(By Vijay Govindarajan & Jatin Desai)
“Three major factors drive convergence: technology, competition, and the customer. Each factor directly influences convergence, and the three may indirectly influence each other. The essence of convergence is that it is driven by new forms of competition — both within and across industries — and the collapsing boundaries between industries. Convergence is not simply about combining ideas and technology; it is a primary leadership competency that allows organizations to design the right future.“
Innovation starts with new and novel ideas. Over the last 20 years, we have worked with many world-class brands to help find their next “big thing.” During the initial phases of our work together, it becomes obvious that they have plenty of good ideas. Finding ideas is never the problem — initially. The challenge is finding radical ideas consistently year after year.
When we surveyed over 300 global executives between 2008 and 2009, one of the primary concerns they expressed was their inability to compete long term without a solid innovation engine that can grow their top line. In order to do this, your company needs a process to source radical ideas that can catapult your business to new heights, open up new markets, or bring in completely unfamiliar profit streams.
But in today’s ever-connected world, finding radical ideas seems to be getting tougher for companies. With this in mind, we started to document and study the best-in-class skills of our client companies and their intrapreneurs. Here are five power skills we discovered to help you find uncontested space.
1. Develop Creative Discontent. The best corporate intrapreneurs are never satisfied with the status quo. When times are good, revenue is good, customers are happy, and everyone seems to be making their quarterly performance metrics, intrapreneurs are not satisfied. They need creative discontent. Creative discontent is not about anger, unhappiness, or any other emotional state regarding others; it’s discomfort with your current state of mind. When an intrapreneurial leader is discontent, he asks big questions and challenges himself and others to find big ideas.
An effective way to create creative discontent is to ask questions that shake people up. Bold questions force others to get out of their comfort zones and stretch for solutions they normally would never search for. Let’s say you’re in the energy sector. You may ask, what are some risky investments that stand a high chance of failure but, if successful, enable larger technological leaps that promise earthshaking impact? Or, how can we economically make lighting and air conditioning 80% more efficient? Answers to these questions are not easy to find inside most corporate walls. It will force your key talent to go where they have not yet been.
2. Use Convergence Thinking. What two or more areas are merging? The business game is changing due to convergence — a process by which the boundaries across industries, businesses, markets, geographies, and/or customer experiences become blurred, resulting in new business opportunities for serving customer needs and improving customer value. Cosmeceuticals, for example, is the new industry emerging from the convergence of the personal care/cosmetic and pharmaceutical industries. This industry is fueled by advances in chemistry and biotechnology that allow the use of pharmacological and cosmetic therapies in areas where, earlier, surgical intervention was needed.
Three major factors drive convergence: technology, competition, and the customer. Each factor directly influences convergence, and the three may indirectly influence each other. The essence of convergence is that it is driven by new forms of competition — both within and across industries — and the collapsing boundaries between industries. Convergence is not simply about combining ideas and technology; it is a primary leadership competency that allows organizations to design the right future.
3. Find Pivots. Everything, everyone, and every system evolves over time. Change creates opportunities for innovation, and if the amount of change is disproportionate in size, there is opportunity for movement in a completely new direction — a pivot.
Broadcast television to viral videos, email systems to social media, public libraries to Wikipedia, medical doctors to nurse practitioners — these are all examples of pivots. Apple created the online entertainment business retail pivot. Amazon created the online retail pivot to outcompete brick-and-mortar book retailers. Today, YouTube and Netflix are actively pivoting the entertainment production industry by creating new original online video channels.
Companies who can see early disruptors in an industry can easily identify potential pivots and associated radical ideas. Pivots don’t occur overnight; they can be seen. You can teach people how to find pivots. A few of our clients have set up innovation colleges and universities to teach their leaders, managers, and top talent how to find pivots (and the other four skills mentioned here). These are structured training and work-study programs that certify a certain level of proficiency, similar to typical green-belt and black-belt programs for Six Sigma initiatives. Once they find it, they work on finding radical ideas and developing business proposals for top executives to review. The faster you identify the pivots, the quicker your ability to make strategic choices between various radical ideas for your next big innovations.
4. Overturn Orthodoxies. To find radical ideas, most organizations promote learning new tools, techniques, and methods. The more important barrier to innovation is the inability to forget things that prevent innovations from arising. Identifying and overturning old organizational conventions or boundaries enables breakthrough applications to be born; in so doing, they frequently push companies with deeply held conventions out of the marketplace.
Some of the world’s biggest brands were created by challenging industry orthodoxies. Starbucks would have never existed had they believed that no consumer would pay more than $2 for a cup of coffee. Challenging orthodoxies can provide clarity on existing paradigms worth changing to improve your business model, products, services, processes, customer experience, or brand. Challenging them does not require you to overturn the laws of nature, Rather, it allows you to redefine the perceived constraints and boundaries regarding the industry business model, consumers/customers, and the delivery and service model, as well as to assess how value is delivered to customers and how a product or service is designed, manufactured, and supported.
5. Think Frugally. Frugal innovations require frugal thinking — an ability to engineer cost‐conscious solutions to address large unmet needs of internal and external customers. The primary driver of frugal thinking is scarcity of time and resources. Frugal thinking forces individuals to be highly creative just to accomplish routine jobs. It is not about being cheap. With the daily pressures of limited time, resources, and money, it is crucial to help everyone find more creative ways to innovate.
Start‐ups become successful because they are frugal in their origins. They remain resourceful and flexible during growth. Even if the company is large, successful corporate innovators have a natural ability to think on their feet, tap into just the right internal and external resources, and convince others to follow their ideas. Many Western firms have self‐imposed boundaries on what a product should be, how it should be sold, or how it should be packaged and delivered. Your intrapreneurs should identify such assumptions and challenge them constantly.
Teach these five power skills to the leaders and top talent in your organization. They can help keep your innovation pipeline full. By practicing these skills, your team will improve critical and creative thinking skills, leading to many game‐changing opportunities for your organization.
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