Innovation Officers with a range of tools to help managers at the coal-face in delivering innovations

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Corporate have tended to look for their innovations more to acquisitions of early-stage businesses than to internal developments, perhaps because of the difficulty of the latter; but Innovation Officers are evidently developing their tool boxes and shifting their targets to achieve greater success.
Evidence has for some time been indicating that Innovation is the top objective for organisations and their CEOs, but what they are doing about it is less evident. Appointing an Innovation Officer is one such response, so it was interesting for me to be a fly on the wall at a recent conference of Chief Innovation Officers (run, rather surprisingly, in a deeply old-fashioned style!)
Such people often faced the impossible option of either attempting to change the entire culture of the organisation – a vital but entirely impossible job without the total commitment of the CEO, or of diverting funds towards developing new products, a task likely to be killed by the existing divisional Barons. So it was a dead-end job.
Many of the conference presentations demonstrated a range of other roles – including the support of those Barons in terms of their own objectives – helping them to achieve outcomes that would deliver their bonuses. One of them: delivering a process that would elicit new ideas; another the use of an online facility to aggregate questions and knowledge on current issues; another the bringing together of groups of people (from both inside and outside the organisation) to identify and wrestle with issues and deliver solutions; and another to help the Barons to enhance their existing services, especially with new perceptions, new ideas, new skills and new kinds of support.
Yet another was that of Tesco Lab’s dozen or so members, with their 6-week projects. It has a number of strings to its bow, including new products, product design and development, open innovation, hackathons and supplier workshops, and even culture change. It relies on delivering new products that would clearly benefit the entire business, like a mobile app that enabled all staff to interrogate stock levels, locations, delivery expectations etc; and another (fascinating) gadget – a pair of google specs with which the wearer could read the barcodes of items running short, and re-order them for subsequent delivery.
One outstanding address was that of Lee Burton, Director of Innovation at Stanford’s School of Engineering, who presented a comparison of the culture of Silicon Valley with that of European businesses, highlighting the latter’s key ‘missing catalysts’. While Europe’s economies are supported on science-based cultures, Silicon Valley’s is an innovation-based culture – and in its economy ‘culture eats strategy for breakfast!’ Comments from the floor countered that Europe has to develop its own particular approach to innovation culture. Speakers suggested that innovation units were busily growing, and Lee Burton reflected on the time it takes (maybe three years) for units like Tesco Lab to move from ‘push to pull’ – from pushing their ideas into the organisation to the organisation seeking to pull out ideas from the unit.
A small number of corporates have tasted the concept of the Accelerator (short, intensive programmes designed to help a small number of teams with fulsome support to develop their ideas for a new business into marketable propositions), but only Telefonica has done so wholeheartedly, establishing its own Accelerators in around a dozen countries – apparently with success in terms of new products for itself.
However, there has been a feeling that such Accelerators (as those of Johnson & Johnson, Banco Sabadell, Barclays, John Lewis et al) will be less attractive to startups because if their venture does not receive further funding from the corporate, the sponsor’s subsequent support will be indifferent, whereas the likes of Techstars Europe and Startupbootcamp rely on their reputations for launching as many new businesses as possible from each cohort of startups.
Accelerators supported by clusters such as Fintech Lab London for the banking industry have been more attractive – to SMEs from all over the world, but while the Fintech world is beset with rapid change (not least from Apple), in this field before they are adopted new products require a great deal of testing – not least for reliability and security, and across the entire organisation.

John Whatmore
October 2014

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A Workshop on Accelerators and Incubators in BioScience

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BioCity’s new model Accelerator is one of several new-style initiatives in collaborative enterprise to be presented at the Workshop to be held at BioCity, Newhouse, Lanark on 9 October.

These initiatives vary in duration, in their focus, and in their themes, but all of them aim to provide intensive support so as to enhance the development process of early-stage ventures.

