Layoff-Proof Your Career: The Consultant Mindset

“Always think of yourself as an independent consultant, no matter what role you have or where you work. Ask yourself, what skills and experience could I charge more for each year? This will push you to gain new skills every 12 months.  And you will always stay relevant.”

The Consultant Mindset

I termed her perspective the “Consultant Mindset,” and I have leveraged it throughout my career. Here are the elements of the mindset that stood out to me:

  • Change Your Locus of Control. As a young scientist, I always imagined myself working in a lab, for a company, or with a team – the locus of control was always external. By “working for myself” at a company, my focus became internal. This change in perspective was crucial because it put me in the driver’s seat of my career and allowed me to think proactively to stay relevant in the fast-paced innovation space.
  • Stay Relevant. At the time, I thought I was relevant because I had a Ph.D. and a job. I learned early that in the innovation space, I would have about 12 months of relevancy before my skills needed refreshing, no matter what degree I had.
  • Charge More. Prior to this conversation, I hadn’t considered that each year someone – a company, a client – will decide whether to reinvest in me and by how much. I didn’t think about my skills as a valuable commodity that I would continue to sell to potential clients, stakeholders, or employers. Just like a consultant, I should always be looking for ways to improve my skills and offer more value. This mindset helped me stay motivated and focused on my career goals, even as I navigated the day-to-day demands of a job. New value and skills = premium pricing.
  • Learn Continuously. From that day forward, I focused on one skill to focus on each year – whether it was directly related to my current role, adjacent or even orthogonal. Steve Jobs famously credited a calligraphy course with inspiring Apple’s slick font and design features. You never know where each skill can take you!
  • Pay it Forward. When I look back on the 30 minute conversation with my VP, I’m so appreciative of the time she invested in me. Unfortunately, I think 1-on-1 meetings with Senior Leaders are less common now than they used to be. But the time investment is worth it.

Leveraging the Consultant Mindset

Here are some examples of how the consultant mindset set me up for roles I didn’t even know would require the skill at the time I was learning the skills.

  • Early Career. Advanced Statistical Modeling– Readied me for a corporate role in a statistics department developing a world-class sensory science capability.
  • Mid Career. External Partnering– Led to an opportunity to help establish the global Open Innovation capability at Unilever. 
  • Current Role. Agile Certification– Set me up for a corporate strategy role requiring the management of organizational transformation for the 3.5B North American business.

Even starting this blog stems from the Consultant Mindset. A personal project, self-publishing a book during COVID lockdown, taught me that I enjoyed writing and wanted to do more of it.

In sum, think like a consultant no matter what position you have or organization you find yourself. Take control and adopt new skills that you can charge more for each year. Don’t wait for someone to mandate it – then it’s too late. Find something that you would like to learn and try it out. Today it’s easier than ever to learn in a way that suits your style — in person, by video or by academic course – and much of it is free. Adopting a consultant mindset can provide peace of mind, especially during uncertain economies when layoffs are rampant. It can help you feel confident in your relevancy and set you up for opportunities you don’t even know exist yet.

Generating Innovation Through Ideation

Rarely a one-time process, ideation can instead be divided into stages, such as generation, selection and development. After you have identified the problem or opportunity, idea generation can kick start the process. This can then lead to a process of idea evaluation and selection, and eventually a stage of refinement and development. Bottlenecks can certainly plug up the process at every step of the way. To facilitate the communication of ideas is also key to an organization’s eventual testing and implementation of those specific ideas.

Great Ideas Lead to Innovation

Ideation is important to paving the road to innovation, and it has several benefits for an organization. According to Viima’s complete guide to ideation, sharpening your ideation initiatives can increase your innovation opportunities by generating more ideas. It can also bring together different perspectives and ways of thinking. “That’s why when we bring together diversity in terms of experiences and knowledge, we can look through a fresh lens and take advantage of new ways of thinking,” writes author Diana Porumboiu. Effective ideation processes can also further help develop and refine those ideas into better ones; helps you prioritize ideas and identify the most promising ones; and encourages an environment and culture of open innovation in a company or community.

There are several specific tactics that one can use for ideation generation as well. In addition to brainstorming, other strategies include developing an idea challenge. This is a focused ideation method for finding creative solutions to specific problems, opportunities, or areas of improvement. In terms of evaluation, the impact-effort matrix can help distinguish the types of ideas that will guide your choices in the process, as well as the evaluation criteria. Ideas can be placed in the matrix, and categorized as high impact high effort big projects, for example.

Idea management doesn’t stop there. Indeed, for innovation professionals the most recognized tool could be the phase-gate process, which helps select ideas and helps you reduce uncertainty. The stages include discovery, scoping, feasibility, development, validation and launch. This model also helps ensure consistency and reduce ideas with too many similarities. To refine and develop ideas further, storyboarding, analogy thinking, and opposite thinking are also tactics that can be leveraged during the ideation process.

Thoughts On Co-Creation

Do you want to co-create, or do you just want to ideate? All Things Innovation explored this question in the blog, “Take Ideation to the Next Level with Co-Creation,” by Lisa Fuchs, Executive Vice President, Innovation Services, KLC.

Often, we are asked about the differences in co-creation versus crowdsourcing and idea generation. To truly co-create is to build out ideas with customers from that seed of inspiration into a concept and ultimately a new product/service.

