In Search of Innovation

There is an illuminating article in the Wall Street Journal by John Bessant, Kathrin Moslein and Bettina Von Stamm.  They give nine pieces of advice to help companies with innovation together with examples of how leading innovators use these methods.  They are:

1.  Build scenarios.  Many companies use teams of writers with diverse perspectives to create complex scenarios of what future markets may look like. The writers try to imagine detailed opportunities and threats for their companies, partners and collaborators.

2. Spin the Web. Companies can use websites as ideas factories.  The article describes how Eli Lilly did this with Innocentive and how BMW do it with their virtual innovation agency.

3. Enlist lead users.  The BBC sponsors a Web site for lead users at Several times a year the BBC uses the site to host what it calls “hack days,” when it lets subscribers play around with source codes the BBC uses for such online applications as live news feeds, weather and TV listings. BBC staff look at what the Backstage subscribers come up with to see what can be useful.

4. Deep Dive.  This is a market research technique which resembles an anthropological study in the way researchers immerse themselves in the lives of the target consumers.  Novo Nordisk mobilized teams in several developing countries to research how health systems with limited resources were handling diabetes care. Researchers compiled detailed interviews and observations—documenting cases by interviewing patients and recording them on video, and spending time in hospitals, rural clinics and the health ministry.  The result: a rich picture of the market, of needs that weren’t being met, and fertile suggestions for alternative products and services that might be delivered.

5. Probe and Learn.  This strategy goes further than deep diving by actively experimenting with new ideas in a new context.  BT is looking at ways to help the elderly live longer at home.   As part of its probe-and-learn exercise, BT is conducting a test service in which it places sensors in the homes of elderly customers to monitor their movement; if the sensors detect unusual activity, or none, they trigger an alarm. BT says that the service already is generating revenue, but that its greater significance is as a stepping-stone to help the company learn more about what will be a huge and very different market in the future.

6. Mobilize the Staff.  Reckitt Benckiser PLC, the U.K.-based maker of household-cleaning and personal-hygiene products, has mobilized a large number of its agents in purchasing, marketing and customer relations to be on the lookout for relevant new market trends.  A small in-house team attempts to verify reported insights and to build on them. The team reports regularly to senior managers, who decide which concepts to pursue further.

7. Cater for Entrepreneurs.  In some cases, informal networking has pushed innovations to the forefront—below the radar screen of formal corporate systems. BMW, for example, has experience with what it calls “U-boat” projects, which run along below the surface of formal management approval. The Series 3 Touring car came into being not because of a formal product plan but as a consequence of efforts below the radar screen. The team responsible often worked at night, and welded together a prototype made from whatever bits they could scavenge.

8. Start a Conversation.  Break down internal silos.  To encourage more interactions and exchanges of ideas, the U.K.-based engineering-services company Arup Group has developed something it calls a “knowledge map” depicting the company’s areas of expertise and how workers and departments are connected to one another in terms of information flows.

9. Stimulate Diversity.  Some companies seek innovation partners with whom they wouldn’t normally work, and who might bring a fresh perspective. Doctors at the Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children in London, for example, consulted with members of a pit-stop crew from Italy’s Ferrari Formula One motor-racing team to explore ways of improving how children were being moved out of heart surgery and into intensive care.

Paul Sloane

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