An “outside-in” customer-centric approach is a systematic way to drive sustainable innovation. Customer value creation is the key to success. Gaining situational awareness is mandatory when embarking on new ventures and innovation trajectories.
If you want to know how the lion is hunting, do not go to the zoo, go to the Savanna — David Gram
Besides crunching data, innovators need to get out of the office and listen to customers. It helps organisations understand customers’ evolving needs in their fast-moving business environment. Map daily routines, recurring challenges and the most important frustrations. These often lead to opportunities for improvement or even radical change.
This week I spent valuable time with the users we have in mind when building DataScouts. Cluster managers, innovation managers and business developers are market and ecosystem analysts. They are experts in their domain. They tap into an impressive network and they have built an extensive knowledge base. They scout and qualify innovation opportunities. They measure impact along the value chain of innovation.
1. Open Innovation
The journey started on in London at Huckletree West. We met alessio dantino and Max Leveau, the co-founders of Forward Fooding in a lively co-working hub in one of the most vibrant tech hotspots in Europe. They find themselves surrounded by (food)tech startups, innovative restaurants and food shops. The ForwardFooding team is on a mission to spark open innovation in the food industry.
ForwardFooding tracks and connects the AgriFoodTech players of the global ecosystem. This includes startup and scale-up companies, international accelerators and incubators. But they also include investment funds and private investors. ForwardFooding provides valuable trends, market insights and enabling connections.
2. Corporate Innovation
Next, I had a deep dive session in Helsinki at the Innov8rs conference. Innov8rs is a glocal community of corporate innovators. They invited a diverse group of innovators sharing the passion to make shift happen.
The key note speakers discussed 4 crucial success aspects for corporate innovators:
- how to stay motivated and win in a hyper-complex & hyper-connected business context
- how to use sustainability to build more value for customers and doing the right things with less resources.
- why innovation needs diplomatic rebels to fight the immune system of an organization
- what it takes to scale up corporate startups
Field practitioners shared their best practices and underlined that corporate innovation requires mastery
- to observe, analyse and understand history, trends, customers, stakeholders
- to be humble and make other people in the organisation shine
- to hack the corporate culture and overcome resistance
- to spur experimentation and to enable continuous learning
- to be resilient and show tangible business results
Corporate innovators are not outsiders, who play (serious) games, run around in jeans and sneakers and work in fancy co-working spaces. They are accountable for generating business impact. Innovation Managers have to realise tangible business growth and drive transformation at the same time. Organisations need to become more and more ambidextrous. They need to run their core business in the most efficient way and at the same time invest in radical change.
Many organisations suffer from innovation fatigue. Most corporates burn money instead of generating new revenue from innovation. 7 out of 8 corporate startups fail and will never generate any business impact.
Tendayi Viki urges innovation managers to lead the change. They need to bring innovation to the next level, install the right tools and invest in a professional process. It is imperative to make innovation a legitimate part of how a company does business. Innovation is about running an entire business instead of being a side-game. Innovation Managers need to find internal allies and build partnerships. They should invest in building their internal innovation community. By doing so, they create a space for innovation in strategy, in budgets, in the org chart and in operations.
Whether corporates need to innovate is no longer a question. The challenge is how to innovate in an authentic way.
3. Urban Innovation
After emerging from the reality of corporate innovators, I continued my journey at Urban Mill. Urban Mill is a co-working and co-creation Platform for Urban Innovations in Espoo, Finland. Kari Mikkela shared the fascinating story of Espoo Innovation Garden. This is the biggest innovation hub in the Northern Europe. It offers the fertile ground for a hyper-connected ecosystem that breathes open innovation in the purest sense.
Urban Mill Innovation Platform stands on 4 key pillars
- a community of passionate pioneering developers and early adopters of innovations. Eager to co-learn, co-design and co-deploy.
- a platform combining physical and digital spaces. Ideal for promoting, testing, developing and exhibiting new solutions which support urban life.
- an ecosystem node connected to a wide range of local players and global networks. This helps in bridging complementary thematic expertise
- a global hub engaging with actors from around the world. This facilitates co-creating solutions and share learnings about wicked urban challenges
Rebels, pirates, crazy people
In all, I emerged 3 days in the world of our customers. It allowed me to understand better the daily challenges of innovation professionals. They are rebels, pirates, crazy people! They are passionate people who are committed to make shift happen. And they do this in a hyper-complex and hyper-connected world. They wake up every morning to fight the immune system of the organisations they cater for.
Even the most passionate, driven people full of energy risk to get frustrated or even burned-out. After all, they continue to swim against the tide. It is thus important to keep focus and make clear choices based on meaningful insights.
Sustainable innovation and transformation need investing in data, tools and process. Transforming organisations and building innovation ecosystems is a hard job. It is not a sprint but a marathon to validate, scale-up and shape a market.