Co-creation is a way for you to incorporate your customer through all stages of the product development process, and through disruptive innovation create something that can truly be a game changer, as it’s made not only with the customer in mind, but with inspiration and input directly from them. Co-creation can be far more informative than traditional techniques for identifying what products to bring to market, and it yields deeper insights. When knowledgeable, passionate people are brought together, they can have robust and dynamic discussions. Those conversations often spiral into unexpected areas, and they can spark bold ideas that no one group member would have thought of alone.

Collaboration Is Key

Effective ideation can fuel innovation at an organization by providing employees with a platform to think creatively and come up with new ideas. This encourages out-of-the box thinking and helps identify potential opportunities for improvement or growth. It also strengthens collaboration between teams, as they share their ideas and work together to develop innovative solutions. We asked ChatGPT, what are some effective ideation steps that can help fuel innovation?

  1. Brainstorming: Gather a team of people together to brainstorm ideas, giving everyone the chance to share their thoughts and suggestions.
  2. Research and analysis: Take time to research existing products or services in the industry and analyze different approaches that have already been tried by other companies.
  3. Ideation sessions: Host ideation sessions with stakeholders from across the organization or with customers who can provide valuable insights into what they would like to see from your product or service offering.
  4. Collaborative workshops: Set up collaborative workshops where teams can work together on specific problems, research solutions, and generate new ideas for potential innovations that could address those issues.
  5. Prototyping and testing: Create prototypes of potential solutions quickly so you can test them out in real world scenarios and get feedback from users as soon as possible before committing too much resources into any one solution path.

Starting Point

Ideas are the starting point of every innovation. Yet ideation is often thought of as a messy and chaotic process, littered with post-it notes and diagrams on chalkboards during noisy group sessions. But through a specific ideation management process, it can help you stay organized and increase knowledge sharing. The process can also help you transparently share ideas, gather feedback, refine, evaluate, and further develop them, notes Viima. A structured and methodical approach can align ideation with specific goals.

“Even though ideation might sometimes get a bad reputation, the problem is usually not with ideation per se, but with the lack of systematic processes to get from vague ideas to implemented solutions that serve the organization’s overall goals.” Those ideas, after all, can pave the road to successful innovations.

Video courtesy of Board of Innovation

Managing Talent to Drive Innovation

Talent management is transforming. Despite an organizational evolution that breaks down functional silos, most companies are still fairly traditional with their hiring practices defined by a hierarchical talent operating system. On the other hand, some companies do feature cross-functional project teams that encourage innovation and collaboration. Other systems may have an option for employees to opt-in to rewarding, innovation focused work.

From Boredom to Burnout

The approach to innovation talent has evolved in this new globalized work world. While common themes have emerged, different organizations have chosen distinct paths. In this recent Innovation Talent Roundtable, the innovation community shared several thoughts on the search for innovation talent and fostering a culture of innovation.

Igniting innovation culture and talent is fraught with danger as, if you’re not careful, it can lead to burnout. Finding innovation talent that fits within a given organization is, to put it simply, challenging. Good innovation talent itself is elusive. Add to the equation that a given person not only needs to have the specific skill set being sought, but that same person must fit with corporate and innovation culture already established.

Once that talent is identified and makes it through sourcing and onboarding, nurturing must occur. That nurture program must be customized and personalized to the talent and consider from where the talent arrived– either internally or externally. And once the team has accepted that new talent, management must provide a perfect balance so as not to achieve either end of the innovation talent spectrum: burnout or boredom.

The Inside Gig

In an article in Forbes, “A New Approach to Talent Management,” Edie Goldberg, president of E.L. Goldberg & Associates, describes another “inside gig” talent operating model that fosters agility, grows capabilities without costly hiring cycles and reveals inner talents. She notes, “Like the innovation-focused model, this type of internal talent mobility allocates a certain amount of an employee’s time to work that is outside of their job description. But rather than designating a percentage of their time for blue-sky projects, HR leaders can steer employees toward projects that are mission-critical for the company. Also, the time employees work on these outside projects is not added to their regular work schedules but integrated into them.”

This inside gig type of work project can promote new functions for the employee, taps into their capabilities, helps them learn new skills and avoids extra hiring of new workers. And when employees come together cross-functionally, often innovation will ensue. This also encourages a shared resource approach among managers as they distribute their talent to different projects depending on their skills. And, of course, this could cultivate a culture of innovation from within.

“This new world of work, in which we create opportunities to facilitate internal talent mobility, also benefits the entire organization,” says Goldberg. “It improves organizational productivity, employee engagement and creativity. Taken together, these improvements enable a more agile workplace. HR leaders should bring the totality of their existing resources to bear on the projects that will help execute the business strategy.”

Create An Open Environment

So how can one manage innovation talent all the while fostering a culture of innovation excellence? We asked ChatGPT, and the artificial intelligence platform gave a few specific pointers. The answers highlight that creating an open environment is key, where participants are encouraged to collaborate and mentor. Diversity should not be overlooked as well when it comes to recruiting innovation talent.

  1. Create an innovative culture: Encourage and reward creative thinking, and provide employees with the opportunity to explore new ideas.
  2. Develop a formalized innovation process: Establish a framework for brainstorming, testing, and implementing new ideas that encourages collaboration across teams.
  3. Invest in training and development: Provide resources to help employees hone their skills in areas such as design thinking or product management so they can contribute more effectively to the innovation process.
  4. Foster mentorship programs: Connect experienced innovators with less-experienced ones to create an open learning environment where everyone can benefit from each other’s knowledge and experience.
  5. Prioritize diversity of thought: Ensure that your team is composed of individuals who bring different perspectives to the table, which will lead to more innovative solutions being proposed and implemented successfully.

