Innovation and the future-proof bank

The "project" I've alluded to on this blog a few times recently is a book I'm working on to be published by Wiley. It's called "Innovation and the Future Proof Bank" and will come out early in 2009. As you've probably gathered from the title, it is supposed to help bankers create innovation teams and use them to safeguard their future in the face of the furious change our industry is presently experiencing.

Here's the key idea: innovation needs not only a nice process to get things through a pipeline, it needs a set of tools that can forecast the likely shape of things to come and then optimise the innovation process accordingly. I make the point throughout that the innovation process  is itself a disruptive innovation in a bank. The degree to which it is successful is correlated with how well such processes are able to anticipate, and the book talks about how that can be done. It's always surprised me how few innovation teams I've talked to in banks actually operationalise the process of thinking about what's coming up.

Here are some of the other key things I'm dealing with:

  • What happens when you give an innovation programme too much money too soon. Everyone always concentrates on not having enough money, but the reverse situation can be much, much worse.
  • The nature of the leadership required to get an innovation function to work.
  • The theoretical models you can use to de-randomise innovation, including an individual level diffusion model that was the subject of my doctoral research years ago
  • Politics and governance, actually two sides of the same coin, and why they are the friends of innovators. Why complain about them when they can drive the innovation agenda themselves if you let them?
  • And, inevitably, a section on dealing with IT. IT is both the biggest advantage that banks have, and the largest issue that must be dealt with to get anything done. IT has rules, and has them for a reason. Innovators break rules, and do that for a reason also. How does one balance the two?

But really, I'm hoping that the end result will be a book that senior managers can use to help them establish an innovation function. That bank innovators can use to help them make their existing methods as robust as possible. And that partners of banks – vendors for example – can use to let them interface with the innovation functions of banks so that both parties benefit.

I've been collecting material from lots of institutions around the world, since the book won't be limited to any particular region. I'm also using material from other industries to a lesser degree: at the time the proposal was peer-reviewed by Wiley's industry people, quite a bit a feedback came back that the material would be more interesting if it had examples from other sorts of companies in the financial services value chain. Post offices and peer-to-peer lending, for example.

I've already been in contact with many of you whom email me regularly to gauge your interest in participating in this book by contributing an interview or a case study. But I know that I don't know most of you who read here. So if you'd like to participate in the book I'd be really thrilled to hear from you. I'm looking for case studies around innovation processes, specific results of that process, people and leadership, governance or anything else that might be useful guidance to anyone starting their innovation journey. And I'm also looking for stories of things that went wrong. I realise that this last is likely to be more challenging.

Nothing will be published without your written approval. Actually Wiley are very strict on getting authorities in place. So if you want to be a part of the book, you'll have lots of chances to make sure that my writing represents things in a way you're happy with. Email me if you're interested at

I'll post periodic updates here from time to time to let you know progress. And I hope you'll have a virtual glass of Champagne with me when I finish the manuscript and send it off in September.

4 Responses to“Innovation and the future-proof bank”

  1. June 18, 2008 at 12:42 pm #

    Hi James – good luck with the book that would be fine. The NESTA Open Alchemy project is an exercise in trying to factor in economic, tech and social trends to innovation programmes and we’re working with Innovaro to build in this long-termism to coporate innovation programmes.

  2. July 8, 2008 at 2:51 am #

    James, this sounds exciting…something we talk about all the time. We actually have a structured offering around tooling the innovation process.
    Look forward to the book…

  3. September 29, 2008 at 12:02 am #

    “[innovation] needs a set of tools that can forecast the likely shape of things to come”
    That statement of yours troubles me greatly, James. If you truly believe that to be the case you are actually saying.
    “we need a crystal ball (set of tools) to predict the future”
    Aren’t you actually saying “I don’t believe in crystal balls. So therefore I don’t really believe in innovation”?
    By making such a statement I fear you are confusing strategy for innovation.
    I think you may really be talking about strategy.
    Innovation is recognising where we are, looking at where we want to be and finding a way to get there by using what we currently have on board, better.
    Or more simply. Imagine you’re being held captive in a locked room. Innovation is what you need to escape by using what is at your disposal.
    Strategy is forming a plan knowing you’re heading for that locked room and making sure you take a cake with a file in it or a lock-pick with you.
    Innovation can’t be planned, forced or trained for, so “innovation teams” can’t work.
    Strategy can be measured, analysed and scored, so “strategy teams” can work.
    So are you a strategist or an innovator?

  4. May 7, 2009 at 2:52 pm #

    Hi all. You can only cure retail but you can prevent wholesale.
    I am from Bosnia and also am speaking English, give true I wrote the following sentence: “With bachelors, tefl and years experience.”
    With respect :-), Hezekiah.

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