Laszlo is an accomplished speaker and author of Creating Value with CO-STAR: An Innovation Tool for Perfecting and Pitching your Brilliant Idea as well an opening chapter on innovation leadership in the textbook The Global Innovation Science Handbook. He is a certified instructional designer and trainer and has delivered transformational programs like the Innovation Advantage and the Secrets of Silicon Valley. Laszlo recently developed the One Hour Innovator, a cloud-based toolkit that helps people innovate better, faster, and smarter. The methods used in these trainings and tools have created business solutions worth millions of dollars in new revenue and cost efficiencies. According to servey made by Singapore Academy of Corporate Management Laszlo Gyorffy belongs to it's TOP 100 Innovation Authors.
Generating Disruptive Ideas for the Hyper-Digital Era
We are living in an extraordinary time. During the Digital Era of the past 30 years, every industry has become social, mobile, and global. With the arrival of Sensors, Big Data, the Internet of Things (IoT), AI (artificial intelligence), Machine Learning, 3-D printing, and Robotics, we are moving rapidly into a new Hyper-Digital Era. Every industry is becoming smart and connected, and companies that do not adapt are rapidly falling behind.
Business leaders are rightfully asking: What disruptions are coming and where can we do the disrupting? Where are the open fields of opportunity where no one is yet the recognized leader? What is the future of manufacturing? Of financial services and insurance? Of mobility and transportation? Of healthcare? Of cities?
All industries are once again being transformed – and at a pace that will require exceptional foresight and the capacity to rapidly innovate at all levels of an enterprise. Part of the answer for leaders will be to do a better job of harnessing the collective intelligence and imagination of their people. The world is too complicated and fast moving to rely on top down or lone genius approaches. Plus disruptive ideas often come from the fringes and are sparked through the interaction of diverse perspectives and disciplines. Leaders need to actively engage their workforce in creating a portfolio of possibilities. They must invite and empower intrapreneurs to step forward and begin innovating at startup speed to develop the game changing ideas that will define their company’s future.
Championing Bigger and Bolder Ideas
Seeing and then seizing disruptive opportunities is not an easy task. These bold ideas are harder to conceive and easier to kill, because they are typically more risky and can threaten existing operations and arrangements. The greater the market risk and the larger the internal threat, the higher the hurdle for approval and funding. Senior leaders must create the conditions under which these big ideas can surface and survive long enough to prove their potential. Disruptive ideas don’t just happen. They are not concepts that can be handed off. These ideas must be championed. Someone must take ownership of the idea and be responsible for navigating all the organizational barriers to success. And in doing so, intrapreneurs must address two fundamental truths when leading big idea innovation:
1. Value Creation: Innovation is more than a flash of inspiration or creative thinking. It is about creating value through the implementation of new ideas. No matter how smart your employees are, their big ideas are never right the first time. No one is clever enough to determine the desirability, feasibility, profitability, etc. from the start. In order to ensure success, your innovators must continue to evolve their thinking based on the data they collect and the feedback they receive. They must put in the hard work to build a compelling business case, develop and test prototypes, and prove the concept is market ready.
2. Persuasive Communication: Intrapreneurs must be able to clearly communicate the potential of their idea to generate interest and support. This is particularly true for disruptive ideas whose paradigm-shifting logic and breakthrough technology may not be easily understood. No one does it alone. At some point even the most capable of intrapreneurs will need the assistance of people with expertise, influence, and resources to help in developing and implementing their big ideas. For many people, speaking in public and delivering a compelling pitch to a skeptical audience can be a daunting task. And unfortunately, a great idea, poorly explained, ceases to appear great. “The human brain is a wonderful organ. It starts to work as soon as you were born and doesn’t stop into you get up to deliver a speech.” - George Jessel
Being able to reach and teach an entire workforce how to innovate better is why tools like CO-STAR and the One Hour Innovator exist. They offer a disciplined approach for how to create new business value in a transforming world. Being able to perfect and pitch ideas is a foundational skill for today’s workforce, and one I predict will be even more important as we enter the hyper-digital era. After all, individual employees are a business’ primary source of innovation. When its workers become more innovative, the business will become more innovative. If you want employees to embrace an intrapreneurial mindset and champion disruptive ideas, leaders need to clarify their expectations and commit to a “Day 1” philosophy like Jeff Bezos.
“What does Day 2 look like? That’s a question I just got at our most recent all-hands meeting. I’ve been reminding people that it’s Day 1 for a couple of decades. I work in an Amazon building named Day 1, and when I moved buildings, I took the name with me. I spend time thinking about this topic. Day 2 is stasis. Followed by irrelevance. Followed by excruciating, painful decline. Followed by death. And that is why it is always Day 1.” -Jeff Bezos, Founder and CEO of Amazon.com To bring intrapreneurship to life, leaders must ensure their people are able to see the future, turn insights into valuable ideas, pitch them in a compelling manner, then turn the best of these ideas into pilots and prototypes (with pivots as needed), and move them all the way through to launch.
Intrapreneurial Success: Leading Disruption, Managing Change
Embracing an intrapreneurial mindset, which intentionally disrupts things from the inside out and often from the bottom up, is a radical concept for companies that thrive on stability and predictability. However, if an enterprise is committed to developing its innovation capability through intrapreneurship, three groups of people must be mobilized to make it happen: leadership, stakeholders, and innovation support. Managing programmatic change can be challenging enough, but managing a program that produces disruptive change on a regular basis is especially difficult. Replicating key startup methods and an entrepreneurial culture, in ways that can be scaled within a larger corporate context, might even be called a revolutionary effort. To align executives, enroll participants, and forge the necessary partnerships among functional groups and business units requires savvy leadership and a well-equipped transformational toolkit. It also helps to know the most common points of failure and how to avoid them.
The difficulty in replicating an entrepreneurial culture in a large enterprise
Organizations, by their very nature are designed to promote order and are run to produce efficient repeatable output. They thrive on stability and predictability, which is why incremental improvements are the preferred type of innovation for most institutions. Embracing an intrapreneurial mindset, which intentionally disrupts things from the inside out and often from the bottom up, is therefore a radical concept. It challenges the status quo, the hierarchy, and the more incremental and evolutionary path most managers prefer. To flourish in today’s exponential economy, however, leaders need to promote a discipline of innovation—one that helps them optimize their current businesses, while moving forward at startup speed to develop the game changing ideas that will define their company’s future. They need to get their enterprise to the place where radical ideas are not seen as bad ideas, and rebellious creativity that challenges current business and technology paradigms is treated as a potential source of future prosperity.
One company that really gets intrapreneurship (meaning, it is doing it as business as usual)
Google is a great example. They are just down the street from my office so I have a pretty good feel of what is fluff and what is fact. And while they don’t have it all figured out, they are certainly intrapreneurial pioneers with a growing track record of success. Google does a number of things to inspire and enable intrapreneurial innovation. It has a corporate culture that promotes openness and imagination and attracts bright self-starters. This produces a kind of virtuous cycle of a highly supportive culture interacting with people that innovate – every day.
Dimensions of this culture are:
- Encouraging people to dream and dream big.
- Constantly experimenting and trying new things.
- Creating a work environment – free healthy food, access to gym, talent, tools, etc. – that makes it is easy for people to put in the extra hours required to develop breakthrough ideas.
- Willingness to place big bets on long term potential.
- Making good use of all kinds of data to spark ideation or to validate assumptions.
- Exhibiting courage and eagerness to explore adjacent markets and shake up the business world.
- Empowering teams and encouraging collaboration, which creates a free flow of ideas and people.
- Willingness to invest in their own inventions.
- Failing without letting it deter them from trying more – something that is fundamental for continuous learning.
Given its authentic innovation culture Google has a unique capacity to inspire the world with their innovations. Here is an example of the impact this can have: a few years ago my partner, Herman Gyr, introduced Google’s self-driving car concept to the leadership of Swiss Post. Based on that inspiration, the Swiss Post’s bus service (Post Auto) recently inaugurated the world’s first autonomous public shuttle in the city of Sion. Without Google demonstrating the possibility, this would most likely not have happened.
Turning breakdowns into breakthroughs
If an enterprise is committed to developing its innovation capability through intrapreneurship, three groups of people must be mobilized to make it happen: leadership, stakeholders, and innovation support. These are the three drivers of change and their individual and collective actions hold the keys to your program’s success. Together they can take on the soft stuff, generating an entrepreneurial mindset, altering behavior, and shaping corporate culture, which is really the hard part of innovation. We are human beings and organizational changes can be difficult and sometimes are experienced as threatening, even when attached to brilliant new business ideas. But similar to the way failure is an inherent part of the innovation process, so is resistance and the inevitable breakdowns that occur during the building and implementation of a new program. The key is to turn the breakdowns into breakthroughs. If you can anticipate the timing and type of the pitfalls you are likely to encounter – a failure to launch, a failure to scale or a failure to sustain – you can prepare for the tests, and bolster the most constructive responses from the three drivers of change.
For example, leaders will be tested for “commitment” (i.e. whether they mean what they say). If the leaders lapse into old behaviors, and are unwilling to experiment, and only approve ideas that are safe with short term returns, employees are unlikely to change. When leaders fail to respond in ways that demonstrate their own commitment to the innovation program, employees inevitably see this as a signal to abandon the effort. On the other hand, if leaders respond successfully to tests, this reveals their dedication to the new ways of thinking and working and helps to generate the momentum that drives innovation through your program and throughout the enterprise.
Avoiding the three most common pitfalls
Don’t hesitate to contact me if you would like to learn proven practices for building and maintaining a high performing intrapreneurship program. I can provide insights into the unique organizational dynamics of innovation initiatives and how to overcome the 3 most common pitfalls: failure to launch, failure to scale and failure to sustain. You should know what these failures are, why they happen to intrapreneurship programs, and how to avoid falling into the trap. While the rewards are big, it is usually bumpy road to disruptive innovation. However, you can take comfort in knowing there are ways to turn even the breakdowns into positive change.
