Here is an excerpt from an article written by Bronwyn Fryer for the Harvard Business Review blog. To read the complete article, check out the wealth of free resources, and sign up for a subscription to HBR email alerts, please click here.
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It’s become pretty much common knowledge that great innovation springs from the ability to pull two unlike things together to create a beautiful third. Steve Jobs famously shifted a paradigm when he fused calligraphy with technology to create the Mac’s graphical user interface. Many great inventions fuse something very simple, cheap and widely accessible — say, a small piece of paper — with something expensive and complex — say, a medical laboratory test — to come up with a marvelous solution, such as George Whitesides’postage-stamp sized diagnostic tool.
And though not always disruptive, many innovations spring from the fusion of business models. Consider Rent the Runway, a mashup of high-end fashion and Netflix-style rental scheme. Sometimes a fusion of two ordinary objects creates an interesting, if not necessarily beautiful, third: Kristen Murdock makes cowpie clocks from dried, varnished cowpies and, well, clocks. Apparently they’re selling like hot … pies.
As Hal Gregerson and Jeffrey Dyer, authors of The Innovator’s DNA, have observed, the ability to associate unlike ideas is fundamental to innovation: “Overall, associating is the key [innovative] skill because new ideas aren’t created without connecting problems or ideas in ways that they haven’t been connected before.” But I wonder — why is it so difficult for companies to hire and promote people who are good at associative thinking?
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To read the complete article, please click here.
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Bronwyn Fryer is a contributing editor to HBR.org.
Here is an excerpt from an article written by Peter Maulick for the Harvard Business Review blog. To read the complete article, check out other articles and resources, and/or sign up for a free subscription to Harvard Business Review’s Daily Alerts, please click here.
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These days, you’re as likely to see “innovative” on any given job description as you are to see “strong communication skills” or “team player.” But how do you hire innovators?
Take this anecdote: Our innovation consultancy recently played host to a rather unusual job interview when a candidate came to us after selling his company, a premium brand of Cachaça (the Brazilian liquor). While still in college, the candidate conceived the brand, sourced it, packaged it, imported it, and distributed it. For his interview, he hosted a Cachaça happy hour in our office, bringing in a bartender and the fresh fruits required to prepare Brazil’s signature cocktails.
We recognized that when seeking an innovator, you don’t just want to know if a candidate has the skills you need — you want to see how those skills are applied to real-world commercial objectives. Having ideas is only part of what makes an effective innovator. Being able to execute on an idea — transforming blue-sky notions into tangible offerings — is the other half of the innovation equation. No matter how big the idea is: if it isn’t doable, it’s not an innovation.
Jeffrey Dyer, Hal Gregersen, and Clayton Christensen identify five “discovery skills” that make for innovative mindsets: associating, questioning, observing, experimenting, and networking.
Detecting these skills in isolation is a good sign, but it says little about a candidate’s innovation capability. How these skills are leveraged is the key to execution, and the challenge is to design an interview process that tests the application of these core skills.
Our Cachaça candidate’s presentation demonstrated these skills to us, but how do we assess candidates who don’t come in with a full bar? Here are two hiring exercises designed to apply the innovator’s discovery skills towards real-world commercial objectives, going beyond idea generation all the way to revenue generation:
From Discovery to Strategy: This exercise simulates the process of unlocking market opportunities through innovation — ask for a solution to a real-life problem. For example, we’ll ask candidates to develop an innovation strategy for the CEO of a major beverage company, synthesizing insights from the market conditions outlined in a beverage industry trend report (which we provide). Once the candidate has devised a strategy, have her present it to your team as if she is presenting to the CEO. Evaluate her not only on the quality of the insights driving the strategy, but on her understanding of the complexities surrounding its implementation and her ability to determine the commercial potential of the idea. Is it just a good idea, or is it a viable, sustainable business?
From Discovery to Invention: Try an exercise in applied invention I like to call “You in a Bottle.” Have candidates invent a drink based on core attributes of their own personalities, and then design an offering for it. Their ability to glean consumer insight from within is crucial to the task. The offering should at once communicate the candidate’s individuality and appeal to a broader market. Most importantly, the candidate should define a profitable market for his product.
With exercises like these that evaluate an innovator’s ability to make the leap from idea to innovation, you can be sure you’re building teams capable of turning transformational innovation into the repeatable, scalable discipline that every business needs.
And that’s something we can all toast to.
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Pete Maulik is Chief Operating Officer and Head of Commercial Strategy at Fahrenheit 212, an innovation consultancy based in New York. He has spoken and written extensively on innovation.
What we have in this volume is a collection of eleven essays whose authors explain how to devise and hen execute strategies to reconfigure business relationships for competitive advantage. As the book’s editor, Jeffrey Word, explains in the Introduction, “This book is about the evolving nature of global business and the ways that a company’s network of relationships (with suppliers, customers, and other partners) is being reconfigured to derive competitive advantage and increased profitability.”
More often than not, this means an organizational transformation within a global transformation, “into dynamic and orchestrated business networks in which each entity is focused on its key differentiation while collaborating with others [who could include former as well as future competitors] in its network to deliver higher shared customer value, speed of innovation, and cost benefits.” Companies have no choice but to seek out within and (yes) beyond their competitive marketplace for new or better ways to serve their end customer.
To those who have relatively little (if any) prior experience with business network transformation (BNT), I suggest that they first read and then re-read Word’s brilliant Introduction and the first chapter, “Transforming Your Business Network” co-authored by Philip Lay and Geoffrey Moore, before proceeding to the other material. This approach will provide a frame of reference for Marco Iansiti and Ross Sullivan’s discussion of “Business Network Transformation in Action in Chapter 2, and, a solid preparation for the information and advice that follow in Chapters 3-7 on how to achieve these strategic objectives:
• Creating superior customer value (Mohanbir Sawhney and Ranjay Gulati, Pages 39-57)
• Shrinking core while expanding periphery of the relational architecture (Gulati and David Kletter, Pages 59-95)
• Achieving and sustaining product leadership (N. Venkatraman, Pages 97-121)
• Driving collaborative success on global networks (John Hagel III, John Seely Brown, and Gautam Kasthurirangan, Pages 123-150)
• Leveraging profitability and competitive advantage with operational excellence (Randall H. Russell, Pages 151-177)
The material in the first two and remaining four chapters is of comparable scope, depth, and value. Readers will appreciate the fact that at the conclusion of the 11 chapters, rather than a formulaic summary of key points or checklist of “action steps” to be taken (albeit devices that can also have value), the author or co-authors of each suggest what is most appropriate for a conclusion to the given material. For Chapter 8, Chesbrough offers “Practical Lessons for Business Network Innovators”; for Chapter 9, Jeffrey Dyer concludes with suggesting a process by which to identify underperforming business partnerships; for Chapter 10, after explaining the role of IT in BNT, Andrew McAfee shares his thoughts about “Betting on the Next Wave” as he poses “three simple questions” he urges his reader to consider when defining appropriate IT initiatives; and at for the conclusion of Chapter 11, Lay and Moore also pose several questions, in this instance to help management teams to determine when and where to start “their BNT journey.”
Again, I presume to suggest to those who have relatively little (if any) prior experience with business network transformation that they first read and then re-read Word’s brilliant Introduction and the first chapter co-authored by Lay and Moore before proceeding to the other material. Ultimately, of course, only readers will determine what is of greatest interest, relevance, and value. Also, with all due respect to the quality of the advice offered throughout the volume, they must also determine which of it to follow and then, key point, how to execute it in the given organization.