Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Don’t invest in ideas, invest in people with ideas 4 – marketable product and service innovations

Posted in book recommendations, HR and personnel, strategy and planning by Timothy Platt on November 25, 2014

This is my fourth installment in a series on cultivating and supporting innovation and its potential in a business, by cultivating and supporting the creative and innovative potential and the innovative drive of your employees and managers, and throughout your organization (see HR and Personnel – 2, postings 215 and loosely following for Parts 1-3.)

I said at the end of Part 3 that I would turn here to consider marketable product and service innovations. And I stated that after that I would look into the issues and opportunities of innovation teams and of business-organized and self-assembled innovator team efforts, and how their creative potential can be encouraged and supported. As a part of that overall discussion I said that I would delve into the issues of crowd sourcing and the merging of ideas that arise both within a single organization and from the outside. I will at least begin much of that here in this posting, but before I do so I want to clarify and expand upon a set of points that I have at least suggested up to here but that I have not sufficiently clearly stated.

• I noted how important it is to keep the innovation adaptation and transition process lean and efficient, identifying, developing, fostering and promoting new ideas from initial raw possibilities into realized practicalities, and into becoming part of the ongoing business’ processes and practices and into its ongoing marketable offerings.
• At the same time I wrote about the importance and value of deploying and using formal organizational structures and systems for this, citing by way of example the innovation transition committee approach (see my series: Keeping Innovation Fresh, as can be found at Business Strategy and Operations – 2, postings 241 and loosely following for its Parts 1-16.)
• How do you know when it makes more sense to take recourse to a larger and more formally structured approach such as a formally chartered transition committee in order to foster and develop a potential innovation and to shepherd it into that business’ mainstream?
• And when it would make more sense to manage this more simply, and primarily by an innovator and their manager?
• I have already outlined at least a few red-flag warning signs that a more structured and formally defined approach might be needed in Part 2 and Part 3. And I add one more here that can arise through a wide range and variety of paths, but that essentially always means that simple and locally-informal innovation management and development that might arise within one part of one line of a table of organization will not suffice. Look out for situations arising in which the number of impacted upon potential stakeholders is likely to expand – the number of people who need to approve and support and who could alternatively block and stymie, because they and the teams they are responsible for would be impacted upon by this change, and they would see need to make sure that any such change holds positive value for them too.
• So keep the innovation process simple and localized where that makes sense, but reach out to and involve organizationally provided strengths where that would make sense – and it would make sense if the scope and range of a proposed innovation under development starts to expand. This can be a situation where the supervising manager who is directly working with a hands-on innovator, is likely to need support and guidance and I add buy-in from their own direct-report manager too.

With that in place, I turn outward from a discussion of in-house business process innovation to innovation in marketable products and services. And in this, much of the process flow that goes into initiating, developing, validating and refining, fostering and promoting and mainstreaming an in-house and business process innovation within an organization applies relatively directly to the context of developing and capitalizing on change and innovation in marketable products and services too.

• A key difference there is that ultimately, the value of a marketable offering is determined in large part outside of the innovating organization
• And by participants in their marketplaces, as they determine its relevance to them and as their market participation helps set a fair market price for it.

And the more disruptively novel an innovation, and in either products or services offered, the more likely it is that its value will be most realized in new and even emergent markets and from new customer demographics. I cite here by way of well-known example, how disruptive new innovation in computer memory chips have always found their most important customer bases in new and previously unexplored markets and from new and emergent customer types. For a discussion of this example, see:

• Christensen, C.M. (1997, 2000) The Innovator’s Dilemma. Harper Business.

To at least briefly cut ahead of myself in this discussion flow, this is where feedback and insight from the crowd, and participation of a Marketing and Communications service that reaches out to the larger outside community can offer real value. (As an update note to the above cited book reference, subsequent disruptive new technology in computer memory that has arisen since 2000 has followed a similar pattern with a significant percentage of sales volume realized for new memory product developments going to new types of business customers that are in turn developing and offering novel new, emergent memory chip-demanding technologies.) And this brings me back to the bullet pointed list that I began this posting with, and to the second to the last of its points where I discussed expansion of the range of stakeholders who need to be involved, and both as potential gatekeepers and as potential enablers.

• Even seemingly simple software innovations that could in principle be developed entirely within an initial innovation team and under the supervision of one manager – and that would not require changes in production or manufacturing systems of any kind, would still benefit from participation of a wider range of stakeholders.
• So a more formal innovation vetting, development and shepherding process would offer real value and of a type and at a level that can be made to outweigh the costs of potentially increased bureaucratic friction.
• And this becomes particularly true when crowd sourced insight can help develop in this case new software products that would be optimized to meet real-world customer demands and expectations, and not just those of software developers and programmers.
• As a brief aside here, when I worked as an information technology manager I would occasionally describe a piece of software as being “build by programmers, for programmers.” This was and I add still is something of a pejorative as it refers to software that can only be used in one precise way, and that will break when any real-world user tries to use it – which is to say when anyone who was not on the development team for that new product tries to use it. Real world testing and insight from non-programmers who get creative in what they do and try when using computers is essential. And participation from stakeholders who can bring managed and organized insight of this type into the innovation development process is essential.
• And of course, if a new and innovative product is a material item that has to be physically manufactured and assembled, packaged and do on, a whole range of additional stakeholders have to be involved too.
• Note: the simplicity for software development that I began outlining at the top of this bullet pointed list is a fantasy at best for anything like large-scale software development, as that always involves multiple functional area input and participation from within a producing business, and it always requires wide-ranging buy-in there if from nowhere else. But something like the above proposed simplicity can arise at least in principle with the development of new compact single or few-function apps and other sparse code software. So assume that the above represents development of something like a new mobile app for scale, killer application development effort. Even there, wider input and participation will probably be required to successfully bring this into production and into market acceptance and use, as a successful competitor in the ongoing flood of apps that every smartphone user has to choose between.

I am going to continue this discussion with a shift from focusing on the individual innovator to consider the perhaps business-organized and perhaps entirely self-assembled innovator team that arrives at a new proposed innovation as a group effort – and whose members might all report to different direct supervisors on the table of organization. And with that in place I will go back to more fully discuss crowdsourcing in all of this, and both in arriving at an initial insight and in developing it into an effective market offering. Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings at Business Strategy and Operations – 3 and also at Page 1 and Page 2 of that directory. Also see HR and Personnel and HR and Personnel – 2.

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