To register, go to https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/accelerator-workshop-2014-tickets-12460051349

Incubation in Science and Technology
Thursday 9 October, BioCity, Newhouse, Lanark

AGENDA
8.30 Register
9.00 Chairman’s introduction
9.20 Who are we, and what do we want to get out of to-day.
10.00 Successful crafters of development programmes, Accelerace, Denmark, on the essentials.
11.00 Coffee
11.30 John Whatmore, the Centre for Leadership in Creativity chairs
a panel of experts discussing their initiatives:
* Entrepreneurial-Spark/the Saltire Foundation
* IDEASpace, Abertay, and the National Virtual Incubator
* Healthbox, London and Chicago
* Scottish Enterprise
* Stevenage Bioscience Catalyst
12.15Toby Reid on BioCity’s new form of the Accelerator concept
1.15 Buffet lunch
2.15 Crafting ‘Hatcheries’ Discussions in break-out groups: your experience, your problems,
your plans and progress.
3.15 Tea
3.30 Discussions continue.
4.15 Plenary session: groups report on their discussions.
4.45 What is the Future of Innovation Communities in Science and Technology:
Dr David Hardman MBE, CEO UK Science Parks Association.
5.30 Finish.

An Accelerator Workshop

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Accelerators – a Discussion Forum                                                                          under Chatham House Rules                                                                               Wednesday,18 June, 2014                                                                                                    at IDEALondon, 69 Wilson Street, London EC2A 2BB

An opportunity to meet up with people involved with early-stage projects – Incubators, Science Parks, Enterprise programmes and Accelerators – to learn about and discuss the experience of those involved with Accelerators.

At IDEALondon, UCL’s new incubator in Tech City (where we will have a tour), two Accelerator leaders and a mentor/investor will tell us about their experience; we will discuss problems and opportunities – in problem-solving mode – and what makes for a successful Accelerator; and a Guru will offer us a picture of what Accelerators might be like in 2020.

To book a place, see below.

AGENDA

9.30 Coffee and registration.

10.00 Introductions: John Whatmore.                                                                         Participants: your role and your interests in Accelerators?

10.30 Jessica Stacey, joint author (with Paul Miller – see below) of Nesta’s recent report Good Incubation, will give a quick overview of the different applications and approaches of Accelerators that we are seeing; and the opportunities they present.

11.15 Coffee

11.35 Paul Miller, Bethnal Green Ventures (and joint author of Nesta’s report Good Incubation, and of Nesta’s earlier report, The Startup Factories), will join Simon Jenner, Oxygen Accelerator, and Stuart Hillston, a multiple mentor and investor, to discuss the best and the worst of their experiences – on topics such as: recruiting good candidates, delivering an effective programme, mentors and mentoring, relationships with funders, and setting up and running an Accelerator.

12.45 Buffet lunch followed by a short tour of UCL’s Incubator

2.00 Kate Stuart-Cox, an expert facilitator in problem-solving will discuss with us ways in which aspiring entrepreneurs (and others involved) might be helped to solve problems.

2.30 Group discussions: what in your experience is best about Accelerators; and what are the downsides.

3.15 Tea

3.30 Group discussions continue: what are your plans for the future (changes, developments, innovations); and what is holding you up?

4.00 Groups report back to a full session.

4.30 Final session: Nektarios Liollios, CEO of Startupbootcamp Fintech, just launching here in London, has run Accelerators in a number of cities throughout the world, and is a leading expert on them. He will speculate about the future of Accelerators: might they become the universal approach to generating innovation; and if so, who will lead their adoption; and how might they differ in different circumstances?

5.00 Finish

Cost: £245+VAT = £294.To reserve a place, (places will be limited)e-mail john.whatmore@btinternet.com. Your place will be confirmed on receipt of payment – either by cheque to the Centre for Leadership in Creativity,

138 Iffley Road, London W6 0PE, or by bank transfer to the Centre’s bank, HSBC, sort code 40-03-21, account no 62065010.

Are Forecasts (like Alice in Wonderland) just one’s beliefs?

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Often just a bit of dreaming, but research shows that there are indeed experts in fore-casting. Maybe our judgements are clouded by what we happen to believe will influence those futures about which we are mere spectators.