The Catalyst Network: Expanding the Reach and Impact of your Innovation Team
To amplify your company's presence and scale your influence, innovation teams need to harness informal networks and not simply rely on formal structures to create a thriving innovation eco-system. Enter Innovation Catalysts: natural champions who are believers, idea generators, problem solvers, mentors and sponsors in your organization. Are you or your team responsible for the widespread adoption of innovation tools and practices? Are you expected to deliver breakthrough ideas that have significant market impact and not just incremental improvements? Are you tasked with changing the mindset of your company and creating a culture where everyone, everywhere, is responsible for innovation – everyday? Are you expected to implement an ambitious strategy with a limited budget?
To respond to these expectations, your innovation team needs a cost effective way to amplify its presence and scale its influence. A highly efficient yet simple way to achieve this is to find and bring together the believers, the idea generators, the problem solvers, and the mentors and sponsors in your organization. These natural champions make good candidates for what I call Innovation Catalysts, and when unified as a cohesive community, can form a powerful network of front-line innovation leaders who know how to make things happen. The Catalysts network offers a distributed model for achieving near term innovation objectives and sustainable gains over the long run.
Best of Both Worlds
Innovation teams need to harness informal networks and not simply rely on formal structures to create a thriving innovation eco-system inside an organization. Traditional, top-down approaches don’t fully engage employees and aren’t agile enough to cope with the ongoing change enterprises face today. Informal networks and formal structures don’t have to work at cross-purposes. If managed well, they should support each other so the organization can benefit from the formal (e.g., control, efficiency, resources) and the informal (e.g., speed, flexibility, improvisation). Key for the innovation team is learning how to play to their strengths, along with mobilizing and influencing the informal networks to follow a coordinated innovation strategy.
The Role of Innovation Catalysts
The Innovation Catalysts Network is charged with helping to establish a critical mass of committed and capable innovators. The goal is to build bridges across the organization, to connect people and ideas in a manner that accelerates learning and implementation. The network is your best insurance policy for getting a significant return on your innovation investment. Innovation Catalysts create positive touch points for the innovation program and when done well, establish collaborative relationships at a local level by being trustworthy, caring, and professional.
They further the overall innovation strategy by playing four key roles:
- Innovation Ambassador: Catalysts become the evangelists throughout the organization, helping people slightly behind them in the adoption curve to understand why the enterprise needs to innovate and how they can contribute.
- Innovation Coach: They help colleagues be more innovative and successful with their projects by:
Providing advice on enhancing the value of ideas (CO-STAR method)
Ensuring attention is given to customer needs
Directing idea champions to helpful resources
Coaching to build confidence and skills (prototyping, pitching, etc.)
- Innovation Facilitator: Catalysts can help design, develop, and deliver critical innovation events. For example, they can facilitate Rapid Idea Improvement Sessions, lead innovation challenge planning sessions, provide innovation updates at regional meetings, support hackathons, and participate on innovation juries.
- Change Agent: They help idea champions to navigate the politics, avoid pitfalls, and work through the maze of the organization. The network also acts as an early warning system to the core innovation team to alert them to systemic issues or specific problems that are hindering innovation efforts.
Catalysts can be a friendly source of inspiration when innovators feel frustrated and stalled. Just a few words of encouragement or suggesting that innovators contact the innovation team can be uplifting and get the project back on track. However, there are also risks: Catalysts need to watch out for getting pulled into non-productive activities. Certain idea champions can be quite persuasive in their continual need for assistance. Catalysts should avoid:
- The Technical Expert Role: Watch out for evaluating the ideas of others
- The Pair-of-Hands Role: Watch out for getting sucked into doing the work for them
Building the Innovation Network
Catalysts can come from all parts of the organization, and from different roles, functions, and regions. They must share an enthusiasm for innovation and a willingness to help others succeed. It also helps if they have organizational credibility, are business savvy, and possess good people skills. The rest can be taught. Let me provide a concrete example from a recent Fortune 100 client with world-wide operations. We began with an Innovation Blueprint session to align the leadership team around the opportunities and market threats to their business, created a common vision of the future, and gained commitment on their roles and plan for moving forward. The plan required the five member innovation team radically scale up their efforts. Each person was assigned a region and together we went on a 2-month world tour building the Innovation Catalysts Network. We conducted Innovation Boot Camps in each region where 50 potential Catalysts were trained in our Discipline of Innovation methodology.
