this is a point that I just hammer home. But the first thing that I go back to is purpose. Because the difference between companies that are truly customer driven, versus those that are their own brand or product driven, is that they understand the difference they’re trying to make in the lives of their customers. Clayton Christensen talked about it, you know, what’s the job to be done by the customer. And it’s going back and understanding we’re here to serve first. And that goes back to, Here’s why we’re here. And you have to be able to articulate and communicate that first and back it up with the values and behavior of how you perform as a company in order for that to be a trusted and believable message externally, which is demonstrated by proof of behavior by employees internally. Now, once you have that proof of “why we are here,” the next step that you take in order to exhibit that behavior is empathy for your customer. And there’s a fair amount of research about companies that have scored higher on an empathy index are more innovative, because what they’re doing is they’re understanding the problem from the point of view of their customers. And this is why you’ve seen such a tremendous growth in the understanding and the application of design thinking, and really putting a structure and a process to put yourself into your customers’ shoes. Now, empathy for your customer, when it comes to innovation, often also means empathy for your internal customer. Because you may have the greatest solution to solve your customer’s problem. However, you and I really know what happens inside companies and bureaucracy and politics, and all of these things that stop great innovation from happening. And when you have empathy for your customer, because of the purpose that you show up and serve every day, you have empathy for your other internal customers inside your organization. That changes the entire dynamic of how willing you are to listen to new ideas, to discover other options, to be collaborative, and build answers together with that purpose of serving your customer.
Ray: This is interesting, it seems like this is very much led right from the top, so right from the the founder, CEO, or the the hired CEO to drive that empathy. But it’s interesting. Do you find challenges around companies operating in a public environment who are under pressure by short term earnings, shareholders, wider investors to hit revenue goals? But at the same time, think long term and have that empathy and be patient and thoughtful internally and externally, when trying to develop innovation? Is that a challenge? How do some of the large players get their arms around that one? Because that’s a chicken-and-egg scenario we sometimes find here at PatSnap.
Carla: It is and to be honest, it comes from the definition of innovation, and how they believe it exhibits itself. And it is also understanding the mindset that you don’t have to choose between doing well financially as a company and doing good for your customers financially as a company. And we see this in a lot of organizations, you know, Zappos is probably one of the premier ones. You buy a pair of shoes, they donate a pair of shoes, they’re incredibly financially successful. And we see other examples in the B2B world. I look at digital industrial manufacturer, Emerson, which has done a tremendous amount of work to grow and encourage students who are going into STEM as a profession of science, technology, engineering and math. On the outside it may not look like it’s a smart financial decision or, you know, innovation decision to invest in students at the primary or secondary levels of school or university in order to become a more innovative company. But what they see is that by encouraging more students and more diverse students to stay in science, technology, engineering and math, they create a powerful pool that they can then tap into and recruit when they graduate from university. Or their customers can. They create a whole different kind of ecosystem.
Now, another perception of innovation is that it’s inefficient. It’s long term, and it’s really expensive. So, you have to choose between, you know, this quarter’s financial performance or being innovative. And that’s one of the the really big things that I want people to rethink about innovation, is it doesn’t have to be huge and complex, and you don’t need to bring in outside consultants and spend millions of dollars. If we really think about innovation at its root common denominator, it is all about solving the right problems better and faster and quicker. Then what we’re able to do is become more innovative at the same time that we benefit financially. Because when you release the expectation and the responsibility of innovating and of solving problems from one specific group, whether that is a group that specifically has that innovation title, or if it’s research and development, or design thinking group or you know, whatever some of those labels are. And you spread that responsibility to every employee across the organization, you can become hyper innovative in very small ways in a very short amount of ti me. And if we go back to how do we make companies more productive? How do we have better ideas and more ideas to solve the problems that we have? That’s the root foundation of what I want people to think about innovation. It’s not just about huge investments and long term strategies. It’s also innovation with a little i as as much as it is with the big I that we traditionally think of innovation in product development and in disruption.
Ray: So, to kind of extrapolate that out to your broader framework, I’d love to learn more about your five-step framework, Carla, and how you generated it and how you developed it. It’s fascinating. So yeah, we’d love to learn the story behind that.
