Innovation, Think like Thomas Jefferson
I have been thinking lately that maybe there is something wrong with all the "innovation hype" that is racing across large organisations, especially the finance/insurance sectors. Seeing internet start-ups valuation growing at ridiculous rates while their traditional business creek along, many execs have figured that the secret sauce must be "to be more innovative". I would argue that the time, money and effort would be better spent finding simple innovative solutions fast and get them onboarded rather than trying to make the entire organisation more innovative.
I am referring here to bulk of companies that many of us work in, old guard doing real work for real people. These tend to be companies that have built a business over years and by and large have a loyal following. They are in desperate need to explore new revenue sources, new operating models, better ways to engage employees and more clever ways to control costs. But one thing they do have is customers, which is a nice thing. If you ask any internet start-up about customer acquisition/retention you will probably get a quick eye roll followed by, "Yeah, that is kinda hard work".
Making an entire organisation more innovative takes real time and is hard work. Cultures move at a glacial pace and this requires the organisations to invest in costly change agents or consulting firms to bring in fresh skills. I am certainly not arguing that this is bad thing and definitely is a strategic play to ensure long term survival but in the short term is not going to make much of a difference. Customers may also react poorly to a company that they have known for years now is suddenly "reborn" or acting against its established brand ethos!
What can these companies do to start competing and try to keep up. I would suggest that they should adopt a strategy of find, test, use, learn and build at pace. This tactic gives them short term customer experience, revenue and cost wins while also helping build the innovative organisation they seek long term. Just focusing on building an innovation culture might leave them with a lot of used post-it notes, coffee cups and squashed ping pong balls but not much to show customers or shareholders.
Firms need to focus on finding new technology in the most efficient way. Once they find something that looks interesting, the clock starts! Work to test these ideas, speed up the organisation to decide if this " piece of kit" could be useful. Get this into customer's hands and see what they think. If it looks good, start to use this and learn from these niche software experts. At the same time, decide whether you want to partner, buy or build your own version.
While I fully support the innovation processes (including post-it notes), I believe large firms need to still have rapid testing culture to take the best of what is already out there. Think like Thomas Jefferson, the master of finding interesting things from around the globe and adjust them to your company/market. You just might get the next big thing after democracy :)