How to unlock innovation in the age of co-creation

Mike Sewart
By , - Enabling Digital

Yesterday we opened the doors of the InterContinental London hotel to close to a thousand tech and business minds, all in the name of what I genuinely believe was our best ever Fujitsu World Tour.

The theme this year was co-creation – the idea that no business, no matter how brilliant, can take on the challenges of the future alone. To be truly innovative in the digital age, we must join forces with others.

And in between taking in all the fantastic technology and trying to eat our ice creams before they disappeared in the 30-degree heat, there were plenty of ideas to be inspired by.

Here are some of the insights that stood out to me…

An old approach, accelerated by digital

The first thing to note about co-creation is that in itself it’s nothing new.

As Dr Joseph Reger put it in his opening keynote:

“Co-creation is 15-year-old terminology. But now the rise of digital makes it hugely different from what it used to be.”

And that now-prevalent digital element is key here. It’s not just that companies won’t survive if they try to go it alone – they simply won’t be able to get the most out of the opportunities digital brings without seeking new partnerships.

Dr Reger touched upon this theme in our Facebook Live debate with Josh Valman.

“Technology companies work with customers because there’s no way we could understand every one of our customers in every one of our segments.

“So the business and sector knowledge comes from those customers, while companies like Fujitsu open up the possibilities that digital technology can provide.”

This is the essence of co-creation in the digital age: partnering with companies that perhaps didn’t always have digital at the heart of what they do, but can now benefit hugely from it.

Josh seemed to echo those thoughts:

“It’s not about fully understanding every single business – it’s about using tools like digital to unlock the possibility within those businesses and change the way they communicate.”

Stop viewing failure as failure

An oxymoron of a subheading, you might be thinking. But hear me out…

Innovation in the digital age categorically relies upon failing, not just once or twice but multiple times. Too many to count. This is the message Josh was keen to get across in his closing keynote.

Innovation, he argued, is the process of executing on new ideas. Finding out what does and doesn’t work. “If you can unlock the power of trialling and experimenting,” he said, “how far and fast could the world start to move?”

But companies have historically been held back by risk aversion – something deeply ingrained into firms from the pre-digital age. This fear of risk or ‘failure’, Josh argued, simply doesn’t work today.

“People think: if in 999 out of 1,000 cases I’m going to be wasting my money, is it really worth it?”

“But you can’t think like that anymore. If it still took five years to get something to market then fine, but it’s much faster than that now.”

View innovation as a pipeline

“When you start to talk about innovation and prototyping, you often get the CFO coming in saying ‘no, don’t do that.’”

The reason for this, Josh argued, is that people look at innovation in terms of getting from point A to point B and all the work and investment required to get there.

Then what if it fails? People aren’t willing to take that risk. Instead, he suggests people should view innovation in the same way as a sales pipeline.

“As you go through these stages you create barrier points, and you have a conversion rate. X% of ideas will become live projects that provide some kind of return on your investment.”

“And when you do that you start to understand failure is part of the critical path. You stop thinking of failure of a project as failure overall, and instead see the failure of each prototype as part of that process of getting to market.”

Empower everyone to experiment

When talking about how to unlock innovation in your own organisation, Josh argued there’s a misconception that innovation always need to be brought into the business.

“Whether you’ve got 10 or 10,000 employees,” he said, “all of those people own the potential for the future of your business. The key to innovation is how you build systems that unlock that potential.”

Dr Reger talked about the way things have changed over the years, with start-up culture beginning to bleed into corporate life.

“There’s much less formality. Much less hierarchy. It’s a vibrant environment where people are appreciated for their ideas rather than their position in the company.”

As a result it has become much easier to unlock innovation in your business, he argued.

Josh backed up this view, but he said success relies upon making people feel like they can innovate. “It’s about creating permission,” he said.

You can’t necessarily change the way 50,000 people work, but what you can do is create pockets of change. “You can almost volunteer small areas where they’re allowed to get it wrong and we can shout about it.”

“Then you start to create permission and you begin to see these things happening around you. You create a mass effect rather than bringing it down from the top.”

He added:

“People want to feel empowered. They want to create an impact, wherever they sit within the chain. The key is how you unlock that and give them permission to do it, because the motivation is there.”

Josh Valman’s four steps to innovation

At the end of his closing keynote talk, Josh walked us through four key steps to making innovation happen that I thought were worth sharing here.

Some of them I’ve covered in more detail above, but here they are:

  1. Empower employees by defining exactly how contribution works
  2. Create an environment that suits the necessary failure of innovation
  3. Build feedback systems into everything you test
  4. Find ways to validate, restricting backlash from ‘work in progress’

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Hopefully there’s plenty to get you thinking there. Almost all companies have the power to innovate – you just need to work out how to unlock that empowerment from within and then partner with organisations that can increase your possibilities.

I hope you all enjoyed the day as much as I did, and be sure to check out our full Facebook Live debate below:

 

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