A Learning Experience

Talent strategies for both large and small companies can be a challenging, yet learning, experience. Now more than ever, strategic planning is warranted. A respectful and open environment, which is diverse and inclusive, is an important aspect of creating value in the talent and hiring process. Empowering the team to communicate and course correct when needed further encourages a cycle of improvement.

“A culture that is focused on learning embraces experimentation, iteration and continuous improvement,” says Anne Rush, author of “Create a Winning Talent Strategy to Drive Innovation,” in Entrepreneur. Companies that encourage a culture of learning and education also tend to engage with the open source community more often as well, driving possible partnerships and open innovation development. To have a truly collaborative culture, you also need to ensure that managers at all levels are on board, says Rush.

Video courtesy of Stern Strategy Group

Balancing Innovation with Ambidexterity

Yet, this is a complex and challenging task for both managers and teams in the innovation field, and for the company overall. It is a sensitive, mental balancing act that looks to require executives to explore new opportunities while exploiting existing capabilities. It is this balance between exploratory (radical) and exploitative (incremental) that is key to the manager’s ability to multitask.

In the article, The Ambidextrous Organization from the Harvard Business Review, it is posited that the most successful organizations, “separate their new, exploratory units from their traditional, exploitative ones, allowing them to have different processes, structures, and cultures; at the same time, they maintain tight links across units at the senior executive level. Such ‘ambidextrous organizations’ allow executives to pioneer radical or disruptive innovations while also pursuing incremental gains.” This in essence creates a balance between breakthrough innovations and processes while not cutting back on the company’s traditional business.

Building An Innovation Culture

So how can one build an ambidextrous organization? In a recent piece, All Things Innovation’s Seth Adler spoke with Volvo’s Mike Hatrick on how innovation starts with the employees of an organization. As we know, the people that work for a business are some of its greatest assets. In today’s world there is a struggle with professional burnout, and Hatrick alluded to the word “resilience” as being an important part of today’s world. Specifically, he states, “I think resilience within the job and after the pandemic is absolutely critical.”

Another important topic 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. Get some successes. Build, build, build – and actually, over time, you build a culture,” he says.

Aligning Ambidextrous Leadership

At a past Front End of Innovation (FEI) conference, the practice of ambidextrous leadership was explored in one of the sessions. “Ambidextrous leadership: from theory to actualization,” was presented by Micah Tindor, Senior Director Kelley Blue Book Instant Cash Offer at Cox Automotive. Tindor looked at how a business leader might process and activate ambidextrous innovation within an organization to create a pipeline of innovation success. Tindor’s session discussed how to actualize ambidextrous innovation, taking it from academic theory to repeatable process. Exploration innovation is essential to disrupt a market and maintain business leadership, but the deployment of a disruptive innovation into a business unit must be aligned to the business unit’s planning cycles, strategy, and capabilities.

“Ambidextrous leadership has to align with the front end of innovation to be successful,” says Tindor. “When I think about ambidextrous leadership, in particular the innovation element, I think about both sides of the fence. I think about the innovation team, their goals and challenges; and the business side, and what my business goals are, and how they sometimes merge and meet in the middle, and sometimes they don’t.”

Adding The Balance of Ambidexterity

Collaboration is an important part of the process of ambidextrous innovation. It is this balance between personnel, departments and processes that can lead to both achieving large scale projects while making the small, incremental and iterative steps that lead to innovation. We asked ChatGPT for several tips on how to leverage ambidexterity in an organization:

  1. Foster an atmosphere of collaboration: Encourage cross-team communication and project collaboration to ensure that ideas are shared across departments, disciplines, and perspectives.
  2. Develop a culture of experimentation: Create an environment where new ideas can be tested and iterated on without fear of failure or punishment for taking risks.
  3. Embrace divergent thinking: Provide opportunities for employees to think outside the box by offering workshops on creativity, brainstorming sessions, hackathons, etc.
  4. Leverage technology: Implement tools like AI/ML algorithms to help generate innovative solutions faster and more efficiently than traditional methods alone can provide.
  5. Establish clear objectives: Make sure everyone is working towards the same goal by setting measurable targets with specific deadlines so everyone has something tangible to work towards together as a team or organization as a whole.

Adapting to the Three-Legged Stool

Ambidexterity in innovation is a key capability for organizations to stay competitive in today’s fast-changing markets. Adaptation and a faster response time are important to gain this skill. It also requires organizations to be able to identify, nurture, exploit, and leverage new ideas from different sources, while also maintaining existing capabilities. Organizations must have processes that allow them to quickly adapt their strategies in order to capitalize on new opportunities or respond rapidly when faced with changing market conditions.

The challenge can be that often there are different structures, cultures and processes for both the development of radical innovation in the future and incremental innovations of a more short-term variety. As noted in the article, “Innovation Ambidexterity and the Three-Legged Stool,” “Each type of innovation requires different—often opposing—structures, cultures, and processes. Thus, to become ambidextrous, companies must create a balanced mix of all three, each a leg in a three-legged stool.”

