Lift and shift

Since I started working on Future-proofing, my book on innovation methods  due out next year, something interesting has started to happen.

I am getting calls from institutions around the world (or consultants retained by them), asking about the experiences we've had building out our innovation systems and processes. Apparently, even in these times of trouble, wanting to get more innovative is still a key imperative.

The other day, for example, I was on this call with a major European bank. I always take those sorts of calls by the way, especially when my own institution is not competitive. The fact of the matter is I get just as much from it as they do, and our innovation group is improved as a result.

Anyway, I was on this call, and they said to me: “we have lots of money, we are ready to invest, we know innovation is the future of our business. But we don't want to waste money. And we don't want to have to discover how not to ourselves”.

I told them about my five capability model of innovation programmes, and suggested they should prepare themselves for a multi-year journey. Cultures don't change all that quickly.

Now as far as I could tell, this institution was crying out for what I'd style a “lift-and-shift” innovation process. That's where someone with tried and proven methods is retained to create the environment in which innovation can flourish. Those things take a long time to build well independently, sometimes years.

This institution needed a short-cut. Why wait years to get it all right if you can buy it in working already?

The thing is, I take such calls several times or more a month. Everyone is always after the same thing: tell us how we can build an innovation programme without the expensive mistakes along the way. And how we can do it quick-smart.

I'd make two interesting observations about this.

The first is that everyone I'm talking to realises that the competitive advantage from innovation never comes from the way you do innovation, but rather, from the people that are actualised by the innovation process. That, by the way, is the reason I am usually delighted to share details of how we do what we do: it is the people that we have that make it work, not the process itself.

Here is my second observation: There is clearly a significant opportunity here for someone. But all the major vendors have no offering.  Oh, I know there are lots of innovation consultancies around, but they offer high level advice. Where is the innovation service that can install all this stuff in an institution without all the bother?

The opportunity to do this must be massive. The opportunity for an institution that were to buy such a service must, similarly be massive.

Imagine the model: the institution doesn't pay for anything up front. Because the process is lift-and-shift, the vendor knows it can make windfall returns for its client, and therefore is delighted to do a risk and reward pricing scheme. Decent innovation science will usually make innovation the preferred investment activity compared to practically all other opportunities. That's especially true where the programme is supported by senior people who are believers.

So where is this service? Perhaps I've failed to examine the market sufficiently and it does, in fact, exist somewhere. But if that's true, there are lots of other institutions out there that have also failed to find the lift-and-shift innovation process.

And I only know about the demand in banking. What about all those other industries that face the same problem?

8 Responses to“Lift and shift”

  1. October 30, 2008 at 10:59 am #

    James, haven’t you answered the question yourself?
    “the competitive advantage from innovation never comes from the way you do innovation, but rather, from the people that are actualised by the innovation process.”
    So providing the innovation and implementation for free and collecting on delivered value would never work as the provider has no control over the internal people involved doing their part right.
    Imagine this. I say to you “James I have a way of making you ten times more attractive to women. You’ll be guaranteed to find the woman of your dreams, it’ll cost me £10K to do it, but I won’t take my fee until your successful marriage”
    Then you get drunk and are sick on her lap on the first date.
    I did my bit, you screwed up yours.

  2. October 30, 2008 at 2:56 pm #

    I’ll agree completely with the first observation: innovation is about people first and foremost. If the culture and corporate values do not exist to support the type or risks, thinking and structures necessary for innovation, then the processes and tools will not have an impact.
    The second observation, though, is more troublesome. It’s possible to “lift and shift” the processes and tools, but is it possible to “lift and shift” a culture? Is it possible to lift and shift people?
    (I know you call it out, but I still believe many of the design / innovation consultancies already fill that gap: not through discrete, short-term engagements but through broader, longer-term shared economic arrangements.)

  3. Avi Pollock
    October 31, 2008 at 2:36 pm #

    I’m going to have to agree with the rest of the posters. I’m not convinced it’s even possible to “lift and shift” and be successful. There’s a reason those of us who are involved in innovation on a day-to-day basis at large companies have lots of battle scars and they aren’t because of issues related to process or even structure. What makes an innovation process work is how you’ve aligned it and integrated it into the company’s specific context and culture and that can’t be transplanted from anywhere. Like you James, it’s why I too am always happy to converse with innovation professionals from other companies – as with almost all things it still comes down to execution.

  4. November 1, 2008 at 7:11 pm #

    That bank could invest that money on training, better compensating, incentivising and overmanning their staff. Then they might more flexible and less resistant to change?

  5. November 3, 2008 at 6:36 pm #

    James,
    Well said. I completely agree with you that, “….the competitive advantage from innovation never comes from the way you do innovation, but rather, from the people that are actualised by the innovation process.”
    The missing link for so many people is that innovation is hard work. It requires rolling up the sleeves, taking risks and getting your hands dirty. Its not just a bunch of people sitting around whiteboarding and doing ‘ideation’. It is methodical and driven.
    There is no easy answer however I am in complete agreement with you that there is a huge opportunity in here for a service to help with the journey.
    Industry within the US needs to learn how to crack this code quickly.

  6. Abhishek Mehta
    November 3, 2008 at 8:29 pm #

    Interesting observation James on the fact that there is no ‘service’ that can enable a ‘lift & shift’ model. Here’s what I have found in multiple discussions with innovation ‘experts’ – they have pieces of the innovation pie down pat, but building the entire story (from coming up with an idea to taking it to market and getting the first million consumers who will buy it) is not their forte.
    When I think about it, I am not surprised that is the case. It is easy to build and replicate a model that can take an idea and prototype it, but ask for wrapping a business model (that sells it) and operational model (that delivers the promise) around it, and things get willy-nilly interesting.
    Maybe that’s what a chapter in your book should (will) talk about! (and I am already giving you a marketing pitch for your book)

  7. November 5, 2008 at 9:03 am #

    @Jeff: Yes, and it is not only the US that needs to do it. Here in Europe we are also behind where we need to be, in my view. And as to hard work: I couldn’t agree with you more. Our own challenge has been to connect the person with the idea, with the execution of it.
    @Abishek: you are so ahead of me on the book front: it does indeed conver the things you describe.

  8. November 18, 2008 at 6:54 am #

    Hi James…there are some consultants that promise they can quickly “project manage” an innovation process so the leadership can tick the box on the innovation goal without having to wade through admin stuff like actually reviewing the substance of vaguely-formed employee ideas, don’t have to learn through discovery, and can easily blame some other party/ cause if this one-dimensional approach doesn’t work.
    Why innovate if you don’t want to learn through the process and build a stronger, more resilient and visionary team of talented people? M&A, rape and pillage is so much simpler?

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