NBF2018: Strategy and leadership for innovation


The world becomes more turbulent, faster than companies become more resilient. The ability to innovate across the company and build digital DNA is key to continue to deliver relevant customer value. The alternative to innovation is to quickly increase the risk of becoming obsolete. To stay relevant rests with the ability for companies to harness the untapped capacity for innovation and outsize contribution: to unlock human potential.

Innovation management

The free flow of ideas

To secure the wolly mammoth of both innovation and performance, we need to rethink both leadership and individual contribution, and apply science based rigor in the process. This part of the full article deals with the innovation part, the next two with performance.

Turn things on their head

Innovation starts with challenging industry dogma, the individual assumptions that we take for granted. To take a quick look at the beliefs that have remained unquestioned during the past few years is a good place to start to look for innovation opportunity.

The idea that people on the top have the best ideas is bankrupt, the people on the top need to be social architects instead. Manage people in a way that ensures experimentation and autonomy, and assign managers with the task to identify and scale up innovations as they occur. Involve your employees broadly in big decisions and solicit broad advice on direction through use of technology. Identify what needs to change in the company to put innovation into the corporate digital DNA: reward systems, funding, culture, systems, allocation of time, etc. One way to uncover issues is to survey what is in the way of innovation and to remove those road-blocks.

Innovation happens at the edges

The employees closest to the customers are those with the best and most ideas on how to provide additional customer value and how to remove effort/pain points, according to Hamel. The best ideas tend to be mash-ups of a number of ideas from across the organisation. Make leaders accountable for innovation. Establish meaningful measurements to drive relevant innovative behavior. The best way to make way for even more and better ideas is to have an open and transparent flow of ideas, and to ensure that the company manages each of them in a constructive way.

Companies tend to act like monopsonies, internal markets with single buyers of all ideas. The only guarantee for long-term customer satisfaction is to unleash innovation and experimentation across the company. Innovations happen in the gap between aspirations and resources so we must help the companies build out-size aspirations to help make the gap wider, and stimulate contribution of ideas. There is more to the topic of aspirations and purpose, they are covered in the coming article “Build a peak performance foundation” where massively transformative purposes (MTP) are described in more detail.

Make room for isolation

Innovation requires isolation that is possible at the edges: in culture, within the subcultures; in nature, in the niche ecosystems; and in organisations as the inevitable skunk work. Make room for isolation and experimentation, to make room for the new to happen. Allow front-line workers the opportunity to fix the things they see as issues for the customers, big or small!

Institutionalize design thinking

Make everything about customer value, things that positively impact the lives of our customers. To jump-start innovation, the whole organisation needs to become engaged in the management of innovations, and to secure a culture of experimentation. Fuel the innovation funnel with OPEX (Operational Expenditures) rather than CAPEX (Capital Expenditures) as continuous improvement and innovation needs to be an ongoing activity in the company. It’s not optional anymore to empower people to experiment and innovate continuously. Innovate or become obsolete!

This, the Nordic Business Forum 2018 summary

The content comes from my attendance at the 2018 Nordic Business Forum where I took copious notes. This is my integrated summary of the ideas that resonated with me, and that made a wider business sense. Some #NBForum2018 notes were too specific, or incongruent with the article, and were left out.

The article is split up in five parts, and each will be shared over these three weeks:

  1. Strategy and leadership for innovation (This article)
  2. Build personal peak performance
  3. Love your way to peak performance
  4. Outlook: Society and new technologies
  5. Outlook: AI and Blockchain

For the speaker names in parantheses, do refer to the list of speakers at the Nordic Business Forum 2018.