The article, written by Professor Janet Tinoco and published in the Pepperdine Graziadio Business School Journal, notes that the business process portion of the stool is what can ultimately bind the structure and culture together, to form a more solid mix for both types of innovation to thrive. Ultimately, “Firms can transform and achieve ambidexterity in innovation by employing prudent business processes that cumulatively impact radical and incremental innovation, thereby building the essential third leg of the stool.”

Video courtesy of IESE Business School

Choosing Open Innovation for A Positive Collaboration

There are two types of open innovation to consider. Inbound innovation is about sourcing and acquiring expertise from outside the organization, and researching the external environment for new information to identify, select, utilize and internalize ideas. The second type of outbound innovation is the intended commercialization of internally developed ideas to the open market. This might be through selective revealing of a product to journalists and reviewers or selectively selling the technology or service to customers with a view to getting feedback.

The process of open innovation involves actively seeking out inputs from outside sources such as customers, suppliers, universities and start-ups in order to create new products or services. As the Internet has grown and leveled the playing field, this approach has become increasingly popular among organizations looking to leverage the resources of their networks for competitive advantage.

Adapting To A Crisis

As the coronavirus pandemic intensified, it increased pressure on companies and constricted supply chains. Open innovation became an important avenue for companies looking for new partnerships to foster creative solutions for their specific issues. Whether or not you are in a crisis, open innovation remains a legitimate option. Certainly, in a time of crisis open innovation stepped up with a sense of urgency to transform ways of thinking and ways of doing business.

Companies are turning to this open innovation process but like any system there are pitfalls and potential. As the authors note in “Why Now is the Time for Open Innovation,” from the Harvard Business Review, companies that partner must put aside their differences and work together for the benefit of all. The authors write, “Making it work, however, requires that companies: momentarily put aside traditional concerns over IP to focus on other approaches to creating value; leverage their partners’ motivations effectively to maintain a productive working relationship; embrace new partners; and commit to the projects they pursue through open innovation to reap their benefits.”

Build A Culture Of Innovation

All Things Innovation recently looked at tactics and strategies in how to “Ignite a Culture of Innovation.” From the successes to the failures, from the breakthroughs to the breaking points, the innovation community knows all too well that fostering a culture of innovation on your team is a key part of a winning formula. In this sense, it’s not just what you create but how you create it.

Building a culture and community of innovation is no easy task, yet it’s important to give your team a sense of innovation and a mission that permeates the entire process, as well as the organization as a whole. Through this atmosphere of innovation, true collaboration can take place, with risk taking encouraged, without fear of failure. Empowering your employees is also key to the process. One must embrace a culture of upskilling and adaptation, and take ownership of the innovation process. Take on challenges and encourage creativity. Reward both success and failure. Create a healthy environment that is filled with curiosity. Enhance an atmosphere where team members are willing to challenge, dissent and question one another and the status quo.

Engage With the Community

So how can one create and encourage a community of open innovation? As noted by ChatGPT, there needs to be a lot of engagement and communication for the parties involved. Whatever type of platform is used, gaining feedback and input on the project is invaluable.

  1. Create a platform for open collaboration: Establish an online community where people can share ideas, discuss solutions and build on each other’s work. This could be a forum, blog or even a social media group.
  2. Foster transparency: Make sure that everyone knows what is happening in the community by providing regular updates and progress reports. Encourage members to openly contribute their ideas and opinions while also recognizing those who take initiative and make valuable contributions.
  3. Reward contributors: Show appreciation for active participation by offering rewards such as recognition, prizes or discounts for products developed through the process of open innovation initiatives.
  4. Engage with stakeholders: Reach out to potential customers, partners and industry experts to get feedback on your projects so you can continuously improve them over time based on user input and data analysis insights from different perspectives outside of the team itself.
  5. Promote creativity: Give members space to think freely without any predetermined boundaries or restrictions – this will help foster creative thinking that leads to innovative solutions rather than relying solely on traditional methods of problem-solving.

True Collaboration

Often overlooked or seen as a drawback, collaboration, in times of crisis or otherwise, is the hero of the open innovation story. Open innovation is often a more decentralized and participatory way of doing business, a method that many traditional companies often find uncomfortable because they might not have total control of the process or can’t anticipate unforeseen circumstances that may arise.

Yet there is great potential for value creation with open innovation. Opportunities abound for those that realize that a two-sided open partnership can motivate both teams to create new avenues of growth and spark creative ideas. As the Harvard Business Review authors assert, “It allows for many more ways to create value, be it through new partners with complementary skills or by unlocking hidden potential in long-lasting relationships. In a crisis, open innovation can help organizations find new ways to solve pressing problems and at the same time build a positive reputation. Most importantly it can serve as a foundation for future collaboration.”

Video courtesy of World Economic Forum

Defining Disruptive Innovation

Defining Disruption

According to Investopedia’s exploration of the subject, disruptive innovation refers to an innovation that transforms expensive or highly sophisticated products or services—previously accessible to a high-end or more-skilled segment of consumers—to those that are more affordable and accessible to a broader population. It may not be referring necessarily to a disruptive technology, which can be viewed as a separate subject. This innovation transforms and disrupts the market, breaking long-established traditions and competition. Amazon, which launched as an online bookstore in the 1990s, is often pointed to as an example of a disruptive innovation. The introduction of digital music, which replaced compact discs, is another example.

Disruptive innovation primarily revolves around both sustainable and disruptive technologies, according to Investopedia. Sustainable technologies are those that allow a business to incrementally improve its operations on a predictable timeframe, allowing them to remain competitive. On the other hand, disruptive technologies and the way they are integrated—the disruptive innovations—are less easy to plan for and potentially more devastating to companies that did not pay enough attention to them.

