I'm always on the hunt for innovations and keen to the process of developing innovation. That can come in a number of forms, and since I'm the final filter on what interests me, there's no logic to my hunting strategy. Philosophically I believe you have to open your mind, shelve all your biases, decouple the lessons of experience and actively embrace "the different."
I've been moderately successful, perhaps because of my combined product development and corporate development experiences, but as in many business initiatives, there's a balance between the linear and logical combined with an artist's vision or instinct.
From there I apply an integration perspective, examining current trends, iconoclasts, then combining with a hard edged business perspective on what can be pragmatically achieved, then harvested. Harvesting, aka, "How one can make money with this is?" is my lodestar.
I've come to calling this "Innovisioneering." Essentially it requires a pre-disposition to innovation, the ability to identify what is adjacent opportunities in today's market as well as identifying growing trends and wildfire events that will converge over the horizon. Then add the orienteering ability to plan a path, engineer and execute a strategy to harvest the opportunity. Hence, Innovisioneering.
Good innovisioneers look critically yet open mindedly; spanning the horizons for data, changes, feints and indicators of movement which indicate a congealing consensus of value in the marketplace. Sometimes it is an implied demand, sometimes overt. Sometimes a technical advancement in other fields which can be combined for value, sometimes direct epiphanies. Either way it requires an intimate understanding of the end consumer behavior, the process of serving the consumer, as well as the skills to operationalize innovation.
Many people have an inherent fear of innovation: that's its too risky, sporadic and doesn't pay. In my past I've been lucky to have been involved in real breakthroughs--SMS interoperability and voice activated technology--so I have some practice with tools to mitigate that risk and improve my batting average.
At CTIA I started looking at companies a month before Vegas and found two companies which caught my interest, one an enterprise mobile security play, Turns out of the five companies I met with at CTIA, these two were in the Top 5 contestants for ATT's Innovation contest. Intelligent Spatial Technologies won everything being knighted ATT's Most Innovative Application, and Boxtone came in the Top 5 for enterprise applications. In subsequent posts I'll provide more details on these innovative companies in the mobile space.
The Value of Innovation
The trouble with innovation is today's business philosophy. Modern business thinking has led to the conclusion that organizations should focus on what they do best: that is, the day-to-day money-making activities that have won them their principal ‘customer mandate’. For most organizations - indeed, for almost all organizations - the most sensible course of action is indeed for them to stick to what they do best. After all, that is why customers come to them and are prepared to pay them money. Few major companies can afford to employ a team of full-time innovators. Modern business thinking has led to the conclusion that companies should focus on what they do best: that is, the day-to-day money-making activities that have won them their principal ‘customer mandate’.
But how should a company pursuing a sensible policy of sticking to what it does best and fulfilling its customer mandate deal with the danger that if it does not innovate it may sooner or later lose its customer mandate to more innovative competitors?
It can't. Companies that don't innovate die.
While successful innovation once was performed in sterile corporate R&D labs, today the broad distribution of knowledge makes such a process infertile. Competitive advantage comes from gaining vision, placing an educated bet on what you see, and leveraging the discoveries of others if your company is seeking new areas of technology or entering untapped markets.
The mandate of innovation is to seek it out from all sources, inside and outside of the company, connecting and developing partners, suppliers and even co-opting competitors--the more connections, the more ideas, the more solutions. That's modern innovation. Look at IBM, Intel, and the revitalized Procter & Gamble. They know "what's next."
A company's focus on innovation should be outside-in, requiring a transformation of both external perception and internal purposes, understanding what needs are to be met and how to connect the dots between the company's capabilities and competencies—a mix of existing business lines and recently acquired companies—and bridging those to broader opportunities. In my view, innovation should be obsessed with end-user consumers in the ever changing mobile market, which can then be swiftly taken to full consequence.
Building sustainable competitive edge in a period of global competition is challenging corporations to utilize and leverage all available resources, whether internally or externally sourced. In Innovisioneering: Part 2, I'll outline my thoughts on why periods of economic contraction are the best time for innovation development, why VCs fail at identifying innovation, and how resource rich companies are executing innovation through corporate development. Stay tuned....