Today organizations are faced with accelerating rates of scientific and technological change, which combine with global media and communication to ensure that fashions, ideas, products and services spread like wildfire.. and like it or not change cannot be turned off. Whilst there is no substitute for business competence, efficiency and cost control, the competitive environment involves businesses in a constant search for differentiation, a way of making themselves unique. That differentiation requires a stream of creative thought and action on many different fronts to produce sustainable advantage; in fact, we need a different approach to leading innovation and managing design.
This picture from TED2006 is a potent metaphor for the task of designing innovation networks in the new millenium. We have touched on the Italian innovation engines of growth previously and talked of how Li & Fung are the global orchestrators of [primarily] clothing development and supply networks. Hopefully we can extract something useful [actionable] from all this!
Firstly what did the accelerating rate of technological change mean for us?
What changes as the rate of technology change accelerates? What happens when I look back three years to see what it was like and then look forward 3 years to the prospect of what is coming.? Doing what I've always done doesn't seem like a reasonable option!
During the 1990's I noticed that my strategic understanding of the spread of new technology necessitated a change in the people I chatted with and shifted the places where I had those conversations -about the possibilities afforded by new design tools and technologies within the context of a regionalising and, later, globalising industry. At the beginning of the decade we were awaiting vendor updates at usergroup meetings usand travelled to the big CAD shows to see what the latest releases were; and what new introductions were being made, often by new companies. We had conversations based on what we understood the friction points were in our design processes and our ambitions for them (oil them, eliminate them, re-arrange them). By the mid-90's we were hosting meetings under non-disclosure agreements to play with the early releases of the latest software and feedback what we thought of it versus where we wanted to go. By the millenium we were visiting the vendor's research teams (and, importantly they visited us) to understand possibilities which we then factored into our technology foresight plan, based on what we thought our strategic needs were as the business evolved. I read something on the underlying trends and paradigm changes (note: there was a lot of talk about business paradigm shifting but this always seemed to be more like rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic) that seemed to be taking place around me. The changes in conversations seemed to reflect a change in the "rules" governing the conversations. The "going to the shows" phase seemed to reflect "Sarnoff's Law"- pushing information out increased its value as N, the number of recipients. The conversations about new and upcoming products seemed to reflect a value that increased as N²; i.e. the more conversations the better. But as we actively use social networking tools we can increase the value of those conversation exponentially 2 to the power N. This roughly equates with the three stages of organisational development going on over the same period (about six years) deciding what we should do(strategy) and teling people what their tasks will be; telling people what the strategy is and having one-to-ones to agree their contribution; and lastly getting together and having a strategy discovery session volunteering to do stuff and then doing it, sharing progress and accepting critical comment on the way.
So how do we design the networks to work in this way?
This model was created to enable change conversation to run more smoothly. It showed the need to have a greater awareness of societal megatrends and how these affected social and organisational trends leading to a deeper understanding of "where the world is heading". This foresight understanding will only be useful if it can be translated into insights about the "players", the real people and how their needs and wants will develop in response to the world around them. Couple this with an understanding of existing and future technologies enables a mix of people with wide range of skills, competences and points of view to co-generate creative ideas about products, services and experiences that future people will desire. Future people implies that there is a world for them and so sustainability issues are on the agenda. The generation of these creative ideas and their metamorphosis into concepts "with legs" requires a high degree of networking management to bring people together, expose their knowledge and ideas in a social environment that orchestrates robust interchanges and the creation of new knowledge that moves us forward towards a common goal. This is cosy agreement, the submergence of difference for the common good but healthy debate that allows new stuff to emerge that surprises the participants and leads to winning concepts. Tools that make ideas tangible to ensure a common visualisation are the catalysts of such conversations and the best ones are those that allow known social behaviours to be played out in new ways. The adoption and exploitation of these tools relies on three things: the creation, availability and adaptability of the tools; a cultural climate that allows "messing about" with the tools (and their outputs) and loosely coupled design processes that facilitates "messing about". To be meaningful such "messing about" needs to be externally oriented as well as involving the right people around the right visualisation at the right time. The top picture sums this up with the external world looking in on the team
Which could be quite a change from "where we are now"!