Carla: Yeah absolutely, and this does harken back to my early years working in the architecture firm. I looked at how architects solve problems. And it was interesting, because throughout my work with marketers, and salespeople, and executives in organizations, a constant theme that I heard was either, “I could never be a problem solver, that’s not my job, I’m not smart enough,” or, “I don’t know how,” you know. If you’re at the director level or below in an organization, there’s some sort of unspoken permission or qualification that make people think I’m not that person. And then if you look at executives, one of the constant things that I hear from them is, “I can’t believe how many people come to me and expect me to solve these problems. I need the people on my team to be better at solving these problems themselves.”
And so as I looked at innovation, and what it means to an organization, that ability to solve problems, it’s really looking at what’s the process that the most prolific. And when I say “prolific innovators” I mean people who consistently come up with amazing ideas over long periods of time, and I’m talking decades, not just months or a couple of years, but truly prolific innovators over a long period of time. And I started to break it down, you know. I said, “Okay, like in architecture, if this is the outcome that you want, how do we reverse engineer it into the behavior that delivers that outcome?” Or, you know, the design of a process or experience that delivers that outcome? And I started to research and also do a lot of interviews with these innovators. And they were executives, they were frontline people, they were individual business owners, they were, you know, Fortune 50 type companies, it was across industries, size of companies, types of job title, things like that. And I would say, tell me about your idea generation process. And a lot of them say, I don’t know, the idea just came to me. And so what I did is that, I would say, “Okay, if when this idea came to you, what were you doing? And you know, what were you doing before that?” And then what I saw in interviewing so many people, is that they all had a process that they followed, whether they realized it or not. And that process is the framework that I put together as one for people who are prolific innovators are amazing observers of the world around them. And they’re able to.You know, rest their mind, put their phone down, not think about all that they had to do on their to do list that day, and just stop and really observe. And it doesn’t mean you know, you could be in nature, you could be in a coffee shop, you could be in an airport, wherever you are. They’re just very observant of what’s going on around them. So that’s the first step. The next thing that they’re very good at is taking all of those observations, and lots of times I call them dots, you know, every observation is its own dot, and they’re able to take those dots and they start to find patterns. If it were stars they were looking at, they would start to see these dots, these stars as constellations. They’re able to distill what they see into patterns. And it could be something as simple as, it’s all about people. It’s all about building a community. It’s all about adding greater height to something in a way you know that we’ll figure out as we get into the idea generation process. But they’re able see some sort of pattern. And this is actually something that, as humans, our brains genetically do naturally. It’s just that we don’t stop and take the time to let our brain do what it does naturally and very well.
Then the next step is to take this and start to relate that into the work that we do. And this is really a key step because one of the the failures of innovation is people may see something that was great with another brand, you know, another nonprofit or an experience, and they don’t understand how to relate the beauty of that into the work that they’re doing. So, for instance, when you think back about the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, and here’s, you know, tens and hundreds of thousands of people around the world, dumping buckets of ice cold water over their head. What a lot of other nonprofits tried to do was to create some sort of silly challenge, just like that, in order to have that kind of fundraising success. But what they didn’t understand is that, while they observed what the tactic was, they weren’t able to distill what made it successful. So, it was about something that could be shared, it was about something that built a community, it was about something that gave people a sense of doing something to make the world a better place. And it’s those patterns that you distill that you need to start relating into the work that you do. So, it’s not about creating something viral. It’s about creating something that you can share as a community. So that’s the third step.
And then the fourth one moves into the idea-generation process. But what happens unless you’ve done these first three steps, is that people typically say, you know, we have a problem we have to solve, let’s get together, let’s start brainstorming. And they typically just rehash something that’s already been done in an organization, or they try and copy-and-paste something that they’ve seen from another brand, another campaign, another product or service. And it fails miserably, because there’s no context for it. And then from there, generating that idea, and pitching it in a way that creates a storyline for that idea that gives people context for that inspiration, and helps them understand the passion and the purpose behind “What’s the problem that you’re trying to solve? And how is it that we create an idea, come up with an idea, that truly is original?” Now, when people follow this process, there’s something really interesting that I see. One is that when they get to the idea-generation process, they are wound up and ready to go. And they’re able to come up with exponentially more ideas that are very diverse and different ideas than they’ve had during a traditional brainstorming or idea-generation process. The other thing is that when they go to pitch them, they tell the story of the idea by following the exact process that they use to come up with the idea. So, it gives people context for the idea, and it doesn’t make the idea sound so random. It also helps the person who’s hearing the idea, understand how to give feedback. You know, I liked it. Because of this, you know, what I’d like to see is something more along these lines. So, it opens up a conversation, which is an important part of evolving ideas. Helping innovation grow is to build that collaboration and support from not just the person or team who’s pitching the idea, but from the rest of the organization that needs to help support it. And you know, see it through to fruition.
