Have knowledge but forget the knowledge.
- See unexpected connections in things but not have a mental disorder.
- Work hard but spend time doing nothing.
- Create many ideas yet most of them are useless.
- Look at the same thing as everyone else, yet see something different.
- Desire success but learn how to fail.
- Be persistent but not stubborn.
- Listen to experts but know how to disregard them.
Coke’s new Freestyle vending machine offers a range of up to 125 different drinks and is expected to transform the business through its ability to gather vast amounts of customer data each day.
Coke was aware that the US consumer wanted more variety from Coke’s dispensers than it was providing but they could not foresee how much variety was being demanded.”We initially thought it might be 20 or 30 different drinks,” says Coca-Cola Freestyle general manager Gene Farrell. “The research came back and told us it was more like 100.”
This is a huge leap from traditional vending machines that usually offer half a dozen or so variants out of the 500 brands that Coca-Cola actually owns. “The same research told us that the customer didn’t want a bartender to serve them from behind a counter in a restaurant,” says Farrell. “They wanted to be able to mix their own drinks.”
Coke customers can put together their own drinks combinations using the machine, so if they want to, they can combine the eight flavours of Sprite available in the US, including bitter lemon citrus grapefruit, and lemon and lime. Coke also reacts to feedback. They noticed customers writing on Facebook that there were only two flavours of Coke Zero, so they added the full array of flavours.”
In developing the self-serve drinks mixer, Coca-Cola called in some external expertise in the fields of software, technology and design from the likes of Microsoft, Apple, Ferrari and BMW. That industry collaboration seemed to ensure the Freestyle’s success, according to Farrell. “Consumers love it. We’ve been in the market since 2010 now and we’re seeing double-digit increases in sales. Our restaurant customers are telling us that their Freestyle machines account for increases in traffic.”
Retail banks can no longer assume that the growth and returns that they once enjoyed will continue. Amid a host of banking competitors – including new market entrants, forward-thinking incumbents and non-banks – banks need to differentiate themselves in ways that are not easily copied. To restore confidence and realise strong future returns, banks must set the stage now.
Here are some stories from a few (five) years ago that illustrate potential innovations in banking (thank you to IBM’s Business Value Institute for this material). Some are with us today. What do you think banking will look like 5 years from now?
Samson lives in Soweto and works at one of the big factories near Johannesburg, South Africa. With Soweto’s high crime rate, he is pleased to make small payments free of charge from his account using his mobile phone. Samson can now keep less cash in his pocket, finally making banking affordable, safer and convenient for him.
Luis, in his San Diego office, reads with interest an e-mail from his online bank that shows him how to better manage his finances. It provides a series of steps he can take to improve his credit rating over the next four months, and outlines the potential savings on his outstanding loans and credit debt.
As he walks past a new electronics megastore in Bangalore, Anil receives on his mobile wallet a credit offer to buy a flat panel television. Interestingly the offer is from a U.S.-based bank taking advantage of the booming consumer credit market in India.
Heather, at home in London, is delighted that her bank finally lets her transact across different financial products – even different institutions – through the bank’s own portal. No need to visit multiple sites to check account balances or transfer money among institutions. And, it’s easy to optimize bonus points earned through her personalized loyalty program.
All of these people share one thing: their banks were giving them useful tools that were tailored to meet their particular needs. These futuristic scenarios demonstrate how retail banks can step beyond the expected; for example, by doing more than just improving the speed of existing processes and offerings.
Today, banks are pushing the limits of organic growth, and of growth via mergers and acquisitions. Increased competition and more discerning clients around the world mean it’s more important than ever to stand out in the marketplace. So, how can retail banks differentiate themselves and continue to grow?
To distinguish themselves, banks must look beyond new product introduction and spread accountability for innovation throughout the organization. Shareholder value will be created by those that nurture the capabilities that support ongoing innovation, not just within bank walls, but also by looking outside the institution for new ideas, including partnering opportunities.
