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Mikael Eriksson Björling

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5 ways to master the new innovation game

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Assuming your organization has a creative mindset, and beyond the possible implications of emerging technologies, a key challenge lies in pinning down what is required from an organizational perspective for innovation to take place. To a large extent, this is the key challenge in the business world today and something that many organizations, especially larger ones, struggle with. What are the prerequisites for making innovation happen?

As part of my work with Ericsson and a recent study we conducted, we identified 5 ways to master the new innovation game. These are:

  1. Insight: Understanding people and understanding the problem
  2. Outsight: Keeping track of the world around us
  3. Innovation vision
  4. Culture as fuel for innovation
  5. Structure for creativity

Let’s look at them one by one:

Insight: Understanding people and understanding the problem

A key viewpoint that most creative thinkers will agree upon is that innovation is essentially about understanding human beings. The problems that are supposed to be solved by a structured innovation approach are ultimately human, not corporate. To identify the real problems and pain-points requires an understanding of humans in their natural habitat. Some innovators and entrepreneurs have a natural eye for the world and people around them and make the problematization and analysis by default. But in most cases, innovation requires an explicit and structured research effort of going out in the real world to gain insights that become relevant platforms for innovation.

Innovation also requires fundamental understanding of the problem you want to solve – and innovate based upon this understanding. This perspective stems from the notion that innovation is about solving real-life problems for people and digging deep into what these problems actually mean. Prehype, a New York-based venture development firm, believes that a good long problematization phase is the heart of all innovation. Nicholas Thorne at Prehype says:

“We focus our time in problem space rather than in execution space. If you get the problem right the solution presents itself.”

Outsight: Keeping track of the world around us

Innovation not only requires a solid understanding of end users, it also requires keeping track of how the world at large is changing and which implications this will have on our culture in general, and your area of business specifically. To a great extent, innovation is a question of timing and being in sync with the world around.

People and companies that are in tune with their times and have a sense of what the next big thing is will likely time their innovations relevantly, while people and companies that don’t have that outsight will waste and spoil good ideas and inventions because they don’t understand the larger sociocultural and socioeconomic context.

Innovation vision

Frederic Laloux describes how we are entering an era where organizations are increasingly driven by missions, and employees are motivated by the unique user value that they can help provide. Successful innovation comes from coming up with ideas that fill real needs and serve a purpose. In other words, this emphasizes the importance of having a clear vision for why and what we want to innovate. There are many examples of leaders who embody a vision which sparks innovation by giving employees a strong sense of purpose.

Open, flat and decentralized organizations with a creative and playful organizational culture also require a more visionary leadership. These types of organizations are made up of talented, skilled, and independent people with their own drive, who usually respond best to visionary leadership. They work most efficiently when working towards a bigger idea – a vison or a mission – that brings meaning to their work and daily tasks.

As discussed in Ericsson’s 2013 Networked Society Lab Report: Moving Fast and Breaking Things – a tale of digital business transformation, the product organization is an answer to this. The product organization is made up of a number of product-focused teams that are allowed to operate very autonomously within the organization, as long as they work towards the overall vision or mission of the organization. The role of the leader is to promote, uphold and manage the vision rather than micromanage various projects.

Culture as fuel for innovation

Culture is a core focus for organizations that aim to be at the forefront in terms of creativity. The old maxim “culture beats strategy” could actually be rephrased as “culture is strategy”. Culture plays a key role in addressing the challenge of gluing teams together and making them committed to the company mission. Creating a strong community is prioritized as a strategic way of attracting the best employees and to motivate them to spend time in the office. But culture is equally as important as a strategic way of creating an environment where innovation will thrive. The idea is that innovation can occur at all times and at all levels of the organization, given the right cultural climate.

Innovation is as much a human story as it is a story about technology. Organizational culture, people and diversity are at the heart of any discussion on innovation – and the cultural aspect of innovation was highlighted by almost everyone interviewed in our study. The argument is that companies that are able to create a certain kind of organizational culture will see innovation emerge from within the organization with much less effort than in other organizations. An innovation friendly culture will be able to manage, value and prioritize ideas that show up in the organization rather than dropping them before they are even tested and tried. Some thinkers on innovation go as far as to claim that innovation equals culture.

Structure for creativity

For the longest time there was a bias towards viewing innovation as something that just happens in a “magical” way in a black box of creativity. But even if innovation can sometimes happen accidentally, the opposite is usually true for truly valuable innovation to happen. In the academic world, innovation is often described as a systematic management process and an organizational structure, rather than a black box of creativity that occasionally generates innovative ideas with real business potential.

Academic research on innovation in organizations suggests that innovation should be managed strategically from the top level of a company. Companies should have an organizational structure that enables innovation and allows people who work with innovation to pursue careers in innovation. Companies should have a defined process for how to drive innovation within the organization, and should be able to measure and follow up on their innovation efforts just like they do in any other department of their business.

There are many different ways of perceiving how a structure for creativity is best achieved from an organizational perspective, but a common theme is that there has to be a structured process for collecting, evaluating and implementing new ideas. Without the process in place, the understanding of end users and the world they live in, the visionary leadership and the culture of innovation will not succeed in creating strong and meaningful innovation. When ideas are not acted upon, the creative force will eventually fade and the culture or vision will not be enough to encourage continuous innovation.

Like this post? Don’t forget to check out the firstsecond and third at Ericsson Big Ideas Blog

3 ways that new technologies are accelerating innovation

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Most innovation is directly or indirectly driven by new technology – even business model innovation and changed consumer behaviors – and the way new technology transforms our world and various markets. In this way then, an understanding of new technology and its impact is a prerequisite to be able to innovate, and to do it constantly.

So, how are emerging technologies, such as 5G, artificial intelligence, and virtual and augmented reality contributing to innovation? They do it mainly in three overall ways:

  • As founder of new markets
  • As vehicle for innovation
  • As enhancer of human capabilities

Let’s go through these three ways one by one:

Technology as founder of new markets

New technology has a huge impact on markets and market dynamics. This has always been the case, but in the digital age this is happening faster than ever before. Over the last decades we’ve seen how digital technology has disrupted many different markets. Streaming has disrupted the music industry, as well as TV and film, and social media has radically disrupted the entire media sector.

Let’s take a look at 5G – a technology that Ericsson is developing. As 5G starts to become a reality in the marketplace, many new capabilities and possibilities emerge, such as network slicing, ultra-low latency, lightening fast speeds, and extreme reliability to mention a few. And these capabilities are enabling many new use cases: from remote controlling vehicles in a mine to small sensors that have 10 years of battery life. These technology features will transform the current logic in many businesses and create new markets for those who sees the possibilities.

When new technology becomes established in our society it also drives new behaviors among people and their role as consumers, and these new behaviors represent potential new markets. The same thing happens in industries: when a new technology becomes available organizations can possibly change areas within their business, such as value chains and operations, but also whole business models and the entire market itself.

Artificial intelligence (AI) is another hot technology area that will open new markets and market niches in many industries. Today, most areas are related to innovation efficiency and effectiveness (the areas to the left in the model I described in my previous blogpost).

The most common area of exploration today is the automation of business processes, for example, digital and physical tasks. Harvard Business Review recently said that 25 percent of the 250 business executives in their survey think AI will help them pursue new markets. Far more of these executives see AI as helping out with efficiency and effectiveness in their current business logic.

Technology as vehicle for innovation

As we’ve previously discussed, innovation and technology are tightly interlaced. Two very notable ways technology propels innovation forward is that it boosts tinkering and experimentation, and that in itself accelerates innovation processes.

Not long ago experimentation with new technologies was only possible by multinational corporations or government-funded research labs. Today, affordable technology – digital and other – makes it possible for most enterprises – big and small – to experiment with ideas and concepts in whole new ways, and also in reality instead of only in test labs.

For example, it’s now possible to test products and services online at a very low cost, as well as test out updates, alterations and tweaks. Prototyping has become available to all through easy to use software and 3D printing. AI can simulate various market scenarios based on available real-life data. Virtual reality makes it possible to create completely new types of blueprints that actually make products and services come alive for real, and thus make them possible to evaluate prior to building or manufacturing them.

Digital technology and the new technologies that it enables (like AR, VR and AI) cut the traditional industrial age innovation process short. What used to take years of planning, testing, and executing can now be accomplished in months and sometimes even weeks.

Another way emerging technologies – AI in particular – can speed up innovation, is by removing obstacles of uncertainty or lack of information. Continuously identifying and ruling out hypotheses at a quick pace will no doubt make the innovation process more focused and effective in generating strong solutions. AI, being far superior to humans in analyzing big amounts of data in an instant, cuts innovation processes significantly. Data is the protein of AI systems: if there is a sufficient amount of data, AI will be able to increase the speed of innovation.

Technology as enhancer of human capabilities

One way of looking at it is that digital transformation, after having transformed domain after domain, has reached technology itself and is beginning to recursively transform technological evolution as we know it. This unlocks a great potential, but it also raises concerns as to what it means that technology – and not only humans – has control over technological progress. As discussed further, there are both optimistic and pessimistic stances in regard to our technological future.

Regardless of position in this matter, it is clear that emerging technologies are becoming increasingly important in the very process of innovation.

Now, technological evolution has reached a point where it can help us overcome – or at least circumvent – our own cognitive short-comings. Where the human mind fails to display characteristics beneficial for driving change and creative thinking, technology can give us an extra push towards a greater innovative capacity.

One area close to my heart is design, and in particular design and innovation. The designer today has a completely new set of possibilities and tools for designing and prototyping. Both rapid as well as creating shapes and interactions that would have been impossible a decade ago.

Ericsson Strategic Design Lab is working with cities and city planning questions, and for this they are using AR to remove buildings from a real environment and place models of the new architecture into it, creating a tool that makes it possible to explore city planning with an extreme low cost and possibilities that were only fantasy some year ago.

Another example is seen in car manufacturing, were companies are starting to do car models in VR instead of the super expensive and time-consuming clay model that was traditionally used. And in the same industry, there are newcomers such as Local Motors who are challenging the traditional way of designing and producing cars using crowd sourcing, open source and 3D printing technologies for physical prototyping and production.

Finally, and to summarize, an understanding of new technology is necessary in two primary capacities:

  1. Understanding technology as a starting point: Organizations that want to innovate must (in most cases) understand the seedbed that new technology creates for any market today. How has new technology changed the conditions in your market and what technologies are out there that will transform your products and services, and how do you model them for the market?
  2. Understanding technology as an enabler: The second capacity in which an understanding of technology is necessary for innovation is as an enabler. For example, how new technology can help make new ideas and inventions possible to realize on the market. Technology is also an enabler for experimenting with new ideas and testing out new concepts, and organizations that understand how to utilize new tech in this phase of innovation will gain leverage that other organizations lack.

So, how will 5G, AI, VR and AR, contribute to innovation in your industry? Do you see the possibilities, or only threats?

Like this post? Don’t forget to check out the first and second at Ericsson Big Ideas Blog

Systemet och miljön

Wind, en prisbelönt kortfilm om hur levande system påverkas av sin miljö och hur det måste ändras när miljön ändras. Arbetslivet (ett levande system) