Slide1Minding and Binding The Machinery of Innovation

Innovation management when innovative people work in an innovation nurturing environment applying practices geared to achieving innovative results can be amazing rewarding. Tom Kelley of IDEO describes some characters for innovation teams. Cisco’s Berlin CHILL Lab provides an excellent example of how to establish the right innovative environment to tackle big problems. And, Magnus Karlsson, Ericsson’s Director New Business Development & Innovation, provides some insights on idea and innovation management practices capable of producing significant results. According to Tom Kelley, the IDEO vision of a potentially successful innovation includes the visionary, the troubleshooter, the craftsman, the entrepreneur and the technologist. A cross-functional team must have introverts and extraverts, analytical thinkers and creatives, serious intellectuals and fun-loving disruptors. These individuals, working together with mutual respect, will be more creative than a group of individuals who are highly similar and cohesive.

The following YouTube video from the Rutgers Business School provides further insights for innovation management:

In his Forbes magazine article entitles “Eight Key Personality Types For Innovation Teams,” Tendayi Viki , provides a list of eight personality types that an innovation teams should have:

  • Miss Happy Go Lucky: This is the life the party. This individual makes sure the team is having fun while they work. Innovation requires elements of playfulness, especially during ideation. Miss Happy Go Lucky serves the role of resident mess-maker.
  • Mr. Visionary Creative: Great ideas are also driven by creative vision. People who can see the world, not as it is, but as they would want it to be. Every team needs its dreamers and visionaries to fight for the creative ideals that underpin the product idea.
  • Miss Pragmatic: But all dreams have to be checked against reality. The pragmatist makes sure we review our product idea and identify any risky assumptions. They also make sure we test these assumptions before we take our product to market.  
  • Mr. Analytical: Innovation is also about figuring out a sustainably profitable business model. Both in financial and operational terms, innovation teams need someone with an analytical mind. We are not only creating cool new things, we are building a business.
  • Miss Get Stuff Done: But please! No analysis paralysis! Innovation is also about getting stuff done. A hard-driving team member pushes us to complete a minimum viable version of the product and ship it to the market early. We can figure out the rest as we go!
  • Mr. Perfectionist: But let’s not be too hasty. Good quality products also ensure that we deliver value to customers in a manner that gets their loyalty to our brand. As learnings from the market inform our iterations, Mr Perfectionist serves as the quality assurance check for our product.
  • Miss Consensus: With this cast of characters working together, team meetings can often become contentious. A team member that helps the team collaborate well is highly useful. As much as we want diverse opinions at the table, in the end we need to make decisions and move forward positively as a team.
  • Mr. Supportive: Finally, teams consist of people with different needs. There is an element of innovation teamwork that is about supporting and encouraging each other.

For example, failing fast can only work in teams where individuals feel safe to make mistakes. These eight personalities are important to have in innovation teams. Although the assumption is that you will get these personalities by having people from different professions in the room, this is not inevitably the case. Furthermore, it is not that every team should have exactly eight people with these personalities. It is possible for people to have strengths in more than one of these areas. The point is to make sure we go beyond creating teams based on professional discipline alone and also consider the mix of personalities among the team members.

On an October morning in 2015, inside an aging beer factory in the Tempelhof neighborhood of Berlin, a group of people assembled amid idle machinery in the hope of transforming their respective industries with a novel approach to innovation. Standing shoulder to shoulder around oil barrels converted into temporary tables were innovation mavericks and senior executives at large established companies—Airbus, DHL, Caterpillar, and Cisco.

The gathering, hosted by Cisco, the California-based networking and technology company, was a crucial point in a process carefully designed to tackle the most pressing challenges at the intersection of supply chain and digitization. The goal: launch partnerships for groundbreaking solutions to shared problems within the next six months. In an increasingly digital and connected environment, leaders of established companies frequently find themselves facing opportunities that they—or even their industries—cannot seize alone.

The Berlin “Living Lab” (the name Cisco gives to such events) was a unique model for addressing such opportunities. Instead of relying on start-ups to create innovations and then buying in to them, organizations taking part in this new process, which we call ecosystem innovation, collaborate to develop and then commercialize new concepts.

