Innovation Enables Organizations to Create Their Own Future

Jim Stikeleather, Chief Innovation Officer, Dell Services | 2/17/2012 | 12 comments

Jim Stikeleather
Innovation is how organizations create their own futures. Processes of efficiency and risk reduction won't cut it, because the rate of technological, organizational, social, governmental, and even knowledge change suggests no one has time to focus on matching anymore, only surpassing.

Managers must develop and apply methodologies that create a consistent, predictable, and sustainable path for innovation. They can begin by recognizing that innovation is no longer a stretch goal, but essential to survival. Thus, the development of a highly productive innovation capability is one of the most important strategic priorities for any organization.

Jim Stikeleather, Dell Chief Innovation Officer and Maverick on the, discusses how to develop and apply methodologies that create a consistent, predictable, and sustainable path for innovation:

  • An effective innovation process requires rapid prototyping. The innovation process is a learning process, and learning faster has enormous advantages. Among the best methods for learning is prototyping (try, FAIL, try, FAIL, try, FAIL...) because it condenses the learning process.

  • Innovation also requires careful targeting. Take a lesson from sports -- be it pistol shooting, be it Zen archery, be it motorsports racing -- focusing comes from seeing a broad picture, not from target fixation. Success comes from being able to see the total picture and then choosing and seeing the target in context.

  • Great innovations begin with great ideas. Among the most significant for innovators are the ones that no one has recognized. These offer the potential to create breakthroughs that bring significant value and competitive advantage. Thankfully, so many inexpensive and highly effective tools exist to draw ideas from large audiences, including social media and crowdsourcing.

Your marketplace isn’t waiting. Your competition isn’t waiting. Your investors aren’t waiting -- so get going on your action plan and start implementing it now! Read how.

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nasimson   Innovation Enables Organizations to Create Their Own Future   3/7/2012 5:55:05 AM
Fast and steady wins the race
Intially the phenomena was 'slow and steady wins the race' but now it has changed into 'fast and steady wins the race'. In this fast paced world, we all need to cope with the speed. Being innovative means to be creative and develop new ideas. True said, in today's world we don't have to come up to the level of our competitior but surpass them. What if we change the educational systems to encouraging systems where talent is appreciated and encouraged. New ideas are adopted and given chance. A lot of talent is being wasted due to lack of proper reasources. If all educational systems give worth to the student's effort, I am sure innovation will be encouraged. Other than that, organizations should have a democratic style where ideas can be generated and brain storming done.
Joe Stanganelli   Innovation Enables Organizations to Create Their Own Future   3/5/2012 3:12:48 AM
Re: Can Innovation be a Process?
Thanks for the link, Jim.

One thing that gets me is when critics poo-poo new, burgeoning, promising technology when it's still a nascent area simply because it's not perfect yet.

While not everything new is good, to be sure, if companies actually listened to such curmudgeonly logical fallacies, we'd be stuck in a vicious circle of "old ways is best."
Jim Stikeleather   Innovation Enables Organizations to Create Their Own Future   3/3/2012 12:02:09 PM
Re: Can Innovation be a Process?
@joe - we are in total agreement. In fact there is a full chapter in my new book ( out the end of March) to next generation big data analytics and in particular the need for sentiment analysis and the evolving practice of affective computing.
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Jim Stikeleather   Innovation Enables Organizations to Create Their Own Future   3/3/2012 11:57:40 AM
Re: our business culture doesn't really reward failure
A little tangential - but reality is the ONLY way to learn is from failure (and then learn what doesn't work). Otherwise you end up with lots of superstitious learning - because if something works you aren't ever really sure what you did work or if something else actually cause the success. Case in point, see

I wish busines used the scientific method more - especially the concept of a working theory until new information disproves it or another theory works better. Instead we tend to behave more like a religion with the given wisdom is accepted (see the HBR article on too much focus on ROE

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Joe Stanganelli   Innovation Enables Organizations to Create Their Own Future   2/27/2012 10:57:33 PM
Re: Can Innovation be a Process?
I fully agree with you, Jim.  In fact, this sort of experimental department approach can and should be applied to the analytics/"big data" field as well -- a field that promises tremendous returns in particularly complex areas (such as linguistic sentiment analysis and predictive analytics) the more we understand about it.  What will drive our understanding of these areas is major enterprises and organizations taking the time, money, and effort to invest in academic experimentation and understanding.
Cyrus   Innovation Enables Organizations to Create Their Own Future   2/22/2012 5:05:28 PM
our business culture doesn't really reward failure
@Jim I agree with the thesis of your article, but the only thing I'd point out is that only small and mid-sized businesses can really get away with it. Once you reach beyond a certain size, the marketplace doesn't really want to see the risks that often come with the experimentation necessary to innovate.

If Microsoft hadn't had the cash cow that is Windows, how many tries would they have had if they'd had to make their entertainment business a viable one before creating the xBox? Likewise, plenty of companies that were once household names have been rendered into near obscurity because their innovation streak ended.