Ray: Carla, it’s interesting you raise observation as one of the key steps. You reminded me of one of my favourite car designers, Frank Steffensen, and he designed the McLaren P one and the McLaren 720s. And actually, that design inspiration occurred while he was on holiday in the Caribbean. And actually it was the sailfish, which he noticed while diving, and learned about while on holiday, and kind of inspired the design of that car. So the story is, on the way back from the Caribbean he ordered a sailfish to be shipped to the McLaren HQ. And I think they call that observational design inspiration. Biomimicry. So actually learning from nature and using that knowledge to fuel design in other, kind of, materials or objects. So it’s fascinating. You mentioned that because we see many organizations deploying that observation methodology to kind of really innovate and move the needle.
Carla: Yeah, it is, and actually BMW’s iDrive system was inspired by somebody who observed the video controls in a gaming system.
Ray: So, points one and two in that process are fascinating. The second one, the pattern-recognition piece, and I think biologically, but most folks are wired to do that. What we’re seeing here is how AI is supporting innovation organizations, chief execs, R&D leaders, to put that pattern recognition on scale, and use machine learning to connect the dots between all of that unstructured data that we have to work with to identify those really compelling patterns. Is that another observation that you are seeing? And we’d love your thoughts on a broader level on how you think AI will augment that pattern recognition step.
Carla: You know, it’s a great point about unstructured data, because I think that’s a big part of innovation that we overlook. We look at things that are easy to measure, or that can be measured. But I think the power of AI, and what it does for innovation is that it can drop into all of these things that are hard for people who are trying to be efficient and effective and have quick turnaround with whatever kind of data we have, that they’re missing some of the most important insights that can come out of the data. So that’s a really important aspect of AI and innovation that we need to look at. That can start to bring some concert to alleviate some of the perceived risk of the front end of innovation, and maybe some of the perceived inner inefficiencies of it that can help us understand and identify those patterns. Now, one thing I want people to be careful about is not to 100% rely on the technology all the time, because we still need to use our brains to know what this technology is telling us in order to do different things, so that it can help us be better at what we do. But, I think that power of AI is something that isn’t often brought into that very, very fuzzy front end of innovation. That is a huge opportunity.
Ray: You talk about is this piece around being consistent, new, and reliable. So, you covered the consistent piece, and that’s clear. I think best-in-class innovators are typically relentless over decades. That’s why they probably have that type of market cap and that type of success with their customers. But when it comes to the reliable element, can you unpack that further? Because that was interesting when you mentioned that as a “key DNA strand” on high performing innovators.
Carla: Yeah, and actually as I define innovation, I defined that consistency part, the prolific innovator. They’re people who are able to have that consistentcy and coming up with new, great and reliable ideas. And when I look at new ideas, I define that as the kind of ideas that are new to your industry. It may take something that you’ve seen someplace else, like we talked about, you know, BMWs iDrive system coming from the the gaming industry, the guy who went fishing and looked at the gills and took that back into his work. So, it’s something that really surprises and delights you. It’s very unexpected, in how it’s used, or how it’s exhibited. A great idea, to be honest, is a little bit more subjective, but it’s something that inspires and delights you, and great advertising legend David Ogilvy would describe it as “Something that makes you jealous that you didn’t come up with that idea.” And, you know, you think about something like digital mapping services that let you get rid of your big huge paper atlas, that if you would go on a car trip that you had to have to figure out your way there’s a big wow factor for it.