Is Disruption Theory In Danger?

In the Harvard Business Review article, “What is Disruptive Innovation?,” one of the architects of the original theory looks back at more than 20 years of what it does, and does not. The co-author and Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen writes, “Unfortunately, disruption theory is in danger of becoming a victim of its own success. Despite broad dissemination, the theory’s core concepts have been widely misunderstood and its basic tenets frequently misapplied. Furthermore, essential refinements in the theory over the past 20 years appear to have been overshadowed by the popularity of the initial formulation.”

Christensen and his coauthors go on to make the case that different types of innovation require different types of strategic approaches. For disruptive innovation, he points to four tenets that are often overlooked:

  • Disruption is a process. It is an evolution of a product or service over time.
  • Disrupters often build business models that are very different from those of incumbents.
  • Some disruptive innovations succeed; some don’t.
  • The mantra “Disrupt or be disrupted” can misguide us. Incumbent companies do need to respond to disruption if it’s occurring, but they should not overreact by dismantling a still-profitable business. Instead, they should continue to strengthen relationships with core customers by investing in sustaining innovations.

Christensen notes that innovation is rarely sustaining or disruptive. “It is rare that a technology or product is inherently sustaining or disruptive. And when new technology is developed, disruption theory does not dictate what managers should do. Instead, it helps them make a strategic choice between taking a sustaining path and taking a disruptive one.”

Breakthrough Innovation

While disruptive innovation and breakthrough innovation are often examined under a similar lens, they are not quite the same. Breakthrough innovation is when there is innovation inside a company, which often pushes it to the next level. It can open the company to new markets, and it can often change the way customers interact with the company or industry.

All Things Innovation’s Seth Adler recently discussed “Breakthrough Innovation” with executives at Dominion Energy. While the rest of the industry relies on iterative change, Alex Moyes, Director of Innovation, explains the breakthrough innovation happening at Dominion Energy. “So Dominion Energy…we are a large, multistate utility…we believe in an ‘all of the above’ approach to energy —everything from nuclear to natural gas to utility-scale solar, we’re integrating a lot more stationary storage and batteries. So we are seeing groundbreaking innovations happening almost every day.” Moyes discusses fostering breakthrough innovation and embracing change.

Moyes further states that Dominion’s innovation team is encouraged to foster change and that one key component in that is getting the leadership to recognize that change is a good thing. “It’s the job of our innovation team to not only foster a culture that embraces a lot of these innovations, but we have a big job to do on convincing our current leadership that it’s OK to change and that we need to embrace the change,” he says.

Embrace The Change

So is there a difference between encouraging disruptive innovation as opposed to other types of innovation? It seems that fostering a culture of innovation, regardless of success or failure, is key to the process. We asked ChatGPT for a few tips regarding encouraging disruptive innovation at an organization. An overall theme emerged, that of embracing and adapting to change. It is only in this environment of encouragement that disruptive innovation can survive and, indeed, thrive.

  1. Encourage failure: Create an environment where employees feel comfortable taking risks and trying new ideas, even if they don’t always work out.
  2. Promote collaboration: Foster collaboration between different departments to help spark innovative thinking when looking for solutions to problems.
  3. Embrace change: Adapt quickly to changing market conditions and customer needs in order to stay ahead of the competition with disruptive innovation.
  4. Set clear goals: Provide employees with clear goals and objectives that are focused on fostering disruptive innovation within the organization and incentivize them accordingly for their efforts in achieving these goals.
  5. Invest in research and development: Make sure your R&D budget is sufficient enough to foster disruptive innovation by investing into research projects that can bring new products or services to life quickly without sacrificing quality or performance standards.
  6. Leverage technology: Utilize cutting-edge technology such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, big data analytics, blockchain etc., which can help organizations identify opportunities for disruption more easily and efficiently.
  7. Listen to customers and employees: Keep a close eye on what customers need from you as well as feedback from your employees about how certain processes could be improved. This will give you insights into potential areas of disruption that could benefit both parties.

Disrupting the Business Model

Disruptive innovation is often something that many companies aspire too, yet few achieve. It must be transformative but which turns a product into a more accessible and affordable version of itself. The very nature of the business model must also be disruptive. There must be an enabling technology which is often behind the change or improvement. An innovative business model targets a customer segment which can benefit from the service or product. According to Investopedia, a coherent value network must also be created — this includes up- and down-stream business partners in the supply chain which also benefit and adapt from the disruption. This value network must also require process changes to adapt and conform to the new business model, thereby truly allowing the disruptive innovation to thrive.

So is disruption innovation theory dead? We don’t think so, but there are many factors at play regarding the competition between an upstart challenger and an incumbent company over a product or service. “Disruption theory does not, and never will, explain everything about innovation specifically or business success generally,” writes Professor Christensen. “Far too many other forces are in play, each of which will reward further study. Integrating them all into a comprehensive theory of business success is an ambitious goal, one we are unlikely to attain anytime soon.”

Video courtesy of Harvard University

Create A Blueprint for Success With Innovation Frameworks

With a strong framework, the business can take a more competitive approach to idea generation. These ideas can then be more easily turned into options for executives to consider. There are many different types of innovation frameworks that a company can leverage. “There are many frameworks for tackling different types of problems in different contexts, and those collectively help you to innovate,” says Samina Karim, professor of entrepreneurship and innovation at Northeastern’s D’Amore-McKim School of Business.