It is of course the time for forecasts. The New York Times keeps us amused with some nice simple trends for 2014, such as that Kellogg’s will unveil a new breakfast cereal called Cholester-Os, ‘a tasty blend of sugar, oats and Lipitor, providing 90% of the new recommended daily dose of Statins.’ And that ‘a new book “Killing Conversation” becomes the first title delivered by Amazon’s fleet of drones. The recipient is unharmed, but three Pakistani civilians at a wedding are injured in the delivery.’ The Economist’s ‘World in 2014’ reports, deadpan, that in January the UN starts an international year of crystallography, of family farming and of small-island developing states.

The Economist goes on to forecast a year of political shocks  (national polls will be held in countries with about 40% of the world’s population, and governments are unpopular) and economic shifts (America, Japan and even Europe will all be growing, but emerging markets will look less dynamic; and American business will have some-thing of its old swagger.) The Economist also comments on its previous successes and failures in forecasting in its publication ‘The World in 2013’, as it does on a heavy-weight tournament for forecasters – which reveals support for the idea that there is indeed a small number of ‘super forecasters’. Not only are they identifiable, but they also improve with time; and when they were randomly assigned to ‘elite’ teams, they substantially outperformed the ‘wisdom-of-overall-crowd’, as they did competitor institutions and two prediction markets.

Nesta’s recent work  (‘A modest defence of Futurology’) revives the old truism that it depends on who is doing the asking (and so who they ask). If it is those in power, in the UK they will be asking about Salmond, Farage, energy, health and wealth (and bankers). If it is experts, it may be about the future of the Eight Great Technologies – and more besides. If it is the authors of Doctor Who and their ilk, it will be about the possibilities of IT (uses and even abuses) and of space and time travel. And, more simply, if it is you and I, it will be about how we react to the problems we are foreseeing – a valuable source of Behavioural Economic theory. Nesta’s 14 Predictions for 2014 (http://www.nesta.org.uk/news/14-predictions-2014) are drawn from Nesta’s wide expertise. Some are significant trends, some great prospects, some simply great wishes, and some radical tipping points – a mind-popping read (though difficult to navigate).

With similar short-term spectacles, all the pundits foresee economic growth for the UK (but few if any investment advisers are worth following). We can be sure that the Press will become ever more strident in their use of outrage – hype, imagination and innuendo – in their attempts to keep our attention and retain their flagging sales. It is extremely unlikely that our politicians will do anything that might shake our votes, like attempting to tackle long-term issues (new airport, new rail lines, new sources of energy), or the creaking tensions in representative democracy – especially the lack of experience and expertise in our representatives – what AA Gill described as ‘the great wish fulfilment of egalitarian socialism that wilfully believes [that] ten idiots will add up to one wise man by some democratic magic’; or the widening gap between the rich and the poor. (Greed, hypocracy and sharp practice seem more widespread, or am I just swallowing what the Press is telling me!) And we can be sure that mobile technology will continue to become more ubiquitous, though there are increasing doubts about the future of social media; reflection and conversation are forecast to be in for a revival (says The Economist) – and it is distant contacts that are surprisingly useful suggests Tim Harford, the Undercover Economist; people close to you tell you what you already know. (FT Dec 21/22).

However, as one Army Officer recently suggested, ‘if you plan too much, you get confused. It is better not to plan, that way you surprise yourself, but more importantly, you surprise the enemy!’ There are also two things about the head-long rush to innovate that worry me: being invited to possess ‘unmissable’ things that may have slight value but no great benefit (eg a new model of golf club or an app for finding coffee shops in Soho); and web material that seems so often to be ‘in beta’ ie doesn’t work properly yet, and may in any case very soon be out of date. (Stick to that bottle of aged whisky!) So why, you might well ask, do I write so much about processes of intensive development such as Accelerators? Answer: because I believe that they have a big future!