The current recession is a problem. It is hurting businesses of all sizes in all sectors. The solution is innovation. Innovation can help you to cut costs, improve margins, retain customers, acquire new customers, gain market share and ultimately to survive. But when you are cutting costs and squeezing resources in all areas how can you find the people, time and money for innovation? Since experiments are not guaranteed to succeed it can look wasteful to fund large innovation projects.
Here are five tips to help you innovate on a budget:
- Tell people that you want their ideas. Tell your staff, tell your customers and tell your suppliers that you want ideas that will help streamline the business, improve service, cut costs or delight customers. Tell everyone! If you do not have an effective suggestions scheme then set one up. Listen to all suggestions with an open mind and evaluate them constructively.
- Allocate a budget for innovation. You do not get innovation for free. You must allocate time, people and money but you do not have to be extravagant. The most important thing is to give people some time and space to generate, evaluate, select and test Ideas. Google famously gives all employees one a day a week for this sort of activity. You do not have to be quite so generous – maybe one afternoon a month will work for you. However you do it you allow people to have ideas and experiment.
- Move quickly. Once you have selected a promising idea move rapidly to building a model that you can show to people. This might be built in Lego, it might be a series of sketches or a role play. Once you show it to selected customers or other stakeholders you can quickly get useful feedback and of course funding.
- Kill the losers. Set standards for innovations – e.g. Can we make money at this? Is there a real need? Can we make it work? Can we win with this? If the answers are negative then be prepared to cancel the project and move onto something else. Resources are limited and should only be devoted to potential winners. Be ruthless!
- Pinch other people’s ideas, we call this ‘creative swiping’. A low cost way to innovate is to copy ideas from other industries or other places and to try them in your business. What are they doing in other countries to solve this kind of problem? What can you use that is new to you but has been proved elsewhere?
Make innovation a priority and add it to people’s objectives. You have to make the current model work better and at the same time find ways to replace it with something better. Continuous innovation is demanding but rewarding, and is the best way to survive.
Asking the right questions can often get us off to a good start. Below is a list of some questions that you might like to ask yourself either as a group or as an individual. The questions might provide useful answers or lead you to explore other avenues.
- What is the biggest (avoidable) hassle that our customers have to put up with?
- Are there any recent changes in rules or regulations that affect our customers?
- Who does/does not use or products/services?
- Who is prevented from using our products/services?
- Where do our products/services perform unexpectedly well/badly?
- Does anyone use our products/services in ways that we never intended?
- Who does this the best/worst? What can we learn from them?
- How could this be improved if I had all of the resources that I needed?
- Can we improve our products our services by changing people, materials or technology?
- What are our top 5 sources of business?
- What facilities are least used/most used?
- Can we make our offerings easier to understand/buy?
- Do we know the cost structure of our offerings?
- Who benefits the most from our products/services?
- Do we have all of the skills that we require?
- Do we understand the competitive landscape?
- Are we duplicating our efforts in any way?
- What could we do better with more training?
- Do we have the right resources/sufficient resources?
- Can we bend the rules? Have we tested the rules?
This is not a trick question. Many of us have undergone change programmes over the years and many have not worked or had no effect. Why is this? The answer is quite simple, the initiatives have not been Change programmes, they have mostly been renaming exercises. The phrase ‘rearranging deckchairs on the Titanic’ springs to mind here and it is most unfortunate that such exercises have largely been carried out in the public sector in the UK since the economic downturn began to bite.
So what has actually been happening, particularly in our councils and Civil Service? Luckily for employees, the public sector currently has a policy of no compulsory redundancies, which means that only costs other than labour can be cut which in turn leads to the desire for greater efficiency. The desire for greater efficiency then leads to the reorganisation of people. Structures, responsibilities and titles change but job descriptions, behaviours and attitudes do not.
