Content By Jeffrey Phillips

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By: Jeffrey Phillips

As Malcolm Gladwell and other business writers have found, it is entirely possible to write a compelling article around a rather obvious point, and still hold the reader’s attention. As an example I draw your attention to this article, titled “Why Corporate Innovation Is So Hard.”

The article was obviously written by a communications master because it has an attractive title that seems to address an intractable problem—and suggest an answer. It’s also based on a premise that seems inescapable: Too many companies fail to innovate because they trust their existing understanding and the existing perceptions of the way the world and the market work, while missing key signals that a disrupter finds, interprets, and implements.

The article quotes from the book, The Disruption Dilemma, by Joshua Gans (The MIT Press, 2016):

Jeffrey Phillips’s picture

By: Jeffrey Phillips

One of my favorite quotes comes from George Bernard Shaw, who said that all change in life originates from unreasonable people. Reasonable people, he said, will accept the status quo and change their lives to adapt to the status quo. Unreasonable people won’t. Unreasonable people force change rather than accept the status quo. So, he argued, all change is dependent on unreasonable people.

So it’s interesting to me to read a completely reasonable list of “things to do” before implementing AI or any element of the new digital transformation toolkit and think: That’s absolutely correct in theory and likely 100-percent wrong. I thought that when I read the article “3 Steps to Gear Up for AI and the Future of Work.” The advice is meaningful and probably useful, conveyed thousands of times about new technologies or new approaches. It advocates:
1. Determine a use case for the new technology or approach.
2. Train people to be more proficient users of the new technology.
3. Start small; find small successes.

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By: Jeffrey Phillips

I went to a meeting about innovation recently with a former client, and a discussion about digital transformation broke out. It was both interesting and strange.

Most corporations are struggling to comprehend the changes in front of them, but at the same time are so fixated on short-term thinking that they struggle to see the tsunami that is emerging just over the horizon. They know it’s there. They know they should prepare. They just don’t have the time to consider it or the contextual frameworks to understand it.

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By: Jeffrey Phillips

I recently wrote an article about innovation during 2018, and in it I made some disparaging remarks about Apple, which may or may not have caused it to lose a tremendous amount of market capitalization. Or perhaps the stock was overvalued, and Apple has become more interested in margin than in innovation. I’ll let you, gentle reader, be the judge.

What I want to do here is to speculate on the coming year. What do we know about the state of innovation? What do we think will happen in 2019? What innovation methods or approaches will gain ground? Which activities or approaches will lose steam? Will innovation finally cross the chasm, leave the hype cycle “trough of disillusionment” to take its rightful place in the “slope of enlightenment?” We’ll explore.

Looking ahead in 2019

As with any evolving or unfolding management philosophy, there are factors that can accelerate innovation or change it dramatically this year, and factors that will rise to create barriers to innovation. More important, though, I think we’ll see a reframing and repurposing of innovation, as many corporations decide they can’t do innovation effectively enough internally and become distracted by digital transformation.

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By: Jeffrey Phillips

It finally came to me last week. For more than a decade I’ve been working with corporations, trying to help them accelerate their ability to generate new, interesting ideas to market as viable products and services. In some instances we’ve been successful, and in other instances there were interesting failures. I’ve recognized for a while that some major challenges exist. I wrote Relentless Innovation (McGraw-Hill Education, 2011) as a way to frame some of the things I’d learned about the way culture resists change, and how a “business as usual” approach can stymie innovation. But even with these obstacles it would seem we should have more innovation than we do.

What came to me finally is that we are trying to do new chemistry in old equipment, equipment that is tailored for a more conservative, slow-paced way of working where there is less change and more certainty. Our businesses are “built to last” and meant to gain scale quickly and then lock in customers and channels to drive more revenue and profits. In a day and age (say 20–30 years ago) when markets were more stable and there was less innovation, building a company with this intent made sense. Those days are over.

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By: Jeffrey Phillips

Ihave been thinking a lot lately about innovation and how we may have emphasized one component at the expense of another. Here I’m talking about something that should appear obvious—the focus of innovation in building new things. We are constantly reminded that innovation is about building new products and services and experiences. This definition is entirely right and proper, but I think it neglects something very important.

I was reminded of this recently while at dinner with an executive from a large manufacturing company that produces many different products, one of them components for mattresses. Now, all of us want mattresses to be comfortable, and it would be great if they would last longer. But, strange to think, the internal coil mattress is actually a very complicated product, a virtual lasagna of layers of cover, cotton, and steel. While that finished product is very comfortable, it is very difficult to deconstruct when an individual is finished with the product. And herein lies the rest of this post.

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By: Jeffrey Phillips

I have been thinking a lot about why innovation fails. Not about why supposedly innovative new products fail, because there are multiple reasons for that. A product could be too early or too late in the market window, or it could simply have the wrong pricing or distribution. A new product may lack key features or components, or like some successful products, take years to build an audience. I’m actually more interested in the 90-percent or more of ideas that never make it to product development. Why is there so much failure at the front end of innovation?

I was going to describe the failures at the front end, but that seemed too negative. If we can identify why ideas and processes fail, then we can begin to add value to innovators everywhere. So, first a brief segue into the importance and value of failure, then six ideas to implement to increase innovation success in the front end.

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By: Jeffrey Phillips

There’s probably few activities that corporate folks enjoy less than corporate training. For most it’s guaranteed to be a slog, or a review of policies and procedures rarely used and important only to a specific team or set of circumstances. Most people assume they have enough knowledge to do the jobs they have, and they are often comfortable simply winging the rest. That’s why innovation often presents such an interesting challenge.

For the most part, people suspect that innovation is unusual and requires new insights and skills they don’t possess. And since they don’t possess those skills, they will avoid doing innovation work (from fear of failure), or will make innovation work align to existing programs and policies (which they know well). In response, many organizations turn to innovation training and innovation workshops.

I’m just back from leading a couple days of innovation training with a client, and the more we do this, the more convinced I am that:
1. Corporations can do a very good job innovating with the people they have.
2. Innovation training—learning the skills that make up a good innovation activity—isn’t difficult.
3. People will need to learn, relearn, and unlearn some things in order to achieve innovation success.

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By: Jeffrey Phillips

I was leading an innovation workshop recently with a company that invited some of its customers to talk about the future. We were interested in getting feedback from key B2B customers about the future of the industry, where things were heading, and what strategies and programs my customer should begin to put in place. I was hired to lead a trend-spotting and scenario-planning workshop, but I had successfully convinced my client that we needed to establish a common framework and language about innovation first.

The participants were senior executives drawn from several industries the company serves. They all were leaders in their respective industries, and several of them promote innovation as a core operating capability. Nevertheless I felt it was important to establish a common definition and scope of innovation before moving ahead. What surprised me was the response from the participants.

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By: Jeffrey Phillips

I

was thinking over the weekend that for years we've positioned innovation incorrectly. Too often we position innovation as creating a new and valuable offering or solution, ready when customers demand new products and services. In other words, we've positioned innovation as something to do to prepare for future business, future needs, and future demands. 

Innovation does answer for these issues—identifying needs and developing ideas for products and services for unmet and perhaps unanticipated needs. But in the hustle and bustle of day-to-day business, the main focus is on the now. What can you deliver today, this week, this month, this quarter? How can you help me achieve my quarterly revenue and income goals?  Sure, the future is nice, but I’ll worry about that when I get there. With this mentality, cost cutting, becoming more efficient, and gradual but general improvement is the key focus, not innovation per se.