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How do we identify the "invisible patterns" right under our nose?

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Many organizations are spending a fortune to help predict the future for them and their surroundings. Having a competitive position and sustainable growth requires such investments. As obvious as this seems, in our innovation work at The DeSai Group, we find most organizations lack the art and the discipline to do this well. Most organizations rely on expensive research from outside, or rely on a more recent trend such as “Voice of The Customer” to help predict the future. Most organizations follow the same basic research and analytical resources (such as McKenzie, or Gartner Group, or IDC, etc.) as if that was the only truth to the future. I am not saying these resources and the reports they generate are of no value - on the contrary. They have value, but it is not enough. In fact, it might create negative patterns and limit your window to the future. Most leaders have relegated the tough task of predicting the future to someone else. That is poor leadership. That is not being innovative and lacks true sponsorship for innovation.

Let me take a seemingly trivial example. I’ve been going to a health club since 1985 and was an avid tennis player before that - until I had few operations on my left knee about ten years ago. I remember jogging to stay fit back then, as I still do today. Back then, it seemed that I was mostly alone when jogging. Today if you go to a health club, a local jogging track, Hyde Park in London, or The Jogger’s Park in Mumbai, you could run into a stampede. Trivial, but not so if you are Nike. Today, running shoe category is one of the fastest growth line in the shoe business.

Reflecting on my experience, this signal was about a change in values and attitudes. This is a startling reality and an eye-opener for me. I asked myself, how come I didn’t see this inner-shift in people’s value system sooner? Not only do we have trouble forecasting economic and political change like the oil crisis, but we also treat values and attitudes as if they never change.

Therefore, the $64,000 question is “What is invisible that is invisible?” How many of these patterns are around us today that cannot be seen and are unknown, but right under our nose? How do we identify them before they reach the center of the bell curve, where it ultimately lands on a Commodity Island?

Innovation Prompt #1: How can you and your organization bring early attention to weak signals – weak signals that are about to double in frequency and amplitude, before someone else in your industry does? At The DeSai Group, we call this developing “Deep Insights”. Deep Insights can reveal knowledge that can build differentiated innovation platforms – group of ideas that can either grow the top-line or improve efficiencies. Deep Insights can also reveal potentially disastrous situations to avoid as well. There are disciplined tools and methods, just like any other process, to help you see these unknown patterns – right under your nose!

Innovation Prompt#2: Other strategic question to explore is “What is known now that was previously unknown? Thus, trying to uncover concepts and descriptors, as in this case, “values, beliefs, assumptions, and attitudes”. How are values created? What are the difference between individual’s values, organizational values, societal values, human values, and moral values? How are these related? How are they created? What impacts changes to individual values within your constituencies – leaders, employees, customers, and other stakeholders? To what extent do they change or stay the same? What are their effects on our dynamic and evolving future? How do they link to the new climate and culture you want to build for your organization?

Got ideas or a Deep Insight? Let’s Talk.


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Three Lanes on the Road to Innovation

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In our experience at The DeSai Group, we have discovered three critical lanes on the highway of innovation. If you maneuver correctly across all three lanes, managing your navigation, the car, and the environment, you will succeed in your journey.

If you decide to manage the journey in an informal way, without clear intent on your destination, health of the automobile, or taking the environmental factors for granted, the risks of failure will increase.

If you decide to manage the journey, as you go along, you will ge there, just not fast enough or in the most efficient way possible.

The three lanes on the journey are: Alignment, Insights, and Mobilization.

First is "Alignment". In this lane, the business must specify, clarify and commit to specific innovation vision and mission that will help achieve pre-defined business value – your target destination.

Alignment is about strategically sponsoring, aligning, monitoring, and supporting all innovation activities at every level of the business structure. If properly executed and adjusted as the organization matures, result will be climate and culture of innovation for long-term sustainable business growth.