The Innovation Boot Camps provided a forum to:
- Establish mastery of core innovation tools and practices
- Teach tips and techniques for facilitating groups and coaching individuals
- Enhance teamwork and collaboration (create support network among participants while building relationships with core innovation team)
- Clarify roles and establish plans for going forward
By the third month we had trained 250 Innovation Catalysts who in turn were ready and able to spread the discipline of innovation they had learned. Sharing common language, concepts, and practices across the globe helped employees uncover unmet needs, identify significant opportunities, and champion bold new ideas quickly and collaboratively. The impact of the network combined with a powerful idea management system has been remarkable. Not only did the early ideas from the various innovation challenges provide quick wins, but you could feel the corporate culture starting to shift. Employees who had never thought of themselves as innovators, or people who had never been asked to offer ideas, were stepping up and participating. In general, innovation teams can find Catalysts in a variety of ways. Some Catalysts are nominated internally by their units, while others are recruited during innovation events where employees with the desired personality and skills are identified. If developed effectively, Catalysts not only recruit innovators, but help bring sponsors, experts, and mentors into the innovation program. Often, a natural second wave takes place as the initial Catalysts group taps into their own personal networks and suggest names for future members.
Sustaining the Innovation Network
Having built the network, the innovation team has an obligation to monitor and nurture the community. This is especially true because the membership is entirely voluntary. If the network is not compelling enough, then it will lose out to the Catalyst’s day job and no time will be set aside for innovation activities. Tips for sustaining the network include:
- Take every opportunity to bring people together in the same physical location. (e.g., whenever anyone from the innovation team visits a different region, gather the Catalysts together for a meeting or a training workshop).
- Ensure the Catalysts are actively involved with the company’s idea management platform so they can feed off the energy of the innovators, collaborate with colleagues, and support projects in their area (e.g., IdeaScale’s enterprise platform)
- Recognize the network as often as possible (e.g., communicate names and contributions in an annual innovation management report).
- Reinforce their status and identity (e.g., provide certificates and create alternate business cards just for the Catalysts).
- The innovation team should look for ways to help their Catalysts develop personally and professionally (e.g., attending talks, or supporting hackathons).
- Keep the network and their accomplishments in the spotlight (e.g., joining the executives at “demo day”).
It’s important that Catalysts see themselves, and are seen by others as valuable resources and proactive facilitators of the enterprise’s innovation strategy. This ensures your Catalysts remain enthusiastic and also helps gain commitment from the organization to continue to support the network. “No matter how smart your people are, most of the smartest people in the world are outside your company.” - Bill Joy, CTO Sun Microsystems
Extending the Boundaries of Your Network
Of course you can expand the network to include people outside your enterprise. This open innovation approach, which can include universities, startups, incubators, outposts, etc. has become a corner stone tactic of most pioneering companies. And why not? Adding inspiration and expertise of others can really only be beneficial. Consider this quote by Bill Joy: “No matter how smart your people are, most of the smartest people in the world are outside your company.” - Bill Joy, CTO Sun Microsystems. One way to help your people think outside the box, is to collaborate with people from outside your organization. While I am keen to share my thoughts on this important topic, I believe it deserves an article all to itself. If you want to discuss Innovation Catalysts and how to build and effective network, please don’t hesitate to contact me.
Innovation Fitness: Measuring It to Maximize It
To gauge the innovation capabilities of an enterprise, it is helpful to apply a systematic method for assessing the quality of, and the relationship between the various and distinct dimensions that drive all functions of the enterprise. As with a sports team, simply having talent does not ensure success. It is the quality of the team work which ultimately elevates or hinders the level of their play. “Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up, it knows it must outrun the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning in Africa, a lion wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the slowest gazelle, or it will starve. It doesn’t matter whether you’re the lion or a gazelle-when the sun comes up, you’d better be running.” ― Christopher McDougall, Author of Born to Run.
In today’s fast paced hyper-competitive environment, many companies find themselves running for their lives, while other more fit organizations are able to survive, and even thrive, by running out in front of the pack. These leaders are characterized by their ability to quickly adapt to the market or disrupt it. They are able to adjust their strategies and harness the power of their innovation capabilities to produce significant competitive advantage: greater returns from new products and services, significant market share increases, successful entry into new markets and greater effectiveness with in-house improvement initiatives.
To build and maintain this level of peak performance requires understanding your current innovation eco-system and how best to leverage it. If you want to improve your innovation efforts to optimize speed and creative output, it helps to measure and understand the strengths and weaknesses of your organization’s capabilities (people, processes, practices, etc.). With the right metrics and analysis, you can manage these strengths and align them around market strategies that drive new value creation. Without a sense of your collective capabilities and a plan to get your organization innovating at startup speed, you run the risk of becoming an out-of-shape bureaucracy that is unfit to compete for the future.
Measuring what matters
Based on our work with pioneering enterprises around the world (e.g., BBC, Panera Bread, IBM, Toyota, Swisscom, Phillips, Stanford University, Kaiser Permanente), we have learned a great deal about what makes innovation successful. It is clear that measurement is foundational to building innovation fitness. The question becomes, what should be measured when it comes to innovation. Most organizations track business KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) and can tell if a given percentage of their revenue comes from products and services developed over the past 3 years. Many others introduce innovation spaces, create skunk works teams, hold innovation competitions and track participation levels and output. Some conduct corporate culture assessments to get a feel for the emotional health of the workforce and their enthusiasm for innovation. Such insights are important, but not sufficient. They add clarity and texture to the story, but none provides a comprehensive picture of the organization’s innovation capabilities.