But neither of these things on their own, or even these two things together are enough to deliver sustainable innovation, you have to have that third factor, which is reliability, and that’s something that’s an idea that can stand the test of time. It makes you money. It’s something that is absolutely something that you can bank on. And you think about things like that across industries, you know, streaming content, music online, and moving the travel industry online. Those are things that make money, as crazy as it can seem, you can make money. So it’s the combination of looking at innovation from the point of an idea that fulfills all three of these criteria, all three have to be present, and then being able to deliver consistently over this, you know, long period of time, like being relentless about being this kind of deliverer of ideas.
Ray: Okay, and then another, a tactical and strategic challenge we find with our customers is a lot of innovation leaders that we work with are constantly trying to achieve that holy grail of aligning innovation with the commercial organization. And that tension has been around for a long time, and spoken about a lot online and through various publications. So, what are some of the best practice you’re seeing on aligning R&D innovation teams with the board, with sales and marketing, and corporate development? Is there some best practices and tips that you’re seeing in the marketplace?
Carla: Yes, that there and it’s a tough dynamic, I’ll say that. And it’s part of it because the employee base outside of the innovation group, or R&D, doesn’t feel they either have the qualifications, the responsibility, or the accountability, for seeing innovation, to see these things executed. And so that’s why one of the key concepts that I want people to rethink about innovation is that innovation is everybody’s business. Because if you’re looking at an organization that as a whole, delivers that experience that supports the brand purpose that I might have mentioned already. It’s not just a product or service base, we have to look at, How can everybody deliver on that promise?
And so, there’s lots of organizations that say, “That’s the innovation group, so that’s not my job.” So, when it comes time to have have support and help, and getting these ideas out the door, if the rest of the organization doesn’t buy into an innovation mindset, it’s difficult to get these new ideas out the door. And they say, you know, “That’s what they do. But what I do over here, I’m in marketing, I’m in sales. And yeah, we’ll get around to it. But there’s a lot that’s on our plate already. And we’ll leave that to the product people.” Or they say, you know, “I’m not really smart enough. They’re the ones with the PhDs, they’re the design thinkers, they’re the data analysts, they’re the engineers there,” you know, whatever that label might be, they don’t see themselves as innovative themselves. But, if you can change the entire mindset, or at least a grassroots understanding of what innovation is, and their role in it, and their whole charge is to help solve problems, as you know, as a key underlying message of what innovation is, then it starts to change those dynamics. It’s about, “Let’s solve the problem so we can get whatever product the R&D group developed out the door. Let’s get it in front of customers, let’s collaborate with them and start to get feedback and input and insights from customers much earlier.”
So it isn’t to the point of, “Okay, we’re gonna launch this product.” And it turns out not to be exactly what a customer wants or needs. Let’s start to build the closer collaboration with marketers as the voice of the customer and R&D. So that when something is developed, it is more spot on about what matters to a customer. And it’s also understanding for the rest of the organization, that innovation for customers isn’t always about a product or service. Oftentimes, it’s about just simplifying the way that business is done. And unless you’re willing to take on that responsibility and accept that innovation is everybody’s business. You can have the greatest product or service in the world. But unless it is so painful and complex for, you know, for people to buy it, it doesn’t matter how great it is, you have to look at how you can consistently innovate the business model through which you deliver what it is that you sell.
Ray: So, we see that quite often as well where at the board level, they’re trying to recruit and enable the organization. So, everyone has skin in the game when it comes to innovation, but more to the R&D organization. Another trend that we’re noticing and we’re hearing from the innovation leaders that we work with is they’re actually reimagining how they recruit from the ground up, right out to the graduate level program. One thing that we’re noticing is, they’re looking for the technical chops that’s “bread and butter” within R&D or innovation. But they’re also looking for storytellers. So looking for R&D folks, innovation managers, can present who can, in essence, sell and tell the story outside of the R&D team to get that kind of cross-functional buy-in. Is that something that you’re observing, or are we quite early in that kind of culture shift of recruitment and people level within R&D?
