Innovation Ecosystems

When combining industry partners in an ecosystem without involving the customer doesn’t provide full value and thus doesn’t allow an organization to innovate but does provide a cornerstone of innovation. That said, combining industry partners in an overt innovation ecosystem allows for those partners to ask each other burning questions that confront each other. The act of asking those questions of each other engenders trust. With trust as a bedrock to lay next to that aforementioned cornerstone, corporate partners can then lay the foundation for the next chapter of that industry partner ecosystem.

Discussion and involvement in everything from collaborative research and development, the involvement of start-ups and academia, the folding-in of learnings and players from other industries allow for true breakthrough thinking and action. The orchestration of such an ecosystem must be done with insight knowledge. That insight knowledge doesn’t always come from the largest player within an ecosystem. Often, it might come from a start-up. “Especially in start-ups, we see very capable young people with good ideas and in some cases, we have good experience letting them orchestrate the ecosystem by just providing the people, the know-how and background knowledge.”

Coupling that type of orchestrator with a seasoned corporate veteran from the largest player in an innovation ecosystem provides positive results by infusing past experience into the equation. Moving forward, organizations are more open to this type of innovation ecosystem approach especially due to budget pullback and the need for increased speed in innovation.

Innovation Ventures

Although there are countless advantages that come with a partnership like this, Varley explains that one clear advantage would come from within the organization through its existing employees. He says that the employees “see how other companies operate – they see how much more nimble they can be – and they want to bring that into their organization. So they start finding ways to break down the internal rigidity.”

Research and Development is a necessity for a business to thrive, however there are many bottlenecks and misconceptions that come with the process as a whole. One primary misconception that Varley touches on is the overall role of an R&D professional. He states that “the key is to enable the people in R&D to be gatekeepers and to understand that their role is to not necessarily to always invent everything, but to identify what the right things are.” 

Digging deeper into the bottlenecks of this process, Varley expresses some frustration he has with organizations that don’t understand how much of a hurdle they make for their R&D when they push back deadlines. “One of the bigger hurdles is getting them to understand that the difference in pace extends beyond just start-ups being able to do things faster because they’re smaller – they get paid differently,” he explains. “I have to remind managers all the time ‘You get paid every two weeks. You can push a project off for a month. You still get paid every two weeks. That could be the difference between these guys putting food on the table.’ And so we need to be respectful of those differences, and as the partnership internally develops, people do get that respect.”

Another important topic that Varley touches on is how important it is to have the right person in the seat when it comes to introducing a startup. “You also need to have someone who understands the different parts of the organization,” he explains. “Someone who’s trusted by the different parts of the organizations – who, when they make an introduction of a startup to a particular group, they’re going to be taken seriously.”

When asked about what his outlook in 2023 was, Varley emphasized being heavily involved in his industry for a while. With his time in the business world, he explains that there have been many ups and downs. With the future, he encourages with “You just figure out how to ride through it. You don’t panic, you don’t batten down the hatches, you don’t slam the doors – you say ‘okay, let’s just work our way through it.’ Nobody knows for certain whether the recession is ahead or not. There are all kinds of indicators that say it can’t be because employment is so high – there are other indicators that are typically used as recession indicators. I’m not an economist – I can’t say whether there’s going to be one or not.”

As far as the startup business goes, Varley is extremely optimistic. “It actually makes it the most exciting and the best time to get into this. If you’re a corporation and you’re thinking about corporate venturing, you do not want to start at the top of the market when valuations are astronomical.” 

Control The Sails

As far as what to do as a business leader, Kunde recommends that history is our best teacher as far as problem-solving. He explains that challenges, although the situation itself may be unique – such as the pandemic – the outcomes and solutions are often cyclical. More specifically, if a leader is struggling to get their business back in gear, Kunde touched on the subject of management consultants and their role in situations like this. “You still need to continue to get your businesses moving,” he explained. “The management consultants who have stayed on top of what’s going on over the last several years because the companies didn’t will help them.”

There’s an old saying of “I can’t control the wind, but I can control my sails.” When tailoring this concept to situations in the business world, Kunde states that “The people who control their sails don’t need management consultants – they’re doing fine. The management consultants are out there rescuing those whose sails have collapsed, and they’re going to charge them a boatload of money to tow them to safe harbor.”

One hot-button topic that Kunde believes will be a high priority in the next few years is sustainability and how it can be built into business models. Another big topic revolves around diversity in thought and actions. “I also see a lot more conversation about diversity and inclusion” he states, “because people are realizing that the problems that our organizations are facing cannot be solved in the old ways that they were being solved. In order to solve them, we need to include a much more diverse group of innovators with cognitive and experiential diversity.”

With 2023 coming around the corner, Kunde is looking forward to a time of normalcy. “I think 2023 will be, sort of, people getting back to reality. People traveling a lot more, few people wearing masks – there’s a lot less fear. There’s some economic fear right now with inflation, but that’ll pass.”

Innovation Culture

Today, people are extremely ambitious with their careers, some being to a fault. Hatrick expressed that there is “a fine balance of people pushing really hard – overachieving – but then going too far and actually finding themselves a bit alone and struggling with resilience.” It’s dangerous to push yourself too hard only to find yourself struggling with no one able to help. Hatrick believes that the key to success in this area involves “the community teaching each other and helping each other to survive and be resilient in that kind of context.”

Another important subject topic to Hatrick involved the culture of an organization as a whole. To Hatrick, changing an entire company culture isn’t an easy task and, most certainly, can’t happen overnight. He advised that the best way to start the process of change was to start it with a few individuals. Working with these would evolve to small teams. “Grow your tribe.” He says, “Get some successes. Build, build, build – and actually, over time, you build a culture.”

When asked about what he expects for the year of 2023, Hatrick expressed that he thought it would be unfair and inaccurate to even try to predict the year with what has happened since 2020. No one could have possibly predicted the pandemic, and it is impossible to try to predict the future since there is so much possibility of anything. More specifically, Hatrick stated “For me to predict what’s coming is impossible – except to say it’s going to be uncertain. I’m not worried about that because when you work with innovation, uncertainty is not the enemy. The reason we innovate is to actually deal with uncertainty.”

For those working in innovation in some capacity – which is essentially all of us in some type of way – Hatrick proposed a challenge and offered a new way of thinking when it came to the challenge of handling uncertainty. “We should be excited in a way. It’s almost like the time has come for people like us. We need to step up and actually take responsibility.”