STEP – A measurement for all dimensions of innovation of the enterprise
To gauge the sum total of the innovation capabilities of an enterprise, it is helpful to apply a systematic method for assessing the quality of, and the relationship between the various and distinct dimensions that drive all functions of the enterprise. As with a sports team, simply having talent does not ensure success. It is the quality of the team work which ultimately elevates or hinders the level of their play. STEP stands for Structure, Task, Environments (both internal and external), and People. The model articulates the fundamentals of a working enterprise system: the tasks (products and services) of a business are supported by structures that allow people to work in service of external (market) demands while being guided by the mission and values advocated in the internal environment. These fundamental elements act as an interconnected system where a change in one element will impact all others.
For example, if the task of your innovation effort expands from internal improvement initiatives to external venturing, you may decide to create an outpost structure with investment funds, which attracts people with startup scouting skills, and bridges their entrepreneurial spirit with an internal environment focused on operational excellence. You can measure the performance of this new capability and see how it is impacting the rest of the organization. If adjustments are not made, the system will soon be out of alignment and begin to underperform. If not measured and properly aligned within the realities of the overall enterprise system, innovation initiatives may offer a temporary boost, but are generally not sustainable. Innovation becomes an add-on that is not woven into the collective mindset, skills and fabric of the company’s culture. Ideally, unimpeded by structural obstacles and instead fully supported by a well-integrated innovation system, everyone, everywhere, will be able to take responsibility for innovation everyday – whether as an idea generator, mentor, sponsor, facilitator or team member.
A STEP Assessment
A STEP assessments measures the efficacy of each element of the enterprise system as well as the flow across all elements, and in this way can also track the quality of innovation within the system, top down, bottom up, outside in and inside out. Innovation practices are evaluated as well as the experience employees and stakeholders are having using them. The assessment highlights innovation effectiveness related to:
Environment (External): Understanding of customer needs, market trends, and disruptive technologies. Task: Methods (i.e., common concepts, practices, and tools) for enhancing the core business, and creating new or improved products, services and lines of business. Structure: All functions, i.e. finance, information technology, human resources, legal, facilities, etc. and the extent to which they are organized to support innovation efforts.
For example: many innovators view their legal department as the group that tells them why they can’t try something new, when in fact, legal departments can add a great deal of value for innovators. Legal advisors can help to create agreements with partners, suppliers, or external funders that enable groups to innovate across boundaries. They can guide innovators through the process of checking patents or trademarks, and to secure intellectual property rights created. Legal teams can also provide the basic agreements needed in large open innovation networks or communities that help these groups create ownership or reward arrangements that work for all involved. People: The expertise and passion needed to identify opportunities, and successfully generate and champion high potential ideas. The People section of the assessment also provides insights into employee engagement, which has a direct impact on innovation and other organizational performance outcomes. Studies have shown the relationship between employee engagement and outcomes such as voluntary turnover, employee productivity, and customer satisfaction–all of which can ultimately affect the bottom line.
Environment (Internal): The quality and values of the culture, i.e. one that promotes courage, creativity, and collaboration and a willingness to experiment and adopt new ideas. Having a systematic evaluation of the fitness of all critical dimensions of an enterprise provides innovation leaders with an understanding of the strengths, weaknesses, and misalignments that are impacting their company’s performance. Our Innovation Fitness Survey allows leaders to:
- Understand what is required to achieve maximum innovation fitness in their enterprise, e.g. specific areas of focus for improving the speed, quantity, and quality of innovation,
- Create targeted plans for enhancing existing innovation capabilities,
- Generate buy-in for innovation and unlock employee enthusiasm and imagination,
- Track progress and ensure that goals are attained.
Innovation fitness = financial performance
Remembering the words of Arthur Jones, if you are not innovating at the level you desire, it may be because your organization is not built to innovate. “All organizations are perfectly designed to get the results they get.” — Arthur Jones. If you want to lead an enterprise whose strategy and systems work in harmony, where people are empowered to think differently, decide quickly, and collaborate effectively, you might want to consider establishing a discipline in which you regularly measure, refine, and align the company’s innovation capabilities to meet the demands of the market. Such innovation workouts will keep your organization “fit for purpose” and ready to compete. We all know, only the fittest survive.
A Compelling Value Proposition: The Missing Tool in Your Lean Startup Kit
Eric Reis first introduced the concept of Lean Startup in 2008. Today Lean Startup is deployed far beyond entrepreneurial circles and is taking root in large, complex organizations looking to improve their new product success rates – and in the process build lean cultures. This is very good news. Too often the processes corporations use in pursuit of innovation can actually erode their capability to innovate. Still, when applying the principles of “Build – Measure – Learn” to initiating Lean practices in corporations, there is room for improvement…and possibly even for a pivot.
CVP before MVP
Corporations do not operate with the freedom of a startup, and navigating the internal learning and approval cycles can be even more challenging than effectively engaging customers. Before an intrapreneur starts coding, fabricating, etc. to test his/her new concept as a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) in the market, approvals and sponsorship from management is required. So rather than building an MVP, I recommend that these intrapreneurs start with a CVP (Compelling Value Proposition). Innovators need a way to not only get smart fast about what their target customers want, but also about what management wants and will support. An effective bridge for crossing the internal chasm between a potentially brilliant idea and the approval to build a minimum viable product is essential. Our analysis of the most effective value propositions practiced in Silicon Valley, revealed six basic yet essential questions that can quickly turn an inexact concept into a well-honed and compelling value proposition.
C – Who are the intended Customers and what are their important unmet needs?
O – What is the full potential of the Opportunity?
S – What is the proposed Solution for capturing the opportunity and satisfying
the intended customer?
T – Who needs to be on the Team to ensure the solution’s success?
A – What is the competitive Advantage of the idea over the alternatives?
R – What Results will be achieved from the proposed solution?
From a Lean Startup perspective, the “CO” helps answer the question “should this product be built?” And the “STAR” addresses “can we build a sustainable business around this product?” CO-STAR provides a vehicle that intrapreneurs can use to gather intelligence by pitching and iterating their innovative idea until their value proposition is as strong as it can be. It also offers a nuanced method for reducing uncertainty about the real value of an idea in areas beyond customer benefit. For example, you can test hypotheses related to feasibility with the “Solution,” competitive superiority with the “Advantage,” and profitability with the “Results.”
Getting smart fast
Typically intrapreneurs go through a number of cycles of enrolling others when championing a bold new product or service idea. Even with CO-STAR they experience many of the typical obstacles a champion faces when sharing his/her idea with others in hopes of receiving useful support, e.g. getting false positives, not getting valid feedback, or simply having trouble getting people to respond. Here are some tips for increasing the productivity of these important exchanges:
- Start the process by sharing your initial thoughts with a few trusted colleagues. Listen and learn from their reactions and feedback. Encourage them to tell you what they like about your idea and what could make it stronger. Ask them to comment separately on each element of your CO-STAR.
- Once you’ve considered the comments of these initial exchanges carefully, and you find the idea still has significant value, widen your circle of support by talking to experts and key stakeholders. Build a mock-up. It makes abstract ideas tangible and facilitates further exploration of your proposed solution. It is enormously valuable to be able to see, touch, and experience something concrete about the end state of an idea, even if it is still in relatively crude form. Integrate the feedback you receive again and continue to answer the CO-STAR questions more thoroughly and with greater quantification.
- Take your idea to a more objective audience (e.g., end users, functional experts, potential buyers) to test its real-world viability and potential. If the internal information is gold, this feedback is platinum. Depending on your situation you can try out an early prototype with real customers and find out how they respond. At this point you are ready to join your organization’s official innovation pipeline, take full advantage of your Lean Startup toolkit, and begin building Minimum Viable Products and contemplating split tests and iterative product release strategies.
Presented poorly, a great idea no longer appears to be great. It is not easy to share a new idea quickly, concisely, and confidently. The CO-STAR template captures the techniques perfected in Silicon Valley, and is structured to cover the basic dimensions required for a good value proposition. It enables intrapreneurs to easily create a winning pitch that allows them to communicate effectively with their investors, collaborators, and target customers. Working with a value proposition is much more useful than trying to write the perfect business plan very early on in the development of an innovative idea. A good pitch that can be iterated and continually improved to substantiate the value of an idea is much more practical than spending many hours preparing a business plan that is rarely updated and almost never read by anyone other than its author.
Scale and Sustainability
In today’s connected mobile world, large organizations looking to embed a lean mindset and methods into the fabric of their corporate culture can speed up adoption by deploying an online innovation management systems and/or apps. These systems not only crowdsource ideas and manage the overall innovation pipeline, they also promote personal initiative, customer focus, and collaboration. Lean techniques can be easily highlighted and success stories shared with the entire workforce. CO-STAR enabled platforms like Q+, Ideascale, and One Hour Innovator can be easily deployed to spread common language, concepts, and practices that are crucial for advancing an enterprise-wide discipline of innovation.
The success of corporate innovation efforts in today’s complicated and fast-moving world depends on practices that support continuous learning and adaptation — collecting, sifting, testing, discarding, quantifying, building and pivoting. Implementing a disciplined value proposition method such as CO-STAR as part of Lean Startup efforts helps guide and accelerate people’s discovery efforts, enriches the quality of their thinking, and helps them prepare a practical pitch they can share to continuously improve their innovative ideas. Innovators are now using CO-STAR in over 40 countries. In the spirit of Lean, I would love to hear about your CO-STAR experiences and welcome your feedback. If you are using CO-STAR, please share your story here or with me personally.
