Here in Paris, when you google ‘Innovation‘ you get about 150 million results. As much as ‘creativity‘ and ‘smartphone‘ combined (event though we must admit that ‘smartphone’ is quite a recent term). There is no doubt about the importance of innovation for companies which compete in a global economy where goods move fast and travel far. Developped nations can’t compete on costs, they can on quality and innovation… but what if consumers can’t follow the fast pace of innovation ? Fundamental gamechangers like Salesforce or the iPhone are rare – and they were led visionary thinkers – but facilitating peoples’ input will be key in the future…
Industrialize design thinking
Design thinking is a methodology in which collbaborative work and and practical experimentation is central to solving problems. Firms which believe in design thinking believe that if you use a diverse pool of people, if you centre the design process around the end-user and if you adopt a hands-on approach that puts prototyping at the forefront, you’ll find a creative and pragmatic solution. Design thinkers encourage to think outside of the box and to use the skills of designers to formalize abstract ideas. Design thinking can generate wonderful products, but it can also produce failure. The problem is that it is still complicated and expensive to delegate the whole innovation process to an outside consultancy. Besides, value is still generated by firms, not by consumers, and if the firm’s attitude towards innovation doesn’t change, then it will be an expensive one-shot move, not an improvement of competitiveness through innovation.
The trend of facilitated innovation
Why is Facebook worth billions today ? Why is Google one of the most profitable companies worldwide ? Because their product is so good that people just have to use it. But more than providing a single service (connect with friends & search the web), they had the cleverness to broaden their mission statements towards basically connecting people (Giving people the power to share and make the world more open and connected & Organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful). In other words : facilitate connections. Google does it by providing awesome tools to access information, Facebook by allowing people to easily tell what they like.
The same applies to innovation : the more you’ll facilitate input, the more you’ll capture how people think and act. Traditionnaly, innovation is big and impressive : innovation cycles are long, expensive and risky. As counter-intuitive as it seems, the solution is not to innovate less but to innovate more and faster. Innovation has to be less complicated than it is today, and web-based tools are the answer to the equation ! Open innovation platforms are poping-up across the web like mushrooms over the last years (3M Die Erfinder, Sara Lee Open Innovation, P&G connect+develop, General Mills’ G-Win etc.), and brands are engaging in a race for ideas. Even innovation consultancies like IDEO or Frog Design, who manage the innovation process from end-to-end, widen their reach of collaborators by creating online communities called OpenIDEO and FrogMob.
Day-to-day innovation, not a big deal ?
The solution might be to have dedicated actors in every step of the innovation process. The market for open innovation starts reaching a certain maturity level, that’s why there’s a trends towards specialization of open innovation actors : eYeka ideates, Hyve builds design-platforms and Communispace builds you communities, for instance. No one needs bare ‘innovation’ : companies need input from real consumers, input that reveal deep insights, insights which allow companies to create a relevant product. “If I listen to the markets, when I start with a square, I’ll end up with a sphere!” says Jean-Claude Ellena, head of fragrances for the French label Hermès. This is why Open Innovation is not about solutions, it’s about ideas and insights. Listening globally will connect you to thousand of ideas… it’s your job to select and develop them !