Why does this matter if the organisation has not had to shed employees other than through voluntary schemes, after all efficiency has been addressed and costs cut! Let us go back to the reasons for change, to alter the way in which the organization works (effectively and efficiency) and ensure that it is fit to face the future. To do this we have:
- Shed staff, often indiscriminately
- Adopted best practice from external sources
- Changed the organisational structure chart
- Amended job titles
What we have also done is:
- Lost valuable knowledge and experience
- Failed to communicate the reasons for change and expectations
- Addressed any necessary changes in behavior
- Failed to address insecurities regarding the future
We are likely to end up with an organisation that wants to work as it has always done (but when it has let valuable employees go) but which its masters want to go in a different direction. Think of a train running on tracks with the Chief Executive running alongside shouting ‘no, over here. Go this way’. Many will say that this is all that can be achieved in the current climate in a short space of time. My point is that the work should have been carried out properly over a longer period of time if those in power had the skill and foresight to begin the changes a couple of years ago.
This all sound very negative but is easily sorted by:
- Ensuring a transfer of knowledge when staff leave
- Employing change agents within the organisation to help with real change
- Engage the employees at the ‘coalface’ – in a hierarchical organisation you could be ignoring 80% of the workforce
- Focus on required behaviours rather than simply changing job titles
- Encourage transparency wherever possible
Here in the UK we are weighed down by policies for Innovation and a similar picture exists in many developed countries. There are grants for business, business support, incubators as well as sector clusters defined for aerospace, engineering, bio sciences and much more. What is actually happening here? Those in charge of policy making are in effect trying to pick which areas of the economy are going to produce the next exciting technology. It is a little like gambling on a horse but the question is should our money even be bet on a horse?
Currently large companies are able to fund their own Innovation efforts and small companies, particularly those connected to Universities seem to be well catered for in terms of funding and business support. Above a certain size of business there is a large gap into which most of our businesses fall, where external help is not forthcoming and their ability to help themselves is limited. If we forget for a minute about what Innovation outputs might actually be created (iPads, electric cars etc) and make Innovation generic rather than sector specific then surely these forgotten masses are capable of contributing a great deal to the economy. All we have to do is broaden our minds and think of Innovation in terms new products, processes and services not simply shiny new technology.
If every one of our medium sized business could increase its turnover by a small amount, say 10%, and perhaps take on 1 or 2 extra people then our unemployment problems would be solved and perhaps many of the social issues that accompany high unemployment. Better still, by focusing on all businesses we have avoided the situation where we put our eggs in one basket. We really can help everyone if we choose to do so.
Open Innovation and Crowdsourcing have become buzz words of late which is a shame as it encourages those who blindly adopt best practice to jump on the bandwagon. It is often said that to truly understand a situation you must know enough to be afraid and there are too many consultants pushing concepts on unsuspecting businesses and organisations without really understanding what they are telling organisations to do.
The thing is that Open Innovation and Crowdsourcing really are valuable tools in our quest for Innovation. When innovating we have a dilemma, do we try to keep the fruits of our labours secret for as long as possible to secure as great a competitive advantage as possible, or do we throw our net outside of our organization to gather the maximum number of ideas and encourage communications/interactions with outside (and possibly competitor) organisations?
There are many issues surrounding Open Innovation, such as how to manage it, how to select the participants/collaborators and exploiting the results. Much of this is common sense if you have your wits about you. Essentially you have a choice, keep it in house or look outside, perhaps even conducting your business in public as some educational establishments do. The aim though, is to understand, not blindly follow the ‘How To Innovate For Dummies’ guide.
The fuel for Innovation is ideas and to generate ideas we need people to interact with each other. The more debate and creative tension, the higher the quality of ideas generated and the greater their number will be also. To get to this stage we need more bodies, a crowd. Crowdsourcing is effectively outsourcing the generation of ideas and the solution of problems to a crowd. The UK government’s attempt to gather ideas for policies via their website is an example of this. Your crowd can communicate remotely or be in the same location (see the Open Space technique) and interaction fuel debate or facilitate building of ideas.
Once again there are issues such as managing your crowd and capturing ideas, but once you are aware of the principle of Innovation then everything is pretty much common sense.
So please forget the words Open Innovation and Crowdsourcing but do learn as much as possible about them, understand the concepts and employ them properly. If you really do know enough to be afraid then you understand the concepts fully enough to be able to employ them to create success for your organisation.