Survival of The Fittest
Based on our work with pioneering enterprises in Silicon Valley and around the globe we have learned a great deal about what makes innovation prosper. This article reveals some surprising insights on how prepared our institutions are to successfully compete for the future. Is your organization’s innovation fitness level high enough to thrive in today’s fast-paced and hyper-competitive global economy? Hundreds of you answered this question over the past six months using our free online assessment. Now we have results to share about the ability of different types of organizations to effectively create new business value. You can compare the innovation strengths and weaknesses of your organization with other participants. This article reveals some surprising insights on how prepared our institutions are to successfully compete for the future. If you haven’t taken the survey, you might want to check it out it prior to reading this article. With only 10 questions, it is a quick and easy self-assessment to complete. I don’t want to bias your results.
Based on our work with pioneering enterprises in Silicon Valley and around the globe (e.g., BBC, Panera Bread, IBM, IDEO, Toyota, Swisscom, Phillips, Stanford University, Kaiser Permanente), we have learned a great deal about what makes innovation prosper. The survey focuses on 10 innovation success factors (metrics, mindset, tools, etc.) that separate the peak performers from poorly conditioned organizations who find themselves unfit to deliver innovative solutions to the market on a consistent basis. If you and your organization are going to succeed in this world, you must build and keep your innovation muscles strong. We know that only the fittest survive.
From June through November 2015, 432 people completed the Innovation Fitness Survey. Overall the result paints a dim picture of the current level of innovation fitness among participating organizations. Our data shows most organizations have a great deal of room for improvement, only Innovation Leadership had a mean rating above 3.0 on our 1-5 Likert scale. The list below ranks the innovation fitness factors based on overall average rating.
Avg Fitness Factor
3.19 Innovation Leadership
2.94 Employee Engagement
2.84 Open Innovation
2.83 Market Inspiration
2.80 Collaborative Culture
2.79 Breakthrough Ideas
2.65 Innovation Tools
2,54 Sponsors and Resources
2.53 Management Accountability
2.35 Innovation Training
My analysis focuses on the extreme scores. In future articles I will delve deeper into the nuances of the data and also explore the differences between industries.
The good news: biggest strength is best asset
Leaders who do not treat innovation as a priority simply cede opportunity to those do. Leaders who do not treat innovation as a priority simply cede opportunity to those who do. When it comes to innovation, research shows the aspiration level of the leader has the biggest impact on whether their people consistently out-think, out-create, and outperform the competition. The obvious examples are Steve Job’s and his invitation to his employees to “think differently” and his goal of putting a “ding in the universe”. And for those of you in the public sector, President John F. Kennedy is the standard-bearer. His bold aspiration, in 1962, to “go to the moon in this decade” motivated a nation to unprecedented levels of innovation. An audacious vision can be a compelling catalyst, provided it’s realistic enough to stimulate action today.
For those of you who struggle to innovate within your organization, imagine the boost your efforts would receive from a leadership team that committed itself to a widely shared “stretch vision”. What if they acted in full alignment with the intended future and modeled the necessary innovation practices? What if they embraced their natural optimism and become an appreciative audience for creative ideas, asking inspiring questions, encouraging collaboration, freeing up resources, and clearing paths through the bureaucracy? These behaviors are especially important for novel or disruptive ideas that are harder to conceive and easier to kill. Having the highest mean of the innovation fitness factors gives me hope, because like most things organizational, the gap between “good” and “great” is leadership.
More good news: biggest weakness can be easily addressed
I believe in a model where everyone, everywhere, is responsible for innovation everyday – whether as an Idea generator, mentor, sponsor, facilitator or team member. This model is best served with an inclusive training approach aimed at establishing common innovation language, concepts, and practices across the enterprise. Employees up and down the hierarchy should all be able to:
- Identify significant innovation opportunities
- Generate creative solutions
- Develop strong value propositions
- Communicate ideas in a clear and compelling manner
- Create cost effective prototypes of their ideas
- Collaborate effectively with colleagues to rapidly improve ideas
Collectively, these skills are the cornerstone for establishing a discipline of innovation. They go beyond learning about innovation and emphasize teaching people how it is done. The suggestions that follow are targeted at engaging your entire workforce and can be combined to accelerate and sustain adoption.
- Onboarding: Set expectations of innovation during the new hire orientation (e.g. describe “how we innovate around here” and be clear everyone has two jobs (i.e., deliver on your present assignment and participate in inventing a better future)).
- Innovation Bootcamps: Train the entire workforce in your innovation methods, especially management. Developing the capabilities of managers will have a profound and positive ripple effect on the enterprise and its bottom line. Once they have grasped the tools and techniques, they can become innovation coaches and ambassadors. Remember the point I made earlier in this article about the importance of leadership.
- Project Launches: Use the kick-off of new projects and initiatives as a teaching moment to train or reinforce the organization’s discipline of innovation.
