In 1965 Gordon Moore, founder of Intel, published a paper that became known as Moore’s Law in which he proposed the number of transistors on a micro-chip would double every year. For many years, predictions have been made about when this acceleration in the pace of change would slope off. It shows no sign of doing so at the end of 2017.
Whether we’re involved in the computing industry or not, technology is such a powerful force that almost everything we do is affected by this constantly accelerating pace of change. I remember asking a public-sector organisation I was working with about their external environment only to be told: “External change is at a frenzied pace that nobody can keep up with.”
We may not be able to know when the next big disruption will happen in our markets or sectors (think of the iPhone launch in 2007) but we can prepare for unanticipated developments in our environment by making our own organisations more innovative. This will give us the capability to either be the ones disrupting our sector or be able to respond when it happens elsewhere.
Being innovative can seem like an elusive quality. Identifying the restrictions on innovation across an organisation can be difficult, and it can seem even harder to realise value from innovation. We often focus on idea generation and the creativity of our personnel, but that is only part of the innovation process.
We need to design our organisations around the value that our customers want, rather than the services we want to deliver to them. Google now gives people unlimited online photo storage when they buy a product, rather than selling a data storage quota and Vodafone now sells the ability to stream unlimited music or movies on a mobile device, rather than charging customers per unit of data they consume.
The last time I checked, consumers weren’t that excited about data storage or usage quotas, but they were about taking as many photos as they wanted and listening to music anywhere. Many organisations, unfortunately, design themselves around their requirements rather than their customers’. Gaining a proper understanding of the value that we deliver to our customers and service users is an essential pre-cursor for innovation because it makes us hungry for the knowledge that will enable us to better deliver this value.
I have identified five key stages or “gates” of successful innovation. I call them gates because each one can act as a gatekeeper, preventing innovation taking place if we don’t get them right. Every organisation has the potential to be innovative, but will struggle to fulfil that potential without opening each of these gates.
Gate 1 – Information and knowledge: gathering the knowledge and understanding we need to develop new ideas.
Gate 2 – Learning: learning from failure rather than just playing the blame game.
Gate 3 – Idea generation: creating opportunities for those who know the most about our customers’ expectations to share their ideas about how best to meet them.
Gate 4 – Testing and development: ensuring organisational slack enables those who deliver value to our customers can experiment, learn and improve.
Gate 5 – Delivering value: embedding new or improved services, processes or behaviours into our business as usual activity.
Unfortunately, innovation can fail at any of these stages. Successful innovation is not simply having good ideas, but is a process that covers the generation of new knowledge right through to the delivery of additional value to our customers or service users through improved or different activities. A weakness at any of these stages will restrict an organisation’s capacity to innovate.
The starting point for improving innovation capacity is an objective assessment of every stage in the innovation process. This will allow the weakest stages or gates to be identified and remedial action to be taken.
I established The Improvement Agency having seen a lot of value being lost through failed innovation and out of a keen desire to help organisations deliver more value to their service users, which is what innovation is all about. My hope is that by using this five-stage approach to diagnosing innovation barriers, The Improvement Agency can make a tangible contribution to the delivery of that value.