Tag Archives: Innovation

Innovation Is… Hmm…

Innovation. It is the buzzword of the past few years, possibly the decade.  Everybody takes it seriously, everybody claims to know how to do it, yet only few companies around us can truly be characterized as an innovative company. Why is that?

Jorge Barba, Chief Strategist at Blu Maya, in Create Your Own Definition of Innovation, thinks that most companies do not have an internal consensus on what innovation means.  Nor is there a useful textbook definition that can universally be applied to any business.  It is the responsibility of the leadership to come up with a collective definition of what innovation means to the organization in general and each employee in particular. (Sounds familiar? Maybe you have read Strategy Is… Hmm…)

“It is very simple, if your company says that innovation is a strategic priority, but there are no “innovation breeding habits” on display, you will not innovate. Like many, you are just paying lip service to the word.

It is like strategy, if no one understands what the company’s strategy is, then all is lost.

For example, a company I visited recently told me that they would innovate by updating its website (my follow up question was “how exactly?” and no concrete answer was given). Tsk, tsk, tsk…If your company thinks that “updating its website” is innovative, good luck trying to do anything disruptive.

What this means, is that if your company’s employees hear that “we will continually delight our customers by updating our website”, they will be completely uninspired and confused because that statement can mean many things to different people.”

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Change Is Never Easy

Earlier, in The “Odd New Thing”: Social Media, we touched upon how executives treat social media as the something they do not really understand but feel the need to be part of.  And in Social Media Teams we discussed changes brought to the organization structure and the inner workings of a corporation by social media.

What is true for social media in particular is also true for new technologies and digital in general:  New, innovative ways of doing business force companies to undergo drastic changes in organizational structure, uses of technology, measures of success and resource allocation.  More than merely the way of doing business, the business mentality itself is becoming more customer-centric, more adaptive and less tolerant to mistakes.

Based on my observations of executives in Turkey, especially those of traditional companies, most react to these changes in one of the two extremes: apathy or obsession.  Some consider these changes to be something to be managed in a vacuum, to be handled by others, either someone within the organization or by an external consultant.  They do not really want to be involved, and as long as there are no problems, and it does not crowd their space, it is all good.

Others get really excited about all this transformation and want to become a part of it.  They spend a lot of unnecessary time and energy at the expense of other areas, driving their teams and colleagues crazy. Even though they do not understand the underlying strategy or the methods all that well, they want to “do it” anyway, albeit in a manic manner.

Martin Gill, an eBusiness and Channel Strategy Analyst at Forrester Research, talks about similar difficulties faced by eBusiness managers in Shooting Arrows At Eagles:

“Some visionary companies Burberry, Marks and Spencer are lucky enough to have CEOs who grasp the power of digital. These companies are embedding digital into every aspect of their operations and are collapsing the walls between “eBusiness” and the traditional store or branch chains.

But most organizations aren’t so well positioned. Many eBusiness leaders have a vision for agile commerce that isn’t shared or even understood by their senior management and are now finding that their primary mission is to drive transformational change across their companies from within their area of accountability — selling the vision upwards, sideways, and downwards and positioning themselves as cross-functional leaders.

This takes vision, great communication skills, and the courage of their convictions much like our pacifist revolutionaries. Change driven not from the top, but from small seeds.”

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Social Media Teams

In a previous post titled The “Odd New Thing”: Social Media, we talked about “what not to do”, when managing social media for your organization or brand. In Data: The Composition of a Corporate Social Media Team, Jeremiah Owyang, industry analyst and partner at Altimeter, tells us “how to do” as he analyzes results from Altimeter’s recent survey to 144 global national corporations with over 1000 employees to see how today’s corporate social media teams break down. It turns out, the average size of a corporate social media team is ELEVEN people, excluding agencies, consultants and researchers.

Altimeter’s study discovered a trend of four key groups at corporations:

  1. Leadership Team: Focused on the overall program ROI, drive business results
  2. Business Unit Facing: Work inside the company to get executives and teams of other business units on board
  3. Market Facing: Serve as a go-between to balance the needs of customers and the corporation
  4. Program Management: Run programs at the corporate level, reporting and brand monitoring, manage developer teams to get systems to work

Owyang also makes predictions for the future of social media teams:

“In the future, these teams will likely shrink, or evolve into customer experience teams. Know that the corporate social strategist will work themselves out of a job.  Why?  Business units will be able to operate their own programs without excessive oversight, following program guidelines, and using pre-set best practices and sanctioned software systems.  With that said, a core team will always be required, to coordinate the enterprise, but we predict this will evolve into a customer experience team.”

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Amazon Lockers

I found out about Amazon‘s recent innovation, Amazon Lockers, when I came across Wall Street Journal’s article on the subject:

“The Web giant has quietly installed large metal cabinets—or Amazon Lockers—in grocery, convenience and drugstore outlets that function like virtual doormen, accepting packages for customers for a later pickup. Amazon began putting lockers in Seattle, New York state and near Washington, D.C., about a year ago.