Common Innovation Frameworks

Northeastern University’s article, “Popular Innovation Frameworks and How to Use Them,” examines some of the more common innovation framework systems in the context of mergers and acquisitions. These can work for a variety of industries and provides structure to the innovation and ideation process, giving the team ways to weigh and evaluate their options.

The first framework revolves around the question of whether a company should focus on partnerships versus acquisitions. The pros and cons need to be evaluated for each avenue forward. “To successfully create value from other firms, whether through an alliance or acquisition, businesses must first ask themselves what they hope to get from the other company, what kinds of resources are at stake, and what the market looks like,” the article states.

A second framework revolves around what is called the new merger and acquisition playbook. In other words, if a firm has been acquired, just how will it be integrated, or not, into your operations? “It seems like a simple question, but the framework breaks this down into two ideas,” Karim says. “Are you acquiring something so that you continue to do what you do, but do it better, or is it that you really want to do something new and different than what you already do?”

The Three Horizons framework follows, with an emphasis on how to sustain growth and improve performance. According to Northeastern University, the first horizon represents the core products or services that have the highest levels of consumer recognition and profits. The second horizon consists of emerging opportunities that may need investments to reach their profit potential, and the third is made up of ideas for profitable growth that will take longer to generate results.

Another popular framework to establish new markets is known as Blue Ocean. This postulates that red oceans are markets already in existence and represent most industries with defined and accepted boundaries. Blue oceans, on the other hand, are largely untapped markets, where companies can expand by creating their own demand. “Organizations seeking to adapt the blue ocean framework for their own use can consider how to best use their current business practices, products, and services in new markets, leveraging their expertise for unique purposes.”

Innovation Ventures

Innovation frameworks are often a key part of the research and development process. Yet, much of this process also revolves around the questions of corporate venturing and how the enterprise deals with start-ups and new ventures.

In All Things Innovation’s “Innovation Ventures,” Seth Adler discusses the subject with Chris Varley, Principal of Goodyear Ventures, The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company. Varley states that, “Big companies develop bureaucracy because they need it. What happens though is a lot of rigidity creeps in, and that can kill innovation. So, smart companies start looking at how we can keep the bureaucracy that we need to function as a large organization – but find better, faster, cheaper ways to get new ideas in-house and in the market.” This would be the origin of how a partnership with startups and corporate ventures comes into fruition.

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.”

Testing, Testing

Innovation frameworks can be complex and there are numerous models to choose from. Before picking one for you and your team, it’s important to set goals and priorities while assessing the scope and scale of the project in question. We asked ChatGPT for a few fundamental tips in employing an innovation framework.

  1. Start small: Innovation frameworks are complex and can be overwhelming if you try to tackle them all at once. Start with one or two core ideas, then build out from there as needed.
  2. Set measurable goals: Make sure that the framework you choose has clear objectives so that progress can be tracked and reported on easily. This will help ensure that the project is moving forward in a meaningful way.
  3. Involve stakeholders early: Get key stakeholders involved in the process of developing an innovation framework early on so they understand how it works and can provide feedback throughout its development and implementation phases.
  4. Test and refine: Before launching your new framework, make sure to test it internally first before rolling it out to customers or clients for broader use cases – this will help identify any potential issues before they become larger problems down the line.
  5. Iterate and improve: As you gain more experience using your innovation framework, take time periodically to review what’s working well, what needs improvement, and how else it could be used effectively in different contexts or industries.

Growth Drivers

Even strong innovation teams, often with a cross functional focus, can strengthen their efforts through different types of innovation frameworks to drive growth. It is an effective way to vet ideas, evaluate pros and cons and make more educated decisions. It can also speed up the process of innovation. These systems can also help encourage and foster a culture of innovation. From disruptive and incremental innovation to other types of innovation processes, there are a diverse set of strategic frameworks that are designed depending upon need and scope. These systems can support the organization and set the best parameters, practices and processes for guiding your company on the way to their own “Blue Ocean” of potential profits.

Going ‘All In’ On Business Transformation

Innovation by its very nature could play a role in how business transformation occurs. Innovation tends to be focused on a product or service or at the solution level, as opposed to the higher organizational level of a transformative process. But innovation still makes an impact on the overall blueprint that is occurring with a business undergoing transformation. Indeed, innovation of a product or service can be part of what guides a company in an entirely new direction, such as Apple’s original development of its iPhone or even the creation of its music store, iTunes.

Innovation Versus Transformation

Seth Adler recently discussed the subject of innovation versus transformation in an All Things Innovation blog post. Many people think digital transformation and innovation are one in the same, but according to Mike Hatrick, Group Director of IP Strategy & Portfolio at Volvo Group Trucks and Technology, while they are closely related, there is a difference. Digital transformation typically refers to change at an organizational level, while innovation more specifically happens at the product, service or solution level.

What transformation and innovation do have in common is strategy. Strategy typically starts with the deceptively simple question: Why are we doing this? While the answer seems like it should come from an obvious place, such as needing to modernize, the truth is a lot of companies have different and multiple reasons for transforming and innovating. An innovation strategy could be, for example, deciding how to build a business that is future resilient and meeting the needs of consumers globally.