Second lane is called "Insights". In this lane, the company builds collection of ideas and knowledge, connected or not to each other, for potential implementation. Insights is about analyzing and understanding your efforts to innovate, including the people involved, the processes used and the outcomes achieved. To gain insight into projects, market positioning and corporate performance, you can view Gantt charts, two-by-two matrices and balanced scorecards, respectively. Like these other forms of business insights, Innovation Insight depends on finding (sometimes through visualization and highly diverse breakdown exercises) new knowledge that leads to practical ideas for consideration. What arises from Insights are "Innovation Platforms" and "Fresh Ideas". This helps managers see the state of current initiatives and to tweak and tune those efforts, along with discovery new and novel.

Finally, the last lane on the journey is called "Mobilize". In this lane, it is all about strategic innovation execution. Mobilize is set of processes, methods, tools, and structures that will allow employees and managers (in informed way) to operationalize ideas for implementation/venturing.

It is critical to know that, all three lanes are always at work. The leaders must integrate all three lanes across the portfolio of innovation activities – we call this Strategy-Driven Innovation.

As your organization builds the innovation muscle and the innovation-engine continues to grow, you will need to adjust the integration points as part of the overall business planning conversations and activities at the top.

Would love to here your thoughts as well. 

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CEO Talk: Relationship between Innovation and Innovators

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As a 25 year veteran in business and being an entrepreneur (I started our first family business with my father in 1983 – last year of my college at University of Connecticut), I have always wondered why so many businesses fail and disappear, and why others succeed. Same is true about thousands of people that I have met – how do some people make lot of money (anything they touch seems to turn into Gold), while others always suck-up more resources and generate very little value (ROI, wealth, brand, reputation, etc.).

I have now concluded that some people are “wired” to make money, and others are just not.

To take it further, I think real definition of "innovator" is those who generate value more then they consume resources - simple. Not only once, but almost every single time at bat.

So, as a CEO, if you are committed to innovation as the instrument of choice to help you create a sustainable growth (and profit) engine, put real “innovators” in charge of innovation in your organization. Probability of success will be very high. And your risk will decrease.

Additionally, make sure you are clear on these critical questions as well, before you invest into innovation programs and infrastructure expenses:

  1. How can your organization improve the probability to enhance your organization’s financial performance – particularly relative to that of competing organizations?
  2. Do you know if your team can generate real wealth – high value using minimal resources?
  3. Do you have the right team makeup you need to create value and wealth – based on your organizations’ current life-cycle situation?
  4. Within your team:
    • Do you know who will utilize the most resources and who will utilize the least? 
    • Who will generate the most value and who will deliver the least? 
    • Who may have the required mental agility and who will need a lot of help?

By answering these questions, you will be able to optimize and direct innovation correctly. 

Innovation is the responsibility of the Top-Team. Do not relegate it off to Product Development, or Human Resources, or R&D. Those tactics don’t work anymore alone. More about this issue, later…


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Primary role of innovation is to grow revenue - period.

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It is not a surprise that revenue growth is the primary driver of shareholder value and the number one challenge for every business sector around the world. Yet today, growth objectives for most industries are tempered by a continuing focus on cost containment.

For U.S. companies, after tremendous focus on "optimizing the bottom line" and losing the competitive edge to other parts of the world, it is time to reclaim the innovation edge. Only way to achieve this, is to point innovation activities to growing the Top-Line (revenue).

Revenue doesn't mean focus on product development alone. That isn't the sole answer either. For example, financial institutions looking for a competitive edge generally focus on product innovation, but most have little sustainable competitive advantage. Many new products never generate a profit. And those that do are often quickly copied by the competition – negating any long-term advantage. The result? Massive investment in product development, without a commensurate improvement in market share.

To achieve sustainable growth, companies must better integrate product innovation with process and service innovation – finding new ways to improve efficiency and customer service. That’s the kind of innovation customers want. And it’s the kind of innovation your competitors will find hard to duplicate. Yet some financial services companies have focused on product innovation for so long they don’t know how to innovate any other way.

Transforming a company into an innovative enterprise is a major challenge that generally requires new strategies, new tools and new behaviors – as well as a dedicated process for nurturing and commercializing good ideas. That deep commitment to innovation is the surest way to achieve meaningful and lasting differentiation.

Institutions with broad-based innovation capabilities enjoy higher customer satisfaction, greater loyalty, faster revenue growth, stronger earnings, and ultimately, dramatic lifts in investor returns.

Do you agree?

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