Rapid Innovation plan

For Vijay Govindarajan, there is no doubt: “Innovation cannot happen inside the performance engine, so it requires a dedicated innovation team. Every time you start a new innovation initiative — which the performance engine cannot do because of its limits of reach — you are essentially creating a startup company. This is a major organizational undertaking.” (“How to bring innovation to market” 2011, Jan).


Setting an innovation entity acting as a start-up is what we experienced at Orange with the creation of Orange Vallée. Orange Vallée was created in 2007 to “identify, develop, and market innovative products and services within particularly short lead times. Orange Vallée’s offer would complement the Group’s portfolio on the world’s Internet, mobile telephony and convergence markets”.

The adventure has been going on for 3 years now, and one can 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 us to perform market tests; its mission as a scout and a “house for ideas” has been completed.
  • 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 technology 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 been missed, as well as living connections with innovation decision makers and the support of a sponsor for the dedicated entity.
  • We have not been very good either at building an effective innovation management & methodology:

– our innovation strategy and belief did not meet some concrete shared goals with our parent company;

– the innovation portfolio management has not been very balanced between disruptive projects and quick wins, not very focused on a selected number of projects, and it did not show a clear intent that everyone could use as a basis for individual and team decisions;

no innovation process pairing open innovation with design thinking, user involvement, fast integration, prototyping and testing capabilities, and cross functional management, has been shared and implemented so as to define a relevant framework for all the innovation team.

Deriving from Orange Vallée, from our personal experience in innovation, and from an in-depth research through academic sources and 15 case studies we have since tried to optimize the architecture through designing a “Rapid innovation” model.

a framework with main 3 guidelines

  1. creating a dedicated entity empowered for fast innovation: flexible, agile, open to new opportunities picked out from the “innovation market”; it will be half cast, both “inside and outside” the core company, so as to bring back the innovation value to the core co;
  2. instilling “creative tension“: creative tension is a framework for creativity which leverages an agile organization and accelerates creation and development of new products and associated leadership platform. Culture of diversity, focus, specific goals (“narrowing the scope actually helps the team”), and knowledge circulation in short cycles through iterative prototyping and creative components are some key components of a creative tension framework;
  3. aligning with innovation strategy, by developing ongoing coordination with the core company, forging persistent connections between innovators and mainstream operations, cultivating communication and collaboration skills (“your team won’t work well in active competition with the rest of the organization”). Endorse some core co strategic priorities, so as to engage more fluently core co in new co innovations, following “a line of least resistance“.

Yet this framework has to operate on a set-up entity.

Will this one be built in 7 days? We don’t think so and suggest a roadmap to implement the rapid innovation model. We propose to unfold the set-up in a 9 months timeline over three main stages: Create, Develop, Engage.


First month – Create a framework for rapid innovation

  • Create the new entity, an independent subsidiary of the core co; with direct report to CEO; check that boosting innovation is a strategic priority that has transformed in tangible objectives for core co (i25% of products sales have to come from new products, products which did not exist 5 years ago, was the objective set by 3M CEO; 50% of innovations has to include innovations coming from outside the company was targeted by P&G CEO); start expectations review: what are the needs of the CEO and other decision makers in the innovation field? Start identifying some axes of investigations that would be supported by core co. Agree with CEO on new co performance yardstick: prefer product delivery to usual indicators like  short-term financial results. Plan monthly meeting with CEO, and have a clear sponsor designed by CEO, someone in core co who will support you, and continuously explain differences between new co  and core co.  As Vijay says: “Executive sponsor will anticipate and monitor tensions at points of interaction between new co and core co, he will be ready to intervene and counter the tensions if they escalate beyond the point where they are productive tensions”.
  • Define your belief,  posit some principles of the innovation culture you will instil (openness,  diversity, creativity, risk-taking, team spirit, self-starter,  demanding, willingness to iterate and to circulate knowledge). Determine additional axes of investigation to the one shared with core co, and innovation approach, in agreement with your management team:
    • embracing open innovation and  building innovation networks;
    • leveraging on user led creation and targeting non core co customers;
    • designing portfolio  balance (disruptive  & radical vs incremental innovation / quick wins vs medium term projects);
    • concentrating strengths toward innovation;
    • reducing chart hierarchy,  limiting entity size (25-40 people) and number of projects;
    • defining the type of mission statement required for each innovation project (“get out of serendipity land“).
  • Build an innovation team. Start by recruiting some T-shaped professionals outside, so as to overcome the orthodoxies of the core business. Cornerstone of your management team, they will commmit in recruiting next level people in cooptation, each member being seen by various managers (i.e at Ideo,  any potential hire will be “lunched ” by 10 current staffers). Other precious tips are listed in “The Idiot’s Guide to Launching Successful Innovation Task Forces” by Mitch Ditkoff.

Three months – Implement fast Development methodologies

  • Create context: get clear on your innovation “intent”, define your organization mantra, share your innovation strategy, culture and innovation approach principles so that they are used as a basis for individual and team decisions. Translate entity yardstick into individual objectives and potential bonus. Set-up knowledge circulation levers:
    • project review with a view to enrich project and transfer learning, not to destroy them;
    • seminar with project leader to optimize project management know-how and innovation protocols, using cross-fertilization as a key catalyst for innovation;
    • develop information flow coming from the outside, and 2.0 communities.
  • Organize creative thinking; professionalize pre-development phase and ensure each project has defined what Guy Kawaski calls its mantra, or what we’ve seen as metaphor, analogy, and model (Ikijiro Nonaka), or belief (Simon Sinek).
  • Start with a handful of projects, some having buy-out from core co. Staff projects appropriately to complete them faster. Build mixed teams, staffing selected people from core co: they will bring specific expertise, and take a breath of fresh air working at the innovation entity. They will be new co ambassadors within the core co.
  • Transfer concept in elegant realization, embracing the Rugby approach” (Ikijiro Nonaka), using fast prototyping and iterations with customers; take the benefit of open innovation, to complement your skills and buy you time; go deeper into your innovation specifics, looking at it as a leadership platform (including items such as channels, brands or customer experience, processes or service systems or business models). Ensure Keep it simple and sexy! protocole is applied.
  • Stay alert, listen, and chase innovation killers.
  • Initiate innovation cycle: start identifying future projects, and feed the pipe.
  • Stay connected with core co, through regular meetings with CEO, sponsor and innovation decision makers. Share project progress and innovation portfolio. Develop external communication from each innovation team, encourage mutual respect, formal meetings and informal conversations.

Six to nine months – Go for Engagement

  • Optimize your product impact: test prototypes and implement feedbacks, eliminate while sticking to your belief, select the one thing that works so well that you get the WAOUH effect, don’t look for perfection:  remember that customers often do not want the product itself, but rather the effect that the product produces. Work on reducing risks, both technical and market risks. Leave the door open to future cocreation.
  • Use your license to kill: stop some projects that have been caught up by competition or some concepts that don’t transform in great customer experience. Share the reason why, and ensure everyone understands it’s the natural law of innovation, and prevent traumatism. As Gore, “The fabric of creativity”, claims: “Celebrate failure, don’t stigmatize it. When a project doesn’t work out and the team kills it, they celebrate with beer or champagne just as they would if it had been a success. Celebrating a failure encourages risk taking.
  • Prepare go-to-market: refine your unique selling proposition, train  to sell your innovation by keeping it simple. Identify what core co strategic strength your innovation will capitalize on (brand, marketing and sales channels, …), the worst entry barrier for competitors, that you can include into your innovation. Consider modifying team skills when innovation is going to market. List requirements for implementation and scaling of the product.
  • Seek for core co engagement: Identify fears, harness the acceptance seeds you have planted (detachment of resources coming from core co, network of decision makers, investment of the parent company, portfolio reflecting shared innovation goals, CEO and sponsor supports, external communication from innovation team), create necessity for change, identifying agents of change (competition threat, customer dissatisfaction, business opportunity, deregulation, benchmark) listen so that you can influence. Once core is engaged,  plan delivery and scaling of the product.
  • Be mindful of the future : complete post-mortem and post-launch, learn from the experience to define improved practices. Reward and celebrate! At Ideo, produced trophies are presented at project completion ceremonies. These time sharing are also opportunities for project leaders to search for released people  interested in coming to help.

Becoming innovation experts

No doubt that you will learn many more things going the innovation way forward, and that you will forge your own identity and pattern, becoming innovation experts as David Kelley, Ideo’s founder puts it: “We don’t have technical expertise to hang our hats on, what we have is our methodology. We have to believe we are experts in how “to innovate.” We pick the things we and our clients have  done well, and assimilate them into our methodology. We’re not good at innovating because of our flawless intellects, but because we’ve done 2000 products, and we’ve been mindful”.


The final goal of rapid innovation is not to set-up a new entity apart: it’s to deliver continuously game-changing innovation in a faster way, without cutting down quality levels. Haste is one thing and speed another. Will this innovation be better executed in a “thriving innovation” organization like 3M where innovation breathes everywhere? Will you need to immerse rapid innovation culture and approach within the core co, like Gore, “limiting the size of teams, keeping even the manufacturing facilities to 150 to 200 people at most”? Will you have to open out a new rapid innovation structure to keep creativity sparking, to explore uncertain innovation out of mainstream activities, or to better connect to new geographical markets? To paraphrase Nietzsche, “Becoming the innovator you are” is a life time journey but it’s so much worth living it!

Bio: Vijay Govindarajan, “Forget, Borrow, Learn: Secrets to Building Breakthrough Businesses, Within Established Organizations”, Harvard Business School Press, 2005).


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