- Online Learning: Take advantage of elearning to bring visibility and impact to your innovation efforts at a significantly lower cost than in person training. Use your LMS or subscribe to cloud based solutions like One Hour Innovator to easily scale your teaching.
These training efforts build professional skills, increase employee engagement, and inspire workers to demonstrate their initiative and leadership capabilities. If woven together properly, these approaches can foster an exciting “can do” culture that helps attract and retain innovators.
Working with your leaders to start an innovation fitness program may be one of the best things you can do for your organization’s health. Innovation activity can reduce your organization’s risk of chronic bureaucracy, improve speed, agility, and stamina, and bring new value to the market on a consistent basis. The business benefits from implementing a program that addresses the weakest innovation factors are clear. With the development of a single good idea, the program can pay for itself many times over. While there are numerous places to begin, if you want your employees to embrace an “intrapreneurial” mindset and generate bigger ideas that move the needle, bolder ideas that change the game, and better ideas that have a high success rate, I would start by teaching them how to innovate. “The only source of innovation in business is the individual employee. When workers become more innovative, organizations become more innovative.”
How Do You Measure Innovation Fitness?
The human body serves as the perfect metaphor for understanding the innovation challenge facing today's organizations. The body is built to adapt and respond to demands that are placed upon it. The greater the demand, the stronger the response. If you and your organization are going to thrive in this world you must build and keep your innovation muscles strong. We know that only the fittest survive. Unfortunately, too many organizations suffer from overweight bureaucracies, which crush employee enthusiasm and creativity. Rather than seizing on high potential opportunities and championing a bright future, they procrastinate and deny market realities. These out-of-shape organizations find themselves falling behind on a quarterly basis because they are unable to think differently, decide quickly, and collaborate effectively. They are simply not fit enough to successfully compete and win in today’s fast paced global economy.
Measuring innovation fitness
To meet the innovation challenge head on, it is critical to know how your organization is performing. Knowing outcome measures like the percentage of revenue generated by products developed in the last three years is helpful, but insufficient. You need a deeper and more nuanced understanding of the enablers and barriers to innovation. You must know what is working and what is not in order to be able to harness the full potential of your innovation capabilities. Without a framework or any metrics to guide your analysis you will be forced to guess at the fitness level of your organization. Based on our work with pioneering enterprises around the world (e.g., BBC, Panera Bread, IBM, Toyota, Swisscom, Phillips, Stanford University, Kaiser Permanente), we have learned a great deal about what makes innovation successful.
And we created a survey, which focuses on ten innovation success factors that separate the peak performers from poorly-conditioned organizations who find themselves unfit to deliver innovative solutions to the market on a consistent basis. Those factors include:
- Innovation Leadership
- Management Accountability
- Employee Engagement
- Innovation Training
- Sponsors and Resources
- Innovation Tools
- Breakthrough Ideas
- Collaborative Culture
- Market Inspiration
- Open Innovation
Your organization’s fitness level is determined by the ability of your people to effectively create value through the implementation of new ideas. Rather than taking a lone genius approach, we believe it is everyone’s job to think about how to create a better future. In fact, innovation needs to flow top down, bottom up, outside in and inside out. A culture of innovation recognizes that good ideas can and do come from anywhere. These inclusive and collaborative cultures view innovation as a team sport and understand that from diverse perspectives comes novel solutions. New web 2.0 tools enable an enterprise to easily and cost effectively tap the collective intelligence of its people.
Leading the Way
There are many ways you can start to build a fitness program that welcomes innovation and gets the most out of the potentially boundless ideas of their employees. Armed with insights from the survey, you can target your interventions toward areas offering the greatest impact. The goal is to use the survey results to develop a game plan that ensures your workforce is fundamentally fit for the future—resilient, adaptive, inspiring and accountable. We have found successful leaders boost the innovation potential of their enterprise by inspiring others about what is possible; ensuring the importance of innovation is recognized by all; and by creating what may at first sound like an impossible paradox – establishing a discipline of innovation. These leaders strategically and systematically build this discipline through a unique mix of resources, processes, tools, and values that allow everyone to contribute, while making it hard for rivals to match. People at all levels are expected to follow the leader’s example and embrace an innovative mindset and master the skills required to achieve the highest levels of innovation fitness.
The benefits of being fit
Enterprises that have established a high level of innovation fitness benefit from having everyone, everywhere, take responsibility for innovation everyday – whether as an Idea generator, mentor, sponsor, facilitator or team member. These organizations enjoy numerous advantages:
- An infinite source of high potential ideas
- Speed and agility of implementation
- Continuous performance improvement
- Delighted and loyal customers
- Employee engagement and satisfaction
The last bullet should not be overlooked. Innovation offers a powerful vehicle for engaging employees. Being invited to share your creativity and contribute ideas builds ownership, satisfaction, and loyalty. Few things are more motivating to employees than seeing their ideas get realized. It is a win-win proposition. The organization gets valuable ideas from employees who feel valued.