Sophia Stuart, in a recent PC Magazine article explains how the Cisco Hyperinnovation Living Labs (CHILL) differs from seemingly similar approaches, such as R&D alliances, because it focuses on the fast and agile commercialization of ideas without a complicated intellectual property agreement. It also differs from traditional partnership efforts, because it brings multiple partners together at a very early stage all at once. This process brings our teams together with partners, customers, and other companies working to find new business opportunities.

Through intense analysis and collaboration, these lab sessions result in breakthrough ideas that can be implemented or invested in by those that participate, including Cisco. At the Living Lab in Berlin, one team addressed the data-sharing problems that were created by multiple proprietary platforms; along with four universities, it is in the process of creating a cross-industry open-data platform to encourage application development by other start-ups.

Early results are impressive. For example, Cisco estimates that the Airbus-DHL-Caterpillar lab produced internal projects, spinouts, and joint ventures to digitize supply chains, factories, and warehouses that will generate $6 billion in new revenue and save $3.4 billion in costs over the next 10 years. According to Stuart, the challenges facing the teams requires leadership, and for ecosystem innovation involving Cisco, the CHILL team leads and facilitates the entire process.

The process has several phases, which run over several months. The CHILL team brings along a guide, a designer, a historian, a builder, and a hacker for each team of participants. The guide acts as a coach, answering initial questions about the process and helping the team stay focused on hypothesis generation and prototyping. The designer helps capture the conversation visually. The historian documents key hypotheses and insights generated from customer testing. The builder and the hacker listen to the team’s solutions as they evolve; then, after dinner, they stay up all night working with the designer to assemble solution prototypes. When participants return in the morning and find the backbone of a physical or a software prototype, it both creates positive momentum that powers the second day and provides the raw material for a pitch that afternoon.

Ecosystem innovation is not a panacea, but it is one answer to the challenge of finding new ways to grow profits. Not every project developed this way succeeds: Some of them are too ambitious, some aren’t ambitious enough, some run up against cultural blocks, and some simply fail. But the process allows companies to bring extremely diverse ideas, skills, and resources together to solve ecosystem-level problems at astonishing speed. It also helps them build the innovation capabilities needed for a digital age and the collaboration skills to capture the valuable opportunities that sit at the intersection of products, companies, and industries.

In explaining how to successfully implement collaborative idea management, Magnus Karlsson of Ericsson inquires whether a leader effectively uses the creative potential of your employees, customers and partners to address your innovation challenges? Collaborative idea management is a method to learn from the “wisdom of the crowd” in order to drive innovation.

In his in-depth article, posted on, Karlsson gives you an introduction including best practice from how Ericsson, the global telecom company worked with introducing and designing a successful collaborative idea management system. Many organizations, he writes, are facing an urgent need to exploit new ideas and opportunities to meet increasing competitive pressure and changing customer demands.

The recent economic recession has further accelerated the urgency of innovation across industries and globally, Karlsson explains. But from where do you get those much needed breakthrough ideas to drive growth, productivity and value creation? When innovation is more important than ever, collaborative idea management can help organizations to surface new ideas, improve them and make sure they reach the right people. It is also a way to empower and recognize innovative employees, to measure and stimulate creative activity and to promote a more open and collaborative innovation culture in the organization.

Idea management, according to Karlsson, is a structured process for the collection, handling, selection and distribution of ideas. It may include support for gathering, storing, improving, evaluating and prioritizing ideas by providing methods and tools, such as templates and guidelines. Idea management is an integrated part of the innovation process. Idea management is relevant for all types of ideas, from incremental improvements to new and disruptive business opportunities. The scope can range from being limited to one internal unit, to cover the entire organization, to include also external stakeholders, such as customers and partners.

Some companies that have implemented idea management systems are IBM, Accenture and Whirlpool. Ericsson started collaborative idea management in 2008 by developing a generic solution aligned with the existing collaboration platform and strategy. The basic components of collaborative idea management is support for users to submit new ideas, comment and develop already existing ones as well as support for managers to capture, track and further develop promising ideas.

Finally you need support to administrate, measure and follow-up. The following design rules, based on the initial experience at Ericsson and insights from other organizations, might help when considering getting serious about idea management. With the combination of the right innovation team members such as the teams, within a team environment and operational structure such as Cisco’s CHILL Lab, operating with both the CHILL and collaborative idea management disciplines of Karlsson, much innovation can occur.