Process and organization matter in both areas but people are at the crux of transformation. However groundbreaking or innovative an idea is, without the right people and teams in place to deliver on those new ideas, organizations cannot move forward. And the best way for people to feel empowered is through leadership. Hatrick points out that good managers tend to guide and lead, as well as observe and adjust in the process, to help support the ideas.

Transformation In Phases

Every business transformation is an iterative process that goes through constantly evaluated phases or cycles. These phases, courtesy of ResearchGate, include:

  • Envision: Create a case for change, a sense of urgency and a strategy or vision.
  • Engage: Empower people to act on the vision and plan the effort.
  • Transform: This is the process of change. Change could occur in behavior, processes, technology, culture and values.
  • Finally, Optimize: This phase is said to internalize, institutionalize and optimize the transformation, creating stability for the organization.

Another way of looking at these steps is through the lens of planning, implementation, acceleration, and measurement.

In its research report on business transformation, McKinsey recommends an “all in” approach to business transformation. Rather than just focusing on productivity, and making things faster or cheaper, McKinsey sees the pace of advancing technology increasing the pace of business transformation. “Changing what your company is and does, requires understanding where the value is shifting in your industry (and in others), spotting opportunities in the inflection points, and taking purposeful actions to seize them.” A challenging task, to be sure, but McKinsey notes, “The good news is that our research demonstrates it’s entirely possible for organizations to ramp up their bottom-line performance even as they secure game-changing portfolio wins that redefine what a company is and does.”

Be A Transformer

The process of business transformation, and the innovation associated with it, has many layers. It’s a process that could take many years or occur in leaps and bounds in a short timeframe. Success and failure of the process could take time to determine. Yet, some basic truths remain. A query on ChatGPT regarding the process of business transformation yielded some interesting tips:

  1. Identify the need for transformation: The first step in business transformation is to identify a need or opportunity for change. This could be driven by external factors such as changes in customer demands, competitive pressures, technological advances, or internal factors such as cost reduction initiatives, reorganization of departments, and process improvement efforts.
  2. Assess current state: Once the need for change has been identified, it is important to assess the current state of operations and processes within the organization in order to understand what needs to be improved upon and how best to do so. This would involve analyzing existing data sources (such as financial statements) and conducting interviews with stakeholders across different departments or functions of the organization.
  3. Develop vision and strategy: After understanding where your organization currently stands, it’s time to create a vision for where you want it to go and develop a strategy on how this can be achieved through business transformation initiatives. Here you should consider short-term goals that will have an immediate impact on results as well as long-term objectives that will help ensure sustained success over time.
  4. Design a roadmap and implementation plan: With your desired future state defined and strategies outlined on how you are going get there, now comes designing a roadmap outlining all activities required including timelines, resources needed, along with an implementation plan addressing key considerations such as budgeting , training requirements and so on.
  5. Execute and monitor progress: The next step is executing these plans while monitoring progress against targets set at each stage; and making sure any issues encountered are addressed quickly without compromising quality standards throughout the process.
  6. Evaluate outcomes and adjust accordingly: Finally, once all plans have been executed it’s important to evaluate outcomes relative against desired objectives; adjusting strategies accordingly if necessary based upon feedback received from both customers and employees during this period of transition.

Adapt & Adjust

There certainly seem to be more similarities than differences between innovation and business transformation. One wonders, regarding this interrelated theme, if executives are faced with choosing between the two functions. But rather, it’s ideally a partnership that goes hand in hand, with innovations often driving the transformation and vice versa. The process must be viewed as one of constant evaluation, adaptation and adjustment.

Growing a Culture for Business Innovation

There are various types of business innovations. A sustaining innovation, for example, is a type of business innovation that can enhance a company’s organization, process or technology to improve a product line. This is usually for an existing customer base. A disruptive innovation, on the other hand, can occur when a smaller company looks to challenge a larger company with a new product or service. These disruptive innovations often create a new market segment and look to reach a customer base that isn’t being served. Of course, it doesn’t have to be one or the other but often a business may present a mixture of both types of innovation into their business strategies. This helps maintain an existing position in the market while at the same time pursuing growth.

Stay Ahead of the Curve

The importance of innovation in business cannot be overlooked. It helps companies, for instance, stay ahead of the curve and sets the stage for growth. According to a Harvard Business School report on the subject of innovation in business, there are key reasons innovation ends up being so crucial:

  • It allows adaptability: The recent COVID-19 pandemic disrupted business on a large scale. Routine operations were rendered obsolete over the course of a few months. Many businesses still sustain negative results from this world shift because they’ve stuck to the status quo. Innovation is often necessary for companies to adapt and overcome the challenges of change.
  • It fosters growth: Stagnation can be extremely detrimental to your business. Achieving organizational and economic growth through innovation is key to staying afloat in today’s highly competitive world.
  • It separates businesses from their competition: Most industries are populated with multiple competitors offering similar products or services. Innovation can distinguish your business from others.

Of course, creativity and idea generation often comes into play in the innovation world, but one shouldn’t overlook the operational environment as well. There must be a balance between both the risk-taking and experimentation of innovation, and the functional side of the business, which emphasizes metrics, processes and procedures.

Fostering Innovation

When you start to talk that way and lead that way, people do feel more psychologically safe to support change and support innovation that’s happening. This highlights how companies can better facilitate a safer environment for workers to feel secure enough to take risks to develop change. Claudia Reuter, Director of the Roberts Innovation Fund at Yale University, recently joined Seth Adler of All Things Innovation in “Fostering Innovation” to discuss people being the centrifugal force of innovation and digital transformation. They are the glue that holds things together, and when they are put together in an environment that feels safe enough to conduct that change, innovation happens.

