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Two Frequently Overlooked Innovation Success Factors

In the quest to spur growth from new sources, corporations will inevitably dedicate resources to innovation initiatives. Whether innovation takes the form of tiger teams, innovation labs, cross-functional project teams, or consultant-led off-sites, efforts frequently fail to gain traction, particularly when attempting to integrate the innovative concepts back into the core business. Leadership, culture, strategy, or process shortcomings are often blamed, and rightfully so, for the failure of such efforts. However, success isn't guaranteed even with empowering leaders, inspiring culture, visionary strategy, or cutting-edge innovation processes.

Successful innovation involves improving your odds of success at every turn, but corporations often leave some of the most stubborn inhibitors unchecked. Addressing the following Two Frequently Overlooked Innovation Success Factors can make the difference between an innovative concept taking off or falling flat in your organization:

Technolog…

Reimagining Life Insurance: A Thought Experiment

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This article appeared at Insurance Thought Leadership, 1 Nov 2017

As 21st-century consumers, we are fully aware of the trends which shape and change the way we interact with the world. Although there are stark differences in the way, say, a Millennial interacts with the world from that of a Baby Boomer, the themes are the same. Digitalization, business model disruption, mobile technology, and process automation are some of the trends we have all become conditioned to. Advances in artificial intelligence, sensor technology, robotics, and genomics are some of the forces which are likely to shape our future environment. Perhaps due to regulatory hurdles, perhaps due to complexity in the sales and new business processing transaction, or perhaps due to the long-term nature of the policyholder-insurer relationship, the life insurance industry has remained somewhat insulated from these forces of change. Whereas other industries have been disrupted head-on by startups, much of the InsureTech tr…

Comfort With Self-Driving Cars

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With the news that Waymo, Google's former autonomous car project, is now allowing driverless cars to roam the streets of Chandler, AZ, without a safety driver on board, I am left to wonder what features will make people comfortable riding in the back seat of an autonomous vehicle?

At this point, autonomous cars are still equipped with steering wheels, pedals, dashboard features, even a driver's seat, which all serve no purpose other than to keep costs down. After all, purchasing a car with human-centered design features, today, is more expensive than purchasing a car without.

We can imagine a not-too-distant future, however, where cars are sold to fleet managers or even individuals that do not have driver-oriented design features. In that case, passengers can be seated anywhere in the vehicle, facing any direction.

I'm reminded of the movie Total Recall (the original, uncompromised, Arnold Schwarzenegger version), which featured the "Johnny Cab," an autonomous ri…

Articulate, Frame, Execute

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I recently had the opportunity to present at Lincoln StartUp Week in Lincoln, NE on the two primary failure modes of innovation efforts in corporations: Culture and Strategy.

The presentation featured a simple methodology for "overcoming the gravity of the status quo:"
Articulate the VisionFrame your ApproachExecute Many corporate innovation efforts fall flat due to inadequate attention paid to one, or two, or all three of these areas. This may be somewhat less of an issue in the case of innovation strategy, but seems to be a prominent issue with respect to culture.

Edwards Deming famously wrote: "Every system is perfectly designed to get the results it gets." The implications on innovation in a corporation is, quite simply, if you want to change the result, you must change the system. Failure to change the system may allow for temporary gains as the system is stressed to produce new results, but with an overwhelming inertia to persist with habits, business process…

A Primer on Exponential Technologies

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In May, I had the opportunity to present at the Front End of Innovation conference in Boston on the emergence of Exponential Technologies and the corresponding effects on corporations. Here is an overview of the discussion:

To simplify substantially, there are two primary traits of Exponential Technologies. First, the most defining characteristic is the pace of price halving and performance doubling (a.k.a. price-performance doubling) over a short period of time, often 12-24 months, and for an extended duration. During the early period of growth, small yet exponential changes are imperceptible. However, during later stages the changes seem unfathomable. A great example: The mobile phone in your pocket is now 1,000,000x cheaper and 1,000x faster than a supercomputer from the 1970s. It's a strong bet to think that no one in that era expected such drastic improvement so quickly. Second, Exponential Technologies all share the trait of having experienced a marked shift from scarcity to …

It's Time To End the Middle Manager Witch Hunt

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There's a commonly held notion among frustrated executives that "middle managers stifle innovation." After all, it's the obvious conclusion to draw when confronted with the following evidence:
The company has stated that "innovation is the priority," and has even featured it in strategic communicationsThe executives have all made innovation a big part of their departmental strategies, but...The pace or quality of innovation isn't matching executive team expectationsKey innovation projects are delayed or stalled despite having nimble, dedicated teams trying to push them throughAnd employee survey data shows conclusively that "managers do not support innovation." Given that overwhelming evidence it's easy for executive teams who have spoken tirelessly about the need to innovate to point the finger at the middle management layer: "If we have made it a priority, and if the front line employees are struggling, then it MUST be the middle man…

The Biggest Risk to an Organization

I've heard it said that organizations that were designed to succeed in the 20th century are doomed to fail in the 21st. Sure enough, in the past 20 years, disruption has altered the faces of many industries. No industry seems immune as we've seen hotels, taxis, movies, gaming, long distance calling, cameras, etc. all upended. Many of the affected companies knew where the source of disruption was coming from, but they lacked the focus, vision, agility, nimbleness, or decisiveness to get the job done themselves. 
Very few of the disrupted companies would claim that they failed to manage risk effectively. After all, they likely did not fall because of a lawsuit, operational blunder, or single financial misstep. Companies are successful due in large part to their ability to manage such risks. But the task of risk management seems to have changed faster than organizations could adapt. A mighty adversary has emerged that now threatens traditionally rock-solid companies, and many co…