Getting innovation timing right

Haste is one thing, and speed another…

Today’s innovation is not only about speed, it’s also about simplicity and combining the whole in elegant realization in the right timing.

Having a “rapid innovation” engine is a must-have in a competitive globalized market.

  • Competitors come from the other end of the world and from other industry whose development cycles might be shorter than yours: you have to react fast.
  • Rapid innovation may offer you the possibility to enter a new business because your speed will be a competitive advantage over incumbents.
  • Customers are difficult to seduce : innovation is key to differentiate, and it has to be completed fast because it quickly becomes obsolete.
  • Rapid innovation is also necessary since the second version is often the right one!

According toVijay Govindarajan, Innovation cannot happen inside the performance engine, it requires a dedicated innovation team, essentially creating a start up company.

Setting up an innovation entity acting as a start-up is what we experienced at Orange, large mobile and fixed international carrier issued from France Telecom. Orange Vallée was created in 2007 by serial entrepreneur Jean-Louis Constanza to “identify, develop, and market innovative products and services within particularly short lead times.”

The adventure has been going on for 3 years now, and one could draw the following lessons:

  • Orange Vallée has succeeded in identifying many “hot topics” like music on demand or smart TV that have further enriched the group portfolio: it has developed prototypes and products enabling to perform market tests; his mission has a scout and an “house for ideas” has been performed.
  • In less than 2,5 years, Orange Vallée has developed and launched a diversified range of products and services like tactile tablet Tabbee, simplified and enhanced mobile address book ON, web service Memory Life to “shake your memories”, Transmedia Lab dedicated to storytelling across media leveraging on a range of transmedia apps.
  • What has been more difficult to achieve is a streamlined cooperation with the core company; a clear selection of links to develop collaboration has missed, as well as living connections with innovation decision makers and the support of a sponsor.
  • We have not been  mindful enough of the future to build an iterating innovation management methodology:
    • our innovation strategy and belief did not include some concrete innovation goals shared with our parent company;
    • the innovation portfolio management has not been balanced enough between disruptive projects and quick wins, not very focused on a selected number of projects, and it did not show an intent clear enough that everyone could use as a basis for individual and team decisions;
    • innovation process pairing open innovation with design thinking, user involvement, fast integration, prototyping and testing capabilities, has not formally been shared and implemented so as to define a relevant framework for all innovation teams; radial management did not facilitate cross functional experience sharing from one project to another.

But we are here to learn from experience! Conducting an in-depth review of academic sources and 15 case studies, I suggested an optimized architecture, the Rapid innovation” model, based on 3 pillars:

  1. creating a dedicated entity which would leverage on its agility and autonomy, and simultaneously be half cast, mapping part of its portfolio with core co expectations, in the form of quick wins;
  2. instilling “creative tension“ as an acceleration trigger for development. Culture of diversity, openness to opportunities picked out from the “innovation market”, focus, narrowed and tight goals, and knowledge circulation are his key components;
  3. aligning with innovation strategy, forging persistent connections with mainstream operations, cultivating communication, borrowing skills from the core co into his teams, and defining an unquestionable framework including common yardstick and clear transfer prices, so as to engage core co following “a line of least resistance“.

How could this model be implemented and would this be achieved in 7 days? We don’t think so! We suggested a roadmap in a 9 months timeline over three main stages: Create, Develop, Engage.

Haste is one thing and speed another. Having set-up the back-end for quick delivery did not freed us to design innovation that would engage simply our customers through emotional relationship, combining feasibility, usability and desirability. Innovation is the sum of invention + competitive value + adoption“, and adoption requires great customer experience. Simpler products are also just easier to produce, distribute, market, and sell, not to mention customer care!

To make simplicity prevail in innovation design, I use regularly a short checklist blending personal innovation experience with academic review:

  • What is the challenge?

Some innovation are designed to solve a problem, or address an opportunity that we happen to forget in the way we develop the new product; customers often do not want the product itself, but rather the effect that the product produces: define the effect you’re looking for and remind you regularly of the challenge.

  • What is your belief?

We’ve talked about the importance of belief as a framework for creativity: “customers don’t by what you do, they buy what you believe”. Guy Kawasaki called it your Mantra, a mission statement that is defined in 3 words; belief will help you separate the core from the accessories.

  • What is your unique selling proposition?

Don’t hide behind nifty gadgets or tools. Select one thing, make it work so well that you get the WAOUH effect; avoid marketing approaches which tend to add more and more features to address separate segments and are actually looking for qualified reassurance: stick to your belief. Thinking USP is also a way to build spreadibility, embody the story: a simple but attractive story people are going to propagate about your innovation.

  • Have you iterated enough?

To reach your USP, you need to iterate between “think and do” in short cycles, practice fast prototyping and user testing on limited functional scope, increment your features based on user feedbacks, and test again until features are immediately captured by their users: present your innovation in bits and pieces to facilitate adoption, explain them separately, while at the same time find ways to tie them in with each other.  Prototype failures are no issue: “fail often, fail early, fail cheap“, “don’t fail fast , learn fastare the rapid prototyping credo.

  • Are you focusing your innovation?

Designing in short cycles brings you customer feedback and feasibility assessment which help you select among the many things created, and eliminate a lot of ideas; innovation process needs to be managed with a view and converge progressively: creative tension is the framework to leave “chaos for order”,  as product finds its identity; focus, polarize people, “get rid of the crap”, transfer simple, elegant concepts, in simple, elegant realizations.

  • Aren’t you looking for perfection?

“Don’t worry, be crappy, perfection is the enemy of revenue” says Kawasaki. In French, we say “the best is the enemy of the good”. “Enough is good for you” says Muji’s philosophy.

  • What is the risk scenario of doing / not doing that part?

Natural trend is to increase the number of features: this is all the more true that we are closer to the market launch and that we fear competition. Adding one feature at late stage may jeopardize your entire launch schedule, don’t misjudge it! One way to get rid of last minute features is to evaluate scenario consisting of delaying the entire launch because of late achievement of bespoke feature: are we really ready for this? Reversely, one can evaluate the impact of not completing a feature: if evaluation appears fuzzy, one might think that the feature is not so useful.

  • Is your leadership platform comprehensive?

Simplifying the product is not enough, you have to encompass the customer experience at the various touch points he has with your company, and make his interactions fluent and rewarding. This will not only impact the training of your sales forces and of your customer support; it is likely to involve your back-end.

  • Is your innovation capitalizing on strategic strength?

In case your innovation is aligned with your company strategy, one way to draw on simplification is to come back to strategic asset: what is the core co strength you are capitalizing on, the worst entry barrier for competitors, that you can transfer into your innovation?

  • Is your innovation making cocreation simple?

Customers  are more and more invited to co-create the service, innovators use this additional knowledge to design or refine  outputs from the service. With App Store and Market places, we open the door to cocreation where the value of our innovation is constantly enhanced by third-party creativity, a new innovation “operating system” is necessary to design a “living innovation”, whre cocreators will make your product more sexy and fizzing: development have to be made simple for them as well.

Is this the way forward to design a new Bauhaus type of innovation, where simplicity might sometime flirt with coldness and distance? “The sheer simplicity of design is not boring; it carries some novelty ideas and there is a sense of design in everything” says Idris Mootee.

Leonard de Vinci, a flamboyant innovator, has the final cut: “Simplicity is the ultimate form of sophistication“.


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