Carla: You know we are very early in it. And what I’m seeing is that companies who do well in this way understand that it’s not one particular type of person in R&D that makes this successful. So, we tend to traditionally think of, you know, a very left-brain structured, analytical type of person who can think through all of these problems, but what I’ve actually discovered is that there’s six different archetypes of innovators, whether it’s in R&D, or it’s another part of the organization. And these archetypes go beyond a job title or job role. You know, it’s not just an engineer or a tester, or whatever that job title may be. But it’s who these people are at the heart of how they interact with the world around them. And they go from a strategist who, you know, who loves that traditional strategy and planning and getting things done and getting things out the door. But then you have to look at, in order to get all of this through an organization, you also need people who are collaborators, because ideas can’t go anywhere by themselves. And they’re people who care more about having ideas or products be successful, and they care less about that personal credit. And we look at these people, and we see them as very gracious and humble and giving. And then you look at people like a culture shaper, and they’re able to architect how this innovative idea is expressed, and oftentimes we’ll see them as the people who kind of create the image in the perception of innovation and how it’s articulated. And so people feel more connected with that idea of innovation within an organization. And this is a lot of the reasons why we’ve seen the rise of the storyteller internally and how these storytellers can be so powerful. I mean, Steve Jobs was an incredible, incredible storyteller. We see this with people like Richard Branson as well. They’re amazing storytellers. And then you also have people you know, who are provocateurs — they’re nonconformist. They’re always pushing the status quo. And they’re saying, well, what if we tried this, what if we do this, and they’re very much about seeing how far we can push the organizational thinking, without snapping it, but to really show up in those in those provocative ways that surprise and delight the people that we’re here to serve.
And then you look at the psychologist, and this is where we get into empathy, and that customer relationship, and it brings more heart into what is traditionally a very highly rational approach to solving problems. And looking at, kind of, back to some of that unstructured data that unstructured innovation and how we look at trust in bringing, you know, risk (which is what innovation is) into the organization. And then this last one is an orchestrator who is is that magical person who’s able to work all of the political stepping stones, they’re able to look at the reputation of innovation within the organization. And they’re kind of that linchpin that always is able to get things done. And these are things that are very important as we look at how we build and structure innovation teams, in order to go beyond just what are those technical skills or job roles that we’re hiring for, we have to look at how we start to build teams that can align and collaborate, so the work can actually get out the door.
Now these archetypes aren’t just relegated to the R&D section of an organization. These are archetypes that are in every part of an organization. Everybody is in one of these. So, understanding, if you are a strategist, you need to work with somebody who’s more of a culture shaper or a collaborator. It’s not on your R&D team. How do you find that other person in an in a different part of the organization. And that is how you also start to break down those silos between, “I am part of that R&D group and an innovator,” and, “I’m part of the rest of the organization.”
Ray: You mentioned those archetypes and it’s fascinating. When you were walking through a couple of them, I can see pictures in my mind, or folks I’ve been lucky enough to work with. And whenever I look at our internal organization, or when I speak to our customers, it’s when they’ve got these cross functional teams and the right stakeholders and each team working together, the magic happens and they end up having a spectacular period where they’ve launched Product X, and if they look back in the rearview mirror, it was down to John in marketing and Louisa in R&D, and maybe X, Y, and Z all working together. And it really kind of snowballed from there. But do you see opportunities in the future for digital capabilities which enable that? Are you seeing any software or digital capabilities which facilitate what you just described, getting all these archetypes working together in a synchronous way?
Carla: You know, I see digital technology supporting the communication between groups, but innovation at its very root is a very human thing. There’s so much we can do with technology, but it’s the dynamics and drawing on all of the different experiences that people bring to the table. And because at the end of the day, what we’re doing is serving people, you know. They may be companies, but it’s, it’s the people who are within them, or if you’re a consumer oriented organization. It’s the people that you serve. So, it’s important that we understand that there is a huge human element within innovation that we need to make sure stays front and center. But I think in order to be efficient and effective, and as powerful as we can, as innovators, we absolutely have to bring that technology side to the work that we do.
Ray: Brilliant, Carla, I’ve really enjoyed the exchange. Thank you for hanging out with PatSnap and please stay safe and well and we look forward to seeing you again soon.
Carla: This has been delightful. Thank you so much, Ray, for having me. I really enjoyed our conversation. It was fun, stimulating and inspiring.
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