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Optimism in Innovation, Thinking About Risk Differently

Paul Hobcraft , Agility Innovation Specialists
13 Sep, 2018
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For me, there is never enough talked about innovation risk. Innovation is held back so often because the quantification of it’s risk cannot fit into an organization’s current assessment and measurements of risk.

Innovation is often too intangible, full of unknowns as the very nature of anything new and different. Innovation risk leaves many executives very uncomfortable.

Organizations get uncomfortable when the words “radical” “intangible”, “unknowns” and other words like these when they form part of the conversation. It often starts to induce that “risk twitch” where that careful management for short-term performance might become threatened, or the manager feels any decision is ‘going out on a limb’ and possibly career threatening.

That growing uncomfortable feeling that innovation places their bonus at “risk” so they like to ring-fence innovation as much as possible. Now some of that ring-fencing is fine, you contain a risk to keep it manageable but most innovation does not constitute organization risk, yet it gets caught up in that risky fear that innovation seems to induce. Actually, if we were managing innovation at the core, our risk management for it would be very heightened and managed differently, but how many of our companies’ have innovation as their core?

So I always welcome discussion on risk and innovation. The more we talk about it the better for what is coming towards us.

As we talk about managing risk and innovation we can become more comfortable, yet when you often hear those leading the discussions on this innovation risk, where they keep overemphasizing “Risk-appetite, risk-attitude, risk-adversity, broader risk, even risk-contagion,” now if this does begin to get you nervous. Reality simply is, when most of the innovation is exploring the unknown to change the known for something better, then organizations seem to go into a certain “lock-down” when it manages the innovation-risk equation. Innovation remains uncomfortable for many senior executives.

Recently I re-read a recent PwC report Managing risks and enabling growth in the age of innovation” as they continued to periodically give risk an innovation focus. We need more reports on innovation and risk. I can recall two or three reports they produced around this ‘risk and innovation’ theme over the years, happily sitting in my taxonomy of innovation, always useful to refer too. This latest one had an opening theme about innovation being described in more revolutionary terms such as part of the fourth industrial revolution, the second machine age, the cognitive age and this is adding more pressure to innovate or search for “greater innovation within companies.

Of course, the more you invest in innovation, the likely the risks will increase. So the report polled 1,500 executives, focusing on managing innovation risk and how effective they are in managing this risk-reward balance needed for innovation. As I have just finished writing about innovation and the 4th Industrial Revolution in my last post, it was good to try to find some new ways to look at the changes going on in innovation.

I cannot agree more with PwC and the fact that the innovation and changing risk landscape is making us all think differently. I have called this the “new innovation era” where technology is underpinning so much of innovation’s activity and outcomes.

I have written about risk at different times, such as a post “Treating innovation risk differently, dealing with uncertainty” and a few times since. Enter “risk” into the search box to check these out if you are interested. A very extensive review of risk I wrote in suggesting “Developing a new framework for risk and innovation”.

Yet this post is not about the risks but the emerging possibilities

As we enter this different era of innovation, as we begin to connect “everything up” through implementing the 4th Industrial Revolution we do have so much new possibility for innovation than ever. Two of the visuals (figures) within the PwC report excite me in the optimism of taking innovation out.

If you look at the “within 3 years” add-on (see below), it does paint a really good picture of innovation opportunity, and by implication, the increased risk, in my opinion. This will simply not be the “as is” to simply extend our existing innovation activity,” it will be radical in innovative change. It simply has to be, coming from technology connecting up our networks supporting and forming new collaborative relationships providing us a growing set of new technology options, we have to integrate within our business thinking. These are all emerging frontiers for innovation to explore

Combining technology and innovation gives me real optimism for innovation, does it for you?

Yet just question if you are focusing on these types of innovation? I bet you many of you are not giving this much focus, your company is still debating and figuring out how to integrate the systems and processes required for such a magnitude of change. Well, innovators need to start pondering all the possibilities. Ask yourself what new innovation growth they could bring to your innovation activities?

There are new sources of revenue, of building out our growth options will certainly come from technology- it will enable projects, form new alliances through the greater ecosystem and network forming platforms. We have the potential for this connecting ability to achieve scale and global presence through the ability to connect across global networks and form new partnerships. New business models can emerge, enabling a moving beyond traditional borders, adding in new supply chain resources. All grow in innovative opportunities when you build out a digitally connected enterprise.


Then I wanted to put another spin on a second PwC visual shown below.

This one outlines'” a programs ability to effectively manage AI, IoT, and robotic risks”. Confidence is growing as we learn to embrace and value new technology enablers. Now my spin is simply  around “where is the new innovation possibilities in the exploitation of these emerging new technologies?” They really excite me, a little frightening for me as well, yet this adoption of new technology innovation must have so much new innovating potential, waiting to be extracted from implementing and leveraging these new technologies.

When you consider the incredible list of technology enhancements we are thinking through and adopting across a business, as we  learn their value to our business, we can clearly see a number of real innovative growth opportunities as we embed and extract value out of these:

  • We can streamline operations and maintenance
  • We can optimize assets and increase their ‘connecting’ value
  • We can get closer to greater workflow automation
  • We will focus on data as it forms a greater part of our strategic input as well as build out the security of this
  • The ability to engage with customers directly and in highly personal ways from the connected 3economy
  • We can achieve a higher dynamic of scale, speed, size and customer intimacy thanks to technology.
  • We can achieve rapid adaption and continuous improvements through greater data monitoring and management.
  • We can own assets, share and build out our service provider activities from leveraging technology
  • New Business models become increasingly possible by mixing and matching resources and opportunity spotting.
  • We gain new learning and awareness, sharing and exchanges on experiences

All of these bodes well for a new innovation era they give me optimism. Just reflect on this excellent visual supplied by PwC on each of the enablers to achieve this new range of innovative options.


Yet the innovation impact is troubling me though. Can we achieve all the promise emerging from these different technologies?

The huge elephant in the room is this: do we have a new innovation system in place to adapt to all this significant change occurring in the next few years?. Our present innovation processes and structures live in a different age, the old industrial age, not in the new one, the one where we connect up everything, as the 4th Industrial Revolution indicates can be realized. I wrote about this from the innovation perspective in my last post “Innovation cannot expand without the 4th Industrial Revolution“.

Have you explored these yet? I think we are still grappling with their meaning, their new positioning inside and outside our organization on their effect. Yet if we ask “what are those new possibilities” by exploring them from the innovation perspective, it perhaps offers some really new, exciting innovation potential we can only begin to consider.

Innovation is moving from taking an idea, validating it and then run it through a pipeline to build out and commercialize. Innovation is going to get increasingly complex as it brings in all the different technology enablers into play. What they provide is data, in new insights on how to manage, respond and connect all part of the business, to extend this into customers to engage. Without a doubt we need to design a far better process to innovation, we need to rethink how we manage innovation.

I am scratching my head on this, yes I am getting splinters in doing this, but we are changing the very way we are needing to manage innovation. It involves different people, different thinking, different processes and this adds up to a very sizable new level of risk that we have to manage and orchestrate. As PwC suggests there is a new risk appetite in how we are investing in technology and yes, we are learning to share risks far more through managing innovation, this being far more through platforms and ecosystem design. We need to manage our assets differently, we need to invest and equally divest and outsource and give a real fresh emphasis to our innovation capital differently, and that also means discussing innovation risk differently.

I don’t have the answers, only some emerging thoughts on where this seems to be heading- the new innovation era –  but we do need to lift innovation out of its place today and give it a much higher sense of urgency in how we manage it. Risk’s are taking on greater risks in Security, in Transaction, in Customer dialogue that innovation needs re-setting.

It is all about building new capabilities and the capacity for innovation

As we move towards a new age where technoölogy connects us up we are forced to address the need for a radical review of our existing capabilities. Do we have the capacity and skill-sets for extracting out new innovation opportiûnities? We will need a much higher level of “rapid and effective” sense-making, portfolio management, and execution, of those new innovation opportunities.

We will certainly need a very different approach to risk management. The greater the innovation opportunity, the higher the risk management becomes. We need reset points all round We are going to be dealing in a world of “all things” being visible and a greater relationship with all potential things being invisible. We are dealing in a world of the immediate, to read and react too and the dual world of scoping and exploring, based on a greater informed gut-feel, growing in relying on data validation and a healthy theoretical belief and vision of how this all connects up all those ‘famous’ dots.


Today we are facing increased frequency to react, a greater pace and speed to move from decision to execution. We need to redefine new tolerances of performance, to firstly seize and then grow these “breaking” opportunities. These new opportunities are coming from multiple points of value, not just one product or a service perspective, they are all different and we need to bring a different thinking to innovation to manage them accordingly.

We need to accommodate data analysis through ‘richer’ visualization tools, we need better dashboards of discovery and awareness, we need a new approach to different capturing tools on the needed innovation inputs, drawing our attention of where innovation is emerging and signaling opportunity. It is the ability to utilize and extract from all this technology connecting-up, through our learning of the innovation outputs and outcomes from applying the 4th Industrial Revolution, through working in platforms and ecosystem designs for innovation, we really need this transformation of innovation thinking

Interestingly I feel one old evaluation model of innovation risk actually seems to have a new twist or lease of life if we add one new evaluation dimension. We have mapped innovation ând its associated risk according to three dimensions in the past: the degree of uncertainty, the degree of controllability and the relative importance in benefit. Well perhaps we add another, the degree of technology connection (our network relationships) we have embedded and put to use in our innovation activity.

In Summary

We are recognizing there is a growing pressure to change, the technical advantage is offering new revenue and innovative sources of growth. We can see a dramatically changing landscape of the business boundaries becoming more permeable, and a increased pressure on resource management in a changing world. Innovation needs to shape up to deal with this.

I want to thank PwC for their continued focus on innovation and risk. This recent report gives me optimism. It raises the level of risk but it is offering different strands of thought (for me) to begin to frame my “new era of innovation” in further ways.

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