Be the Change you want to see in the world

San Francisco, May 21 &22, 2015.  A few days ago I attended a Chief Innovation Officer summit at the Hyatt Regency in San Francisco.  This was for me a rare opportunity to see a gathering of people from many different industries share their experience, and a chance to benchmark what we do at ng Connect with some prominent companies.

The event featured many quality speakers and some great presentation material which completely fulfilled my expectations.  Even if I had to sit in on the sometimes tedious sales pitches of companies and consultants who promote their software platforms and/or expertise helping firms deploy successful innovation programs.  On these I will say that Mindjet (& Spigit) has my preference, as I have been a long time advocate of combining the ideation piece such as brainstorming, whiteboarding, mind mapping or any other method, with the idea management part (including sharing, collaboration, project management, etc.) – they seem to be on the right track.  Not to mention I do have a lot of respect, having tried myself, for entrepreneurs who successfully took advantage of innovation and technology trends to carve their spot in the marketplace such as Matt Greeley from Brightidea.  On the consulting side I would simply highlight Co:Collective who had an interesting way to demonstrate the RoI of innovation — but I will get back to it later.

In fact, RoI demonstration seemed to be a rather common concern among many innovation leaders as they are fighting an uphill battle to get the resources and the attention (or lack thereof) required to fulfill their mission.

Some, like Philips, based their RoI demonstration on customer use cases, others like Hershey on their lean innovation structure and processes, but Ty Montague of Co:Collective actually used numbers to show that in all the industries they considered, innovative companies experienced faster revenue growth while spending less on marketing and advertising.  The results of this study are available at http://www.storydoing.com.  Ty went on to analyze that these companies are driven by a “quest” rather than financial objectives fueled by sales of products and services and this quest both legitimizes and greatly facilitates moves outside their perceived core competency (or whitespace).  Examples of such companies include Red Bull, Amazon, Toms or Tesla.

Interestingly, this idea of quest remained present in a broad majority of presentations: 

  • Mark Bigham of Raytheon pointed out that many significant innovations and discoveries occur during times of chaos, when people, or companies, fight for their own survival. Beyond another variation on the used “innovate or die”, the quest here is quite clear, and it gets everyone’s full attention.
  • At the individual level, Mark Randall of Adobe insisted, in his masterful presentation of Adobe’s Kickbox innovation toolkit, on the very first question: why are you doing this project, what is driving you? In other words: what is your quest?  Mark further asserted that the main benefit of this box is to teach employees to fail better.  It only takes a few successful projects to offset the expenses incurred by several thousands of boxes but the bigger benefit is probably the valuable lessons learned by all participants as well as, to a lesser extent, increased company loyalty.

There were many other findings in all the presentations I attended that would deserve more consideration and further thought – maybe in an other post -, but they would digress from my main point.

What I am taking away from the CINO 2015 summit is a reinforced conviction that:

  • change (a much lower standard than chaos) brings opportunity.  For example, rising oil prices make electricity a very likable energy for a broad set of uses; an unprecedented drought in California forces majors changes in water usage
  • people and business with the right mindset (or “quest”) are poised to reap the benefits (yes there is an RoI for innovation).  I’ll use one of my favorite quotes: “In times of change, learners inherit the earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world than no longer exists”.  And learning applies as much (if not more) to failures as successes
  • you should not be a spectator: “do your story, do not simply tell it”.  As Gandhi said, “Be the change you want to see in the world”.  Would you believe a company claiming to revolutionize the supply chain by commissioning drones for last mile delivery, if you did not see it transform its own warehouses with tons of robotics and automation?  Would I be pleased to see the world evolve and profoundly change in the Internet era, if I did not play a part – albeit a tiny one – in it?

Looking back at ng Connect and my little benchmarking: yes we do have a quest which is precisely to transform (for the better) the user experience in a vast variety of domains by rapidly applying the latest networking and communication technologies.  The key word is rapidly, which is what requires a diverse, global and agile ecosystem, with just enough legal framework to openly collaborate on ideation and early prototyping, while offering a clear path to market deployment and customer engagement.  I feel we are making a difference with what we do: as cars, trains, aircrafts or bus stops get connected, as 4k video streaming goes live or as banks revisit their retail and home banking businesses, we are certainly not just standing by…

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