Innovation in the UK badly needs ‘pull’ as well as ‘push’

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Innovation in the UK has suffered a short-term decline in expenditure. In continuing to attach high priority to innovation CEOs have evidently been distracted by the need for fire-fighting. While Nesta and the TSB seek to chart the paths forward for innovation, CEOs need to provide support, as does the Association of Managers of Innovation in the US in its own valuable way (1), for the embattled members of their staff whose job it is to build innovation into their organisations. (Join our Autumn Seminar for leaders of innovation – see below.)

 

It is widely reported that most CEOs now see Innovation as their top priority, but there are few signs of this. Nesta reports that investment in innovation in the UK has fallen sharply since 2008; and that investment in fixed assets fell and became increasingly dominated by bricks and mortar at the expense of technology. Geoff Mulgan, Nesta’s CEO, has observed that Research & Development has been declining in productivity, (though expenditure on innovation may be ten times that on R&D), and that the innovation spend has been increasingly oriented to social and public services and user innovation.

CEOs have evidently been fire-fighting rather than focusing on innovation; and where corporate responsibility for innovation is delegated to others, those people find themselves ill-supported, with fragile budgets and in constant competition with those running existing parts of the business.

Innovation has been led by the rapid evolution of communications technology, and in the process it would seem to have left the development of applications of those technologies languishing in its wake. In rating Innovation as their top priority, CEOs evidently expect the rate of change they see around them to generate rising demand for innovation. So how do we re-ignite innovation?

The two main instruments of innovation in the UK have been Nesta and the Technology Strategy Board, each working in rather different ways on different aspects of innovation. Nesta, now a charity, is almost exclusively a research organisation, working on policy more than on practice (with some exceptions, especially its leading-edge work on Accelerators), and working mainly in the field of social and public services.

The TSB’s main role, with funds several times those of Nesta (on which it has calculated that there is a handsome return), aims to seed technological innovation in areas of potential economic advantage to the UK, which it does through competitions, grants and the funding of organisations (the Research Councils, KTPs, the KTNs and the Catapults) on specific technologies and initiatives.

Both organisations are essentially about ‘push’ rather than ‘pull’, about identifying the future rather than about encouraging the various elements of the economy to adopt leading-edge practice. Neither seeks to raise the level of innovation practice among individuals and organisations up and down the country.

The Association of Managers of Innovation in the US is at the opposite end of that spectrum. Its objective is to provide a forum in which practitioners can learn from each other’s experience. Its members are leaders of innovation in organisations, whom it supports with e-distributed information and communications, educational programmes, member interactions and personal support; and it brings its members together in twice yearly meetings held throughout the US. As it moves into its fourth decade, Stan Gryskiewicz who founded it when he was at The Centre for Creative Leadership in Greensboro, has been reflecting on its processes.

Two vital principles of the AMI community are:

1. Dialogue of differences – the valuing of and seeking of cross generational, cross disciplinary, and cross industry dialogue; and the unique perspectives this dialogue engenders, and

2. Reciprocity – as a way to facilitate learning, members share with each other their experiences of managing innovation – both their current problems and opportunities and their successes and failures.

A global association of the world’s leading social entrepreneurs, called Ashoka provides a useful model for the AMI learning community’s meeting process: it seeks to build communities of innovators who work collectively to transform society – by bringing people together who are not typically gathered; by breaking down the walls between them; and by engaging ‘applied empathy’ when contemplating change – meaning that the agent of change must comprehend and be guided by how their action will impact everyone around them and into the future.

In the UK, while Nesta and the TSB work to identify and pioneer leading-edge practice, leaders of innovation often function in desperate isolation, when engaging with others – especially with those who are in a similar situation but different context – might be both valuable and stimulating. Turning ideas into innovation and research into practice might benefit from the principles and aspirations of AMI in the US.

 

(1)  http://www.aminnovation.org

 

We are holding a Seminar in the Autumn for leaders of innovation – to provide opportunities for them to exchange experience (under Chatham House Rules) and to learn from each other’s strategies and tactics, and successes and failures – typically about initiatives, budgets and support.

For more information, contact me at john.whatmore@btinternet.com