“Many companies now have blue sky departments tasked with creating the Next Big Thing. But can we factory farm a golden goose?”
I suppose he was referring, really, to my point that we spend most of our time moving (figurative) check boxes around on forms. It is this kind of thing that pays the bills. Neil goes on to suggest that teams doing this aren’t really innovating:
“The team’s intimate knowledge of the company’s processes and a close-coupling to the internal touch-points ensures a return. But isn’t that simply process re-engineering rather than innovation?”
And that’s a valid point of view, and one that we regularly address both inside and outside the bank. From our point of view, innovation is any situation where you create new levers or change the possible range of old ones. Re-engineering (we call it optimisation at the bank) is where you move the levers.
Changing Interest rates or terms and conditions is optimisation.
Changing a business process or modifying the usage of a channel is innovative if it means that the interest rate you can offer customers might be way outside the norm. ING Direct proved that.
But back to my assertion about the value of ideas.
Ideas are valueless by themselves, because without execution, they don’t make returns. I’ve never worked anywhere that lacked ideas, and everyone has great ones. We have mature capturing and scoring systems for ideas here at the bank, so I know this as a statistical fact.
The problem is that people with day jobs don’t often have the time to turn their ideas into reality. It is the chief problem innovators face: with so many things one can do, how do you prioritise scarce resources to make things happen?
One of the biggest myths about innovation is that to get more innovative, what you need is more (and better) ideas. Actually what you need is more capability to execute.
Having fallen into the Schumpeterian trap of confusing invention with innovation, Neil goes on to conclude the real role of innovation teams is as a great big ideas switchboard:
“Internal innovation teams focused on process re-engineering, managing ideas flowing inwards from commercial-social frameworks that provide a voice for customers, suppliers and everybody else concerned with the business to be heard.”
Of course, the problem is being able to do something with all those new ideas coming in. Some, certainly, will be unbelievably good. But what message do you send when you ask people for their time and effort and then don’t do anything at all?
The real answer is co-creation. People who have enough invested emotionally to actually dream up the idea in the first place are probably likely to take it a little further if you make it possible. The innovation team enables the idea originator to make things happen.
We’re about to do something very special in this regard for our internal ideas factory, and we hope it will link the idea to execution in a way that’s never been done before. I’ll be posting on that in the next few weeks when we see how it all works out.
Update: My mispelling of Neil’s name has been corrected. Sorry Neil!