How to define the value of innovation

This week was really busy, spending half of it out of the office – including a day in Ireland with a potential client we have wanted to work with for a while now.

I went to a conference on Tuesday afternoon hosted by SDL. We have implemented SDL’s social media listening tool SM2 on a customer project, and I’ve stayed in touch with the team there ever since.

SDL’s event was a thoroughly useful afternoon out of the office, full of interesting client case studies, talking about their digital channel rather than social media.

One key message from Tim Wade’s Best Western hotels’ presentation was that their digital channel was about storytelling. Their customers stay at hotels and it forms part of their life – they can tell stories about staying at the particular location.

Ever since that presentation, I keep hearing that marketing is all about storytelling. Last week I hadn’t really heard the concept. I just checked Wikipedia and just a few weeks ago someone added a subsection “In marketing” to StoryTelling!

There were other good presentations and the one that I enjoyed the most was from Greg Oxton. Greg is from the Consortium for Service Innovation. While the CSI sounds like the blandest of bland industry associations, Greg focussed on his presentation on “Observations on Innovation”. His audience participation with 150 people was admirable (How do Americans do it so well – are they taught presentation skills at pre-school?)

At the end of this recession, we’re seeing many companies in the IT sector falling away, and others grow rapidly. Innovation is absolutely vital to growth, mainly because it demonstrates differentiation, yet most companies aren’t very good at it. Greg’s raised a number of key points

Most companies want to eliminate risk and uncertainty, yet innovation is naturally risky and uncertain.

If we are really confident in an idea, then it’s probably not innovative.

Greg worked with the audience to demonstrate why innovation is usually a group exercise and even more productive with people if different backgrounds and agendas. If you take an existing team from an organisation and ask them to come up with new ideas, you probably won’t get nearly as good ideas as people from across the company – and this includes customers as well.

Greg drew a value model for innovation (shown below). The chart demonstrates that the value of your work is at it’s highest when you’re doing something for a customer (and the customer can be internal) and applying new thinking. Anything less than this, and your value is a commodity.

Our current work model is based on 50 year old manufacturing companies who required staff to go to work for 40 hours to produce an expected number of widgets for the week.

In the services industry where value is far more important, the amount of hours worked is largely irrelevant. Imagine walking into work and after a short time, producing a great idea. Logic would suggest that you’ve either done your day’s work (after communicating your idea!) or you should set to work on implementing it. So why do people leave work at 5/5.30/6/etc.? – It’s merely a hangover from the manufacturing industry.

One last point about what Greg said.

Most companies are not worthy of the people they employ.

What this means is that companies often find excellent people, but culturally need to pigeonhole them into a specific job role. And worse, the job role has a generic job description that applies to the lowest common denominator. So that excellent new employee is now restricted to the specific task in hand utilising a tiny percentage of that person’s capability.

Greg listed a few companies solving these problems where staff come and go as they need to, are hired and fired by peers rather than managers, write their own customised job descriptions and other new concepts that most of us struggle to imagine.

If you can watch Greg give this presentation again, I recommend you try to watch him at work. I’ve searched for him on YouTube and the video of his previous presentations seem to be very poor quality. If you can’t get to see him live, contact Nick at SDL a call and ask for the presentation handouts and when they’ll be releasing the videos of this week’s event.


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