Elementary particles of innovation

Harnessing collective intelligence to enhance your innovation can progress through different forms: open innovation, social innovation and user-led innovation, idea improvement program, business plan competition, collaborative design, strategic community networks, open source, … But how do these various initiatives converge in a globally consistent framework, and how do they impact innovation project management?

Cooperative innovation is transforming project management, evolving from “all-in-one” integrated projects to collaborative design, building innovative components on top of which various applications can be designed. I call it Innovation by component, and consider it an evolution of the rapid innovation model.

Collaborative design is one of the output that we came out with, crossing experiences with Richard Hababou, Head of Innovation Group at Société Générale. Richard is an acknowledged specialist in integrating new technologies in Banking Information System, shaping innovative services powered by IT.

It was a pleasure to discover along the conversation how we share similar views on involving “elementary particles of innovation“, both in the banking industry and in the digital world I’m working in.

The emergence of collaborative design

Nicolas Bry: One fruitful experience of cooperative innovation I have is reflected in the Social TV project recently completed. From the outset, we based our approach on collaborative design: rather than completing an end-user application, we focused our endeavor on a social TV component, an underlying enabling technology, which could be embedded in various consumer-facing apps and devices, letting others make value out of our data, and build services on top of our platform through an API (application program interface).

We came this way of managing the projects for two reasons:

  • Collaborative design is fully consistent with an open innovation framework: we partnered with a social media intelligence specialist, and benefitted from design, user observation, and interactive video skills from outside. Having to handle interfaces between the different partners was aligned with our goal to produce an API, natively designed for interfacing with additional applications.

This innovation path is quite different from the integrated application approach I’ve known where all skills are grouped and oriented to design a finished product for end-user, not an open platform for third-parties: developers, product managers, lead-users, and various communities.

Richard Hababou: Apple integrates as well components to design its products! An application project does not imply to complete every task internally. We now have project teams who work by means of assembly components. Keys issues are organization, skills, and acknowledgement.

This is not a natural move in companies culture, but as we go along, it will be easier: we have passed the discovery phase, and we are no more in the dogm of the very large project team. The application which handles every feature ends up being too big, not flexible enough.

Components have to be designed in the application outlook: a component is worth its application! The right chemistry relies in components with several application domains. They will feed the component in return with needs leading to improved releases of the component in a virtuous loop.

Google Maps is a clear proof of this. Nobody wants to develop it on its own, when one link is enough to connect you with Google Maps: it has become a standard.

Nicolas: In the case of our Social TV component, it is actually very rewarding and it brings our platform one step ahead, to see the multiple applications in various domains which are adopting it and providing us with new features suggestions, far behind the initial adopters we had targeted.

The need for systemic architecture of innovation

Richard: IT systems raise increasingly the design question: you need to have a global view of your system, a systemic vision architecturing your applications with functional components. One must outpace information system perimeter for a more global scope.

Innovation and systemic architecture is studied at Polytechnique “Grande Ecole” and Paristech Group (Complex Systems Design and Management by Daniel Krob), and applied for in the service industry.

Société Générale has used some of the principles of systemic architecture to maintain the alignment of large transformation programs with its business strategy and reduce complexity.

This approach is at the heart of new information systems, combining steedy speed with flexibility required by evolving markets. Systemic architecture is a way to extend the limits of mammoth applications, and innovative components are the engine to operate.

Nicolas: Designing an operating architecture for innovation is a way to reconciliate the ambidextrous in the organization, and to facilitate the management of different innovation streams at once (referring to “the ambidextrous organization” by Charles A. O’Reilly III and Michael L. Tushman).

A portfolio of relevant components nurturing various applications  reminds me of the C-K approach in the sens that C-K generates parallel streams of innovation, without closing the funnel.

Moreover modular design or modularity in the design of complex systems has been reviewed by Baldwin and Clark in the 90s and 2000s with a focus on computer industry.

It sounds also like the libraries, which are a collection of resources or web services we use in software design, and of the traditional know-how at the core of a company we call the trades. Talking about digital services, one can imagine 2 levels of knowledge being built: the components library and the range of consumer-facing applications.

It brings flexibility as the speed of the first can be quite tangibly decorrelated with that of the second, and a wider impact as one component can be used in various applications.


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