And the company is now ramping up the service. In the past few weeks, Amazon has opened its first lockers sites in the San Francisco Bay area.

By adding the lockers, Amazon is addressing the concerns of some urban apartment dwellers who fear they’ll miss a delivery or have their items stolen from their doorstep.”

It piqued my interest, and I read more about it on Braden Kelley’s post Amazon Delivers Innovation on InnovationExcellence:

“This is a great potential innovation for the segment of their customer base that has trouble receiving their packages – either because they live in an apartment or condo that is difficult to deliver to, aren’t home to sign, or because they are worried that their package might be stolen.

But the motive for the experiment is not purely an altruistic customer service one, companies like Amazon pay up to 20% more to have packages delivered to a residence. So, delivering a package to a locker helps Amazon save money too – helping to offset the costs of installing and maintaining the lockers. And as a bonus they serve as OOH (Out Of Home) advertisements in a context where people’s minds are already open to buying things.”

My first thought was “what a great idea.” My second thought was whether this innovation would work in Turkey. I decided that it would not make a whole lot of sense in a larger scale.

  • Most parcels are delivered by private cargo carriers, requiring a signature and a photo ID at the point of delivery.  Leaving packages on the doorstep is not common.
  • Most of the apartment buildings in the cities have doormen who pick up packages for residents who are not present at the time of the delivery. My doorman called me on my mobile just the other day when I was at the office to ask me whether he should accept a package for me.
  • Cargo carriers have many local offices which serve as lockers anyway.  If you miss a delivery, you can pick it up at the local cargo carrier office for the next few days.
  • Locker security would be a problem, I would estimate that insurance rates would be quite high, driving up the delivery price.
  • Locker space rent would be high at secure locations such as shopping malls.

So kudos to Amazon for addressing a problem in the U.S. with an innovative approach but a good idea in one place does not necessarily work in another.  One more example of how innovation is unique to market conditions – one cannot simply copy it and expect it to work.

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The “Odd New Thing”: Social Media

I see many Turkish executives (although I have a hunch that they are not alone) treat social media as the “odd new thing” they do not really understand but feel the need to be part of.  We have been through this at least once before, when the Internet Revolution came to be.  Most executives were excited but they were also afraid, because they did not know how to go about incorporating the Internet into their business.  So most of them went out, grabbed a recent, tech-savvy college graduate, and if anyone asked they said they were taking care of the “internet minternet*” business of their organization.  Nowadays, history sort of repeats itself and we see a bunch of young people who have cool titles such as “Social Media Specialist” or “Social Media Strategist” showing up at local firms to take care of the “social media” business of the organization.

Same as the Internet, social media is part of a whole, not the “odd new thing” that can be spun off and managed independently.  Just as we cannot separate Internet from the various aspects of our business today, we cannot really think of social media independent of a coherent Marketing or Brand Strategy.  Sure, one cannot successfully manage a marketing function if one does not understand the tools, but without a high level vision and understanding of the overall communication strategy, a tool such as social media is not a tool, but a toy.

Hollis Thomases, in her controversial article 11 Reasons a 23-Year-Old Shouldn’t Run Your Social Media, lists reasons why the easy way to handle social media may not be the best way.

“Just because you don’t understand social media doesn’t mean you should forfeit all common sense and hire your niece, nephew, or any other recent college grad (say, your best friend’s sister-in-law’s kid) because “they’re really good on Facebook.”

* “Internet minternet” is a Turkish phrase which means “Internet, et cetera.”

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Revolutionary!

Revolutionary! Nowadays, almost every new innovation is labeled as revolutionary.  Is that really so?

The automobile was a revolution. The cupholder was not.
The telephone was a revolution. Call waiting was not.
The internet was a revolution. The iPad and Twitter are not.

Steven Strauss, an Advanced Leadership Fellow at Harvard University, explains what it takes for an innovation to be called revolutionary and talks about what he calls the new megatrend of Diminishing Marginal Innovation in We’re Stuck In An Era Of ‘Marginal’ Revolutions Like Twitter And Amazon.

“An innovation is revolutionary if it so changes society, that going back to the pre-innovation technology would be catastrophic. By this standard, many of our most recent innovations are incremental, not revolutionary.”

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The Yin And Yang Of Innovation

Dorie Clark, CEO of Clark Strategic Communications, talks about how to encourage and foster innovation in the workplace and challenges innovators face in Why Innovative People Fail:

“I ask people about something cool they’ve discovered lately. I don’t really care what it is, except that they’re passionate about it. Being curious and noticing things is the first step toward having insights. That sense of wonder, that radar for opportunities, helps make great innovators.”

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