Say vs. Do Innovation

While KPCB venture partner Mary Meeker’s annual “Internet Trends“ report does an outstanding job as a ”State of the Digital Nation,” there is no single user manual on the related trends affecting how companies can leverage emerging technology. Often there is asymmetry between the apparent positive trends from emerging technology and the negative trends these can create for established companies.

We therefore select four “outcome-affecting trends” to highlight for 2018 (i.e., trends that impact the ability of a company to leverage emerging technology in their business) from our work with established companies in 2017. Despite crossing multiple sectors, these companies all share the characteristic of the need to leverage emerging technology and startup ways of working to address the major initiatives in question. We hope these trends may be of use in leveraging new technologies as you solve your own business problems and address new opportunities in 2018.

The Mask of POSIWID

Elvis once sang, “A little less conversation, a little more action, please.” Similarly, throughout 2017, we encountered a rise in saying rather than doing innovation.

Stafford Beer coined the term POSIWID, and we would propose this term as a front-of-mind trend for 2018. “The purpose of a system is what it does” — referring to “system” as the company as a whole — means that a company’s statements of intent (“we are an innovative, digital native company”), or even its market analysis or the initiatives it has undertaken, are secondary to what a company actually does. When you lift the hood, you may find the engine is not designed to adapt.

This has significant consequences when we consider the parts of a company that come together into an activity system to solve a business problem or address a new opportunity leveraging emerging technologies. What objectives do these parts actually have (not what is stated in the project governance model)?

Is there an aligned goal, or are motivations from the current system, by definition, part of the problem and misaligned? Is the team following best practice (what worked before/what I already know) or next practice (what could work better now/what should I know)? Are the technologies aiding question-centric “bubbles of innovation” (e.g., rapid design to value, loosely coupled, and microservices capable)? Most important, is the team doing something that is moving the dial or changing the game for customers?

To paraphrase The Lean Startup author Eric Ries, your customers “don’t care if you live or die,” they just want the best product or service. POSIWID reinforces this idea by pointing out that your customers don’t care if you say you are providing better products or services; they only care about the best products or services.

The Technology “Feel Good” Factor

The rise of hypercompetition and the associated rise of emerging technologies has created a trap for many companies, and it is a trend to be mindful of. Embracing new technology en masse in the stated intent to increase competitiveness or innovate with new business models can make things worse, not better

Current business and operating models can be made even more rigid with a whole set of new technology thrown at them, while creating a false “feel good” factor that the technology itself will improve competitiveness or lead to innovation.

In the rapidly expanding landscape of new technology available to all companies, if ever there was a year to start asking the right questions and providing the safe bubble of innovation that teams need to address these questions (question-centric, not technology-centric) — and have a bias for delivering innovation rather than talking about it — 2018 is it.