Honestly, I think we've bought into this concept of American exceptionalism so much that we've become convinced smart people don't fail. And, as you point out, that couldn't be further from the truth. Add to that, failures are often some of the best experiences one can have.
Jim Stikeleather   Innovation Enables Organizations to Create Their Own Future   2/21/2012 1:11:05 PM
Re: Can Innovation be a Process?
Well, I don't post a speculative article - I try it out among friends, acquaintences, i.e., smaller markets. I also don't put a lot into it (full blown research and references), just the general idea and a couple of implications. If it fails, then I have only lost a little time. If it succeeds, then I expand to a larger audience - say an internal Dell blog. If it fails, then not much lost, if it succeeds, then I expand (more research, more implications, conclusions, references, etc.) to a larger exposure. The key is to do lots of little experiments - fails fast, learn, retry or abandon as quickly as possible. That is what a VC does - limited funding (that is why there are A, B, C, and mezanine rounds) making a decision to kill it or continue funding at each step. 

The problem with established enterprises is they go all in on the blind bet - their processes make it so expensive to do a project that they can't get thei rheads around a chump change proof of concept low exposure market test (20K for the tech and development, a million for the lawyers, accountants, program managers, status reporting system, consultants, brand review, etc.)

The reason the VC model works is the cost of failure is (realtively) low (kill early and often) and the rewards of success are so high. Most large companies via their processes that are designed around volume production efficiency and risk mitigation against mistakes (which are costly at high volume production and investment) have it exactly reversed.

A large compnay needs an "internal VC" function where ideas can be funded and then quickly killed outside of the standard processes. And the VC function should be managed (funded) based upon a return - NOT A BUDGET - (it is an investment not an operation...)

Off soapbox
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David Wagner   Innovation Enables Organizations to Create Their Own Future   2/21/2012 12:26:13 PM
Re: Can Innovation be a Process?
Then realize that any innovation is only an innovation if it succeeds in the marketplace - this is a percentage game, not unlike what VC's play. Run 10 trials on your innovations, 7 will fail, 2 will be okay, but one will establish your reputation for the next decade.

That sounds great in theory, Jim. But if 7 out of 10 of my articles on E2 were bad, 2 were OK, and one was great, I'd get fired. i suspect that is true of any manager who tried 10 things.

I understand that we're supposed to create a culture where "failure is OK," but realistically, I don't see the VC percentages as a possibility in an established enterprise.

How do you get aorund that? Or maybe you don't since it seems new companies are cosntantly more agile and innovative than established ones.

Jim Stikeleather   Innovation Enables Organizations to Create Their Own Future   2/19/2012 2:56:24 PM
Re: Innovation: an ingredient for survival
I also think we confuse the issue with too many meanings of innovation - everyone wants the great white whale - Disruptive Innovation - and that only comes along once in a while. However, a good innovation process will provide lots of opportunities for Sustaining Innovation (doing what you are doing / creating customer value the same way) but only better, faster and cheaper. It will also provide the means to identify breakthrough innovations - ways to create new forms of value using your existing processes / busines model / technologies, products / services  or new ways to create and deliver existing customer value through new technology, processes or business models (opex versus capex, rent / lease versus buy, etc.).

All three forms are required for a busines to continue to exist these days.
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Jim Stikeleather   Innovation Enables Organizations to Create Their Own Future   2/19/2012 2:51:14 PM
Re: Can Innovation be a Process?
Innovation is a process, the question for each company is how disciplined they will be about it. Too many think it is serendipitous luck and "Ah Ha" moments that make innovation - what they don't realize is all that takes place before that which enables the Ah Ha moment. The high level process is actually pretty streight forward.

1 - Foresight - what are the weak signals customers and markets are sending, what do the thought leaders talk about, what have they and the market quit talking about, read some scinece fiction, subscribe to the futurits - in the end the goal is to paing a pictiure of what is Possible. And not just in technology, products and services, but more importantly, what will the market (indicviduals) value, how will they make decisions....

2 - Insight - what are the analysts saying, what are the standards saying, what are the legislatures and regulators saying, what are your own R&D labs saying - think of all of this as constraints on the Possibilities derived from your foresight activity. Lock your foresight team and insigiht teams into a room and let them engage in a dialectic - what should come out are potential future scenarios that are opportunities for innovation.

3 - Apply your strategic sense to those scenarios - what are your strengths, weakness, what in these scenarios are possible threats or opportuities - then decide how you are going to act / react.

4 - Then realize that any innovation is only an innovation if it succeeds in the marketplace - this is a percentage game, not unlike what VC's play. Run 10 trials on your innovations, 7 will fail, 2 will be okay, but one will establish your reputation for the next decade (okay - that used to be the case, now your lucky if you get a couple of years worth of credit). Companies are not innovative because they are afraid of failure, and if you are innovating, you are failing often, fast and furiosul and learning with each one - Your wokr isn't random - that is why all the foresight, insight and straegy work, but it is lots of experiments to get it right. Failure is part of any good process - see the scientific method - but too many in business are afraid of failure, therfore do not see failures contribuition to the innovation process, and thereby assume that there is no innovation process...
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