Reuter believes that corporations and startups alike have to focus on the people that they engage with everyday and making sure they feel safe in their environment. When talk about a “safe environment” comes about, this includes companies not only supporting their workers but also encouraging them to think about change. That is how you foster innovation within a workplace. When workers feel secure enough to take risks, that’s when innovation occurs.

Stay Ahead of the Game

In a shifting and competitive landscape, how can businesses stay on top of innovation? We asked this question to ChatGPT, and the AI service pointed to key points such as investment, technology, data analytics and cultivating a culture of innovation. In a world of intense competition, staying ahead of the game is one way to build brand loyalty and new markets.

  1. Invest in research and development: Businesses should invest in research and development to stay ahead of the competition. This can involve developing new products, services or processes that are more efficient than existing ones.
  2. Embrace technology: Technology is constantly changing and evolving, so businesses need to keep up with the latest trends to remain competitive. They should explore opportunities such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, blockchain, cloud computing and other emerging technologies to gain a competitive edge.
  3. Create an innovative culture: Companies should create an environment where innovation is encouraged by recognizing employees who come up with creative ideas and rewarding them for taking risks and trying something new. This will help foster a culture of experimentation and drive creativity among employees, which could lead to successful innovations in the future.
  4. Foster collaboration: Encouraging collaboration between teams can be beneficial for companies since it allows different perspectives on a problem or challenge from various departments within the organization, which may result in innovative solutions being found faster than if each department was working independently on its own ideas without much interaction between them.
  5. Utilize data analytics: By utilizing data analytics, businesses can gain valuable insights into customer behavior patterns, market trends, performance metrics etc. This allows them to make informed decisions about how they want their business operations or products/services offerings to evolve going forward based on this information gathered through analytics tools.

In fostering a culture of innovation, there must be a balance between the small steps and large leaps that encourage the sustaining and disruptive innovations that encompass business growth. Not to be discounted, it’s important that executives have an open door policy, encouraging their employees in a communicative environment. Adaptability in a safe environment, an openness to new ways of thinking, and embracing change can all take the business of innovation to new heights.

Gaining True Value While Moving Forward

We’d like to thank the All Things Innovation Intelligence committee members for their participation in the event: Gail Martino, Senior Program Manager, Unilever; Michele Sandoval, Director of Innovation, E&J Gallo Winery; Mike Hatrick, Group Director IP Strategy & Portfolio, Trucks, Tech, Volvo Group; Magnus Lindkvist, Trendspotter and Futurist; and Zeinab Ali, Vice President R&D Transformation, Campbell.

Overall, the first quarter, among our committee members, remained fairly consistent in terms of strategy—but not without some disruption and challenges. These challenges included the business environment, labor, supply chain issues and inflation.

These changes could also signal some opportunities, however. Sandoval noted, “Change can drive brands to be more creative, to push and propel business forward from Q4 to Q1.”

Hatrick added that despite economic, political and climate challenges, “People were still buying more and had more income. The news was still mixed.”

Still, in times of change, panelists noted, there perhaps brings some kind of clue about what the economy will bring. Martino cited the economy swings as both “Romeo and Juliet,” a mixture of both exuberance and foreboding, with supply chain, service and cost issues. “Things are uncertain, but it will shake out. Companies must prioritize on what’s important going forward.”

Join us for more in person at FEI in May and virtually at FEI Continued in June.

Campbell’s Ali cited the quarter as a “quarter of choices. Employees were faced with choices to keep the light on, and keep products on the shelf.” Companies had to be resourceful and think outside the box. Choices needed to be made.

As for the present circumstances, our panelists agreed, that the environment is difficult to discern. Sandoval said, “The first quarter strategy bred a lot of creativity and friction. More with less. Innovation was looking at it from a portfolio view, in terms of brands, price, personality.”

Hatrick agreed that brands are doing more with less. “Yet some companies are flourishing. It’s counterintuitive. Adversity is creating success. There is resilience but long term, can we keep pace?”

It’s a difficult to read economic environment, Lindkvist noted. “It’s hard to predict at the present moment,” he said, citing January’s positive signals with February’s inflationary numbers.

Martino noted that in the short term, it was all about optimizing the mix, price, and advertising spend. “Companies still need to plan innovation for this year—innovation in a downturn. What would you be doing now? Leverage the situation, accelerate some things.”

For Ali, it was a quarter where not all innovations were created equal. “There are good ideas and good resources. But ideas will be sorted. Is it going to make a difference for the consumer? Good top or bottom line? Ideas will be choiceful. Brands will focus not on ten things but two things to make a difference for the consumer and company.”

Looking Ahead

As for the future heading into the rest of 2023? As Martino put it, “Prioritize, prioritize, prioritize.”

Hatrick noted that brands must, “Remain laser focused. Maybe Romeo and Juliet will survive, creating options for the future.”

“Brands must be thinking now. Planning. Innovating. Thinking about ideas. Identifying problems and how to address them,” said Sandoval.

Lindqvist noted that change is all that is apparent. “There will be new technology, new tastes. There will be playful experimentation.”

“Internally, brands will go on with the past, stay traditional, and go to their library. Past is prologue,” noted Campbell’s Ali.

Join us for more in person at FEI in May and virtually at FEI Continued in June.