Rowan Gibson : Innovation is a tool that can be taught systematically

06 : 11 : 2008 Branding : Marketing : Rowan Gibson

The race of technology and pace of globalisation have thrown the world and its markets into a period of sudden change, and everyone is panicking. Bookshelves are overflowing with texts on how to innovate, and these all carry a similar message: that business models are dying faster than new ones are being created and innovation is the only answer.

Rowan Gibson, however, has a refreshingly new take on the issue: LS:N Global interviewed him on his collaboration with Peter Skarzynski, Innovation to the Core: a blueprint for transforming the way your company innovates.

‘Innovation is a skill that can be taught,’ says Gibson. Co-authors Gibson and Skarzynski have reverse-engineered the minds of innovators such as Steve Jobs, Ted Turner and Michael Dell and come up with a systematic methodology for innovation that they believe any company can implement. ‘Jamie Oliver believes that he can teach anyone to cook. I believe I can teach anyone to innovate,’ says Gibson.

Challenging the orthodox

Gibson sets out four ‘lenses’, or perspectives, through which to see and study innovation. Once observations made through these lenses are brought together, the result is a set of truly innovative ideas that have been delivered systematically. Bringing together the observations made through these lenses delivers a set of ideas that are both innovative and systematic.

Rule 1: Challenging the orthodox

To truly innovate, companies must turn conventional wisdom on its head. The Tata Nano is a perfect example of this. No one had previously thought of changing the scale of a car so much. It’s an entirely new business model and Tata is now reaping the rewards.

Rule 2: Harnessing trends and discontinuities

This is about being in touch with consumer trends and using them to influence your business model. Gibson cites Tesco, which was able to harness the trend for driving to out-of-town superstores for the weekly shop, and, of course, to fill up on petrol. Tesco is now the UK’s largest supplier of petrol. The rest of its product innovations into telecoms energy and gas supplies, legal advice and music downloads came from this same understanding of consumer trends.

Rule 3: Leveraging resources

Here Gibson suggests that companies look at their core competencies and assets and work out new ways to use them, rather than reinventing the wheel. A successful example of this is Disney, whose core competencies include 3D entertainment (theme parks and costumes), the logo and its movie franchise. By focusing on these strengths the Disney team then put them into a new context: Broadway and the West End. Now Disney productions are a leading box-office success.

Rule 4: Understanding unarticulated customer needs

This is about gaining consumer insights that can offer something to the market that is currently not there. No one asked for Starbucks to provide the ‘third space’ when it did, but the consumer did need it. No one asked for Google Earth, but now it serves a perfect and curious need. Amazon, eBay and Apple’s iTunes all echo the same strategy. They have offered consumers a service that they now can’t live without.

The evidence

Gibson uses the Whirlpool Briva, a mini-dishwasher, as an example of how these four lenses can be merged together to inspire innovative products. Working with the company, Gibson established the four lenses. The orthodoxy within the segment is that household appliances are usually large, designed for a family of four. The trends point to increased numbers of single people with less space and less time than ever. Whirlpool’s competence lies in the face that it can make low-cost, good-quality appliances. By merging these facets into one, the company came up with Briva, a minute dishwasher that fits into the right-hand basin of a double sink. The run lasts 30 minutes and holds a few pieces of crockery at a time. ‘Once you have gone through the systematic steps the Briva makes perfect sense,’ says Gibson.

Where is this going?

Gibson suggests that innovation will be a fundamental component in the future, in the way that quality control and service have become standard parts of the business model today. ‘Corporate innovation systems will become standard,’ he says, ‘We will take it for granted.’

Top 5 takeouts

Define a core set of people throughout the business, trained in the tools, processes and protocols of business concept innovation

Use all the available means to improve the quantity and quality of new ideas – from inside, outside and across your organisation

Use the right evaluative criteria at each stage of the opportunity development process so that potentially valuable ideas don’t get killed off prematurely

Design an ‘innovation architecture’ that gives strategic coherence and consistency to your opportunity portfolio

Build mechanisms to rapidly reallocate resources to new opportunities, and ensure you have a robust innovation pipeline so you can manage and commercialise those opportunities