In recent years, there have been an influx of innovation workshops. They throw around fancy terms like design thinking, scrum, design sprints, start-up innovation, and of course walls get covered with lot and lots of post-it notes to impress the audience. The question is, do these workshops really help you to innovate? What result can you expect? The truth is that an innovation workshop can only help you if it is placed in the context of a long-term innovation strategy, and how well the innovation culture and practices are embedded in your company.
It’s easy to come up with a bunch of loose ideas if you’re not invested in the game, and your job stops after finding an idea. Most workshops recycle old ideas that are laying around, or they generate spontaneous ideas that do not stand up to a reality check. Innovation is not a thing that you can purchase just like that. True innovation is a combination of many factors such as mindset, culture, processes, teamwork, and timing. The workshop craze also gives you the idea that finding the right idea is the most important component of innovation. Finding an idea is only a small portion of the process. Much more important is timing and having the right team to follow the idea through to market, and that doesn’t necessarily mean only your own people.
Innovation workshops can only contribute if they are part of a well-planned innovation roadmap and strategy, in an organisation that has embedded innovation into their cultural DNA. Innovation is not a single event; it must be an ongoing effort. Modern day problems/opportunities are being complicated by new technologies, changing markets, changing expectations… it is too much for a few workers within a company to handle all the different aspects and to have expertise in all the necessary fields. Open innovation and collaboration offer a solution. The most successful innovative ideas are born out of cross-border and cross-sector team collaboration, and they only succeed if they have time to be sufficiently developed
Don’t ask a consulting agency to do the innovation for you. Instead, ask them if they have experience in collaboration in long-term relationships with multidisciplinary teams. Ask if they have successfully brought ideas to the market. Ask if they know how to take a deep dive into your markets. Perhaps most importantly, ask them if they have experience in understanding what users and customers need or desire.
Embed innovation in your company as a culture and an attitude that is always present. Involve people from every level in your company in innovation-thinking. Embrace open innovation and collaboration, cross company and with external agencies.
Innovation that translates into productivity enhancement is literally the only driver that will lift our society’s wealth in the future versus the present in a pareto-efficient way, i.e. without redistributing wealth from one country to another. This type of innovation is often called ‘transformational’.
Other innovation is also nice and desirable, but its predominant value is that it increases the customer’s choice, while keeping competition sharp. This is often called ‘incremental innovation’. Most innovation is incremental. However, only transformational innovation really creates wealth, as it ensures that a given amount of resources is producing more output.
The wealth creation that is brought to society by transformational innovation is often misunderstood by that society itself, as transformational innovation typically starts with disruption – which mostly translates into initial job losses. These days, the broad adaptation and application of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in every day’s life is as disputed as formerly the introduction of the spinning or harvesting machine.
People understand that these inventions will initially bring about major job losses, and it is psychologically difficult for most people to feel comfortable with permanently changing rules and job uncertainty. In my perception, only a minority of people embraces innovation, disruption, and – to some extent – the consequential uncertainty that comes with what the future may bring.
As soon as the technology can demonstrate that it is superior to human intervention, the doors are open for growth investments on a giga-scale. Whether we talk about self-driving vehicles, industrial production machines, ironing machines, planning and harvesting machines, pick-and-place, or loading and unloading machines, they will all have one factor in common: classical human transactional skills can be done better and more reliably by an AI-run machine. Industries that are already currently in full swing of this disruption are the financial service sector and the retail sector.
It is crucial for cutting-edge design agencies such as Achilles Design to play a role in this transformation. However, practically speaking, it is nearly impossible to offer all required innovation services from in-house resources an on top-notch professional standards to clients. There is no design agency that has professionals in-house that cover the whole spectrum of expertise that is required for contemporary high-tech design solutions.
By contrast, customers are typically unable or unwilling to co-ordinate the project management for such complex innovation projects, which means that design agencies are naturally required to source, screen, and select, but also to manage the co-operation between the different service providers in order to bring a design project to a successful end. In other words, modern design agencies are increasingly one-stop shops even for very complex innovation projects.
At Achilles Design, we took the very conscious decision to be a general contractor and project manager for demanding innovation challenges. We systematically look for relevant business partners who have deep expertise in domains that will play an increasingly important role in the future, whether this is with respect to AR/VR, AI and machine learning, PCB design, data science, App development, or market research – to name just a few. The essential bottom-line is that our clients get their innovation projects delivered, no matter what.
In other words, design agencies that want to play a role in tomorrow’s transformational impact-innovation have to be able to master quite demanding managerial tasks that reach far beyond the design discipline that designers once studied at university. Modern design agencies need in-house business management and project management skills, and – depending on how deep a design agency engages with its expert business partners – it is increasingly important to have financial and M&A expertise in-house as well.
To put things into historical perspective, 500 years ago, 73% of the French population worked in the agricultural sector – compared to less than 3% nowadays. The situation is comparable in other European countries. Rapid job losses in the sector started after 1800, when the emerging industrialization gained traction. In essence, 70% of total employment had to look for another source of income over the centuries.
Or to put differently: 70% of the French working people were able to contribute wealth to society beyond feeding that society, which is how carpenters and builders and gardeners and tailors emerged who made their craftsmanship more available and affordable for broader parts of society. As such, much wider parts of society got access to products and services that were formerly not available to them.