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Building upon the four essential pillars for innovation

Paul Hobcraft , Agility Innovation Specialists
13 Nov, 2017
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Paul Hobcraft, Innovation Advisor, Agility Innovation Specialists.

It is always welcome to read a thoughtful article that reminds me, no, it actually inspires me, by reinforcing my own belief that innovation is progressing, even if this is sometimes frustratingly slow. The innovation architecture is progressively being recognized and put into place, it’s forming the building blocks of the innovation platform we need to build upon, ones for more radical innovation outcomes.

So the article “Want to Win at Business Model Innovation? Put these Four Pillars in Place” was written by Rick Waldron, ex Nike, and Intel.

He grabbed my attention with this comment early on in the article:

“ Little attention has been paid to the architecture required to stand up a sustainable, impactful new business innovation capability. Those of us battling it out in the trenches are left to learn the hard way”

I so very much relate to this central recognition that most organizations lack a solid, well thought through innovation architecture, it is one of the real reasons innovation is constantly under-delivering.

Rick points out:“Corporate innovation efforts by and large continue to fall far short of moving the needle in any significant, sustained way or of delivering on the promise of future-proofing companies against ever-increasing disruptive forces.

While a growing number of companies have begun to find some success in implementing design-centered thinking, lean innovation techniques, jobs-to-be-done analysis, and empowering employees to solve customer and internal process problems, much of the focus has been on supporting current business models – i.e., on incremental rather than game-changing innovation. But this work is merely the table stakes for staying in the current game”

The view offered in this article suggests four pillars to be put into place: 1) A Committed and Engaged Leadership, 2) A Comprehensive Innovation Strategy, 3) A Sustained Mindset Shift and 4) A Comprehensive Tool Kit.

Rick’s article just gave me the chance to go back and review my thoughts and relate his excellent suggestions and thinking into some of the work I have written about in this area. So I wanted to link them up a little more in my mind on some diverse and previous thoughts that I have written about and hopefully link them far more into yours and this article of Rick’s.


Reflecting and Validating


I’m not sure how many countless articles I have written over each of these pillars, it seems far too many and also I have attempted to offer some different solutions in frameworks and models to underpin these thoughts.

I was exchanging with Rick since this article and offered up some of my opening thoughts back to him, ideally with the intent to have an ongoing conversation that builds even further on his observations and suggestions. So then I thought, well let me put these into a post that links these a little more. We seem to hold similar views on the critical places to focus for building greater innovation capability and reflect on many of the same underlying problems that inhibit innovation. I value Rick’s different experience perspective, it freshens up my thinking.

Some of my links and references are here if you find the time and opportunity to delve a little deeper into my views.

So taking Rick’s four pillars as the shape of this post.


Achieving a Committed & Engaged Leadership


I have suggested an Executive Innovation Work Mat as a frame to organize around. It is a concept to help in the Architecture design, especially as part of its framing solution is attempting a cascading model both up and down organizations

I did like his observation that “where that leadership commitment and acumen does not exist, the task at hand is to develop it”

For me, this is building a compelling business case for fully integrating innovation into the core of the business.


Establishing a Comprehensive Innovation Strategy


The linkage between strategy and innovation is one of being absolutely essential. A couple of my thoughts that underpin this suggested pillar link into his views

Rick made this telling remark “Without an innovation strategy, innovation improvement efforts can become a grab bag of much-touted best practices: dividing R&D into decentralized autonomous teams, spawning internal entrepreneurial ventures, setting up corporate venture-capital arms, pursuing external alliances, embracing open innovation and crowdsourcing, collaborating with customers, and implementing rapid prototyping”

Rick made this absolutely sound observation: “The corporate strategy team should have the access and skills required to support senior leadership in identifying and articulating priorities, resourcing commitments, boundaries, strategic hunting zones, and definitions of success. The innovation team, in turn, can serve as an “applied strategy” tool for the strategy team, helping them refine and build confidence in the strategy through rapid, low-cost, in-market experiments around new potential business platforms, customer solutions, and operating models. That enables both teams to do what they do best and create a symbiotic relationship”


Sustained Mindset Shift


Rick offered this great insight: “The more transformational the innovation strategy, the further a company will be stepping into uncertain, unpredictable territory. You are revealing and creating the future, rather than planning for it. This requires an important leadership mindset shift from operator/manager to investor/entrepreneur”

In thinking more out in the future through the focus on the 3 Horizons framework for different necessary ‘voices’ to gather around innovation. I like Rick’s emphasis on mindset shifts whereas I had taken more the voices within a Boardroom or any discussion around innovation.

These three voices that must all be engaged in a conversation should have the voice of today, the incumbent, the manager(s) responsible for delivering today’s result. Then you have the second voice, the voice of the entrepreneur, the one eager to experiment, try out new things, wanting to push further. Lastly, we have the third voice, the voice of the aspirant, who sees a different future. Today, more than ever we have this real need to look towards the future

I did like his much stronger view of “engineering a mindset shift” and his offering up a suggested way to institutionalize it.


Comprehensive Tool Kit


We so often see that organizations never seem able to bring together and openly share a full set of capabilities to build the innovation capacity to allow innovators to do a more comprehensive job of innovating.

Rick asks the question here of “where the business model innovation at hand is best served by a build, buy, partner or invest approachIt’s also important to realize that the answer to that might change over time, as the work moves from early-stage exploration to establishing a market beachhead, to grow market share, to achieving scale. This, in turn, will guide the team in identifying (and even creating) the innovation and corporate development tools that are best for the task at hand”…  I like this line of questioning in building out a growing understanding of what is needed to go and find out about and also to then build.

I have been attempting to build up a growing set of explanations to different innovation tools

Then reflecting on a range of top or most popular tools related to innovation


The need for an effective innovation architecture


It was the lack of attention to the innovation architecture that draws me into Rick’s article. I have attempted to explore this in different ways, he helped me pull this together with a little more in my thinking and reinforce where I need to focus a part of my efforts.

I worked some time back was on the different approaches to innovation and within this was the Innovation Business Architecture in an outlined model to explore.


The Business model canvas has been disappointing as it has not been evolving.


In recent years the BMC has not evolved and reflected enough in the massive changes undergoing, reflecting the move from Business model products into Business Model platforms and the greater need for ecosystems and collaborations. These multi- interrelated business models are coming together to build more compelling solutions. The BMC has focused on supporting and reinforcing single entity product innovation and is not adapting the changes taking place in considering different business model options.

I have have spent a lot of time on the BMI in past years and found the canvas a great leap forward in our framing and articulating the business models but have become a little disillusioned in recent years, as it seemed to me the main inventors and proponents of the BMC have not evolved it, as technology and platforms have taken a stronger hold on business solutions. There has been a consistent “push” on the customer side, yet there seemed to have been less emphasis, or even ignored or understated, on the back-end, the Business Model Architecture. Perhaps this area has been conceeded for development to others? I wonder if the BMC become stuck in this one ‘great’ idea for a single company dealing in their product offering?

Business model assessment does need to reflect the changes taking place, based around platforms and ecosystems of businesses and customers combining, a radically different Architecture, to find and offer more complex and comprehensive solutions, built through technology and greater collaborations and exchanges. We need greater understanding of the new tools the digital age offers to challenge our existing business models.

I felt the back-end very underdeveloped in guidance as I wrote here

This started my questioning of the Business model, back in 2013. I looked harder at the Value part of the Business model, for example in a few posts around about then

This questioning of present approaches to Business model innovation has brought me back to the very point Rick has raised.

“ Little attention has been paid to the architecture required to stand up a sustainable, impactful new business innovation capability”


I think we are entering a New Innovation Era


Structuring the design of the innovation architecture is changing, fairly radically, in my view. It still will be based on the four pillars suggested in Rick’s article:  1) Committed and Engaged Leadership, 2) Comprehensive Innovation Strategy, 3) Sustained Mindset Shift and 4) Comprehensive Tool Kit that will be built out on a far more dynamic foundation, with technology and network effects as critical within any future design, not single entity and product design.

So I think it will be fundamentally different in this architecture that underpins these four pillarsIn my opinion, it needs to be based on the thinking around the shift from products to platform solutions, from transactions to building far more value-adding ongoing relationships, from a supplier of product services into highly valued network partnerships, exploring innovation across all options. Instead of delivering on discrete elements; this requires managing the whole ecosystem of the innovation design differently, through technology where platforms dominate, and transformation becomes an ongoing process to evolve the business model, so as to seek out constantly changing market opportunities, in agile, adaptive and fluid ways, for successful innovation outcomes, that meet those real customer needs. This will increasingly be within ecosystems of collaborators.

I’ve written about this under the tag “New Innovation Era” on this site fairly extensively in the past year, the latest being this:


I think within this article of Rick’s he nicely sums up our overarching need.


“It’s an understatement to say that writing a transformative next chapter for an established enterprise is hard. To increase the odds of success, one must begin with an effective innovation architecture consisting of committed, engaged leadership; a thorough and clear innovation strategy; a sustainable investor/entrepreneurial mindset; and a broad suite of innovation and corporate development tools”

I agree with his observation and many practical thoughts and suggestions. We are in urgent need to build a clear innovation architecture as we do need this new business innovation capability. We are entering a different innovation era and if we don’t pay specific attention to the architecture of innovation we will not have a bright future, we will increasingly fall behind those that do get the need for serious investment in building innovation capability and capacity.

A link to Rick’s article again is here. I hope it inspires you as much as it did me, in our need to keep building innovation capabilities.

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