When Frank Gehry was designing the Disney Concert Hall, he considered how the building would interact with the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion adjacent and adjusted the design accordingly. I recently came across a comment in the Financial Times in an article by Ron Adner that cemented the sentiment behind this in my mind. It’s not enough to simply manage your innovation, you must manage your ‘innovation ecosystem’ also. Essentially it’s all to easy to focus on the outcome of what you are trying to produce and forget to consider how it interacts with people and the world around it.
In his book, Ron Adner examines this phenomenon that causes many companies to fail “because they focus too intensely on their own innovations, and then neglect the innovation ecosystems on which their success depends.” This single minded execution focus is inward looking, involving the standard processes of linking strategy and operations, bringing teams together, looking at competitors and their value propositions. It is seen as good business practice, which it is, however it can create a blind spot that hides key dependencies that are equally important in determining success or failure. As technology causes our world to become increasingly connected and interdependent, this problem becomes exacerbated. For example with much of the marketing content we produce we now need to consider, how will people be viewing the content, where will they be, how will they share it, who will they share it with and most importantly how will they know it is there.
Obviously completing the project is still the core focus however Ron Adner suggests two other areas to consider to help take a broader view of the innovation ecosystem. Firstly, consider who else may need to innovate to activate your product. This has two sides, one the business side, in terms of production and delivery of the product and two, the consumer side in terms of using the product. For example with mobile advertising, to truly make the most of what you are creating you may require significant smart phone penetration or upgrades in mobile phone handsets. Secondly look at who else needs to adopt the product to deliver it to the end user, who do you need to sell it in to and who needs to support it to deliver it to market. This naturally has more of a business focus, however with many digital innovations these days, there is an element of connectivity and sharing, which may mean you require a critical mass of a few key influencers adopting the product before its value is fully realised.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of execution focus, especially when we are faced with tight deadlines. However I think the take out here is that, taking a moment to consider a broader view and looking at the entire ecosystem rather than simply what needs to be done to complete the project may change how you approach things. It may change how you choose to bring it to market or what you prioritise in terms of the product features. It may even help you to identify new opportunities or threats and adjust how you measure the success of the project. This isn’t a new idea, but it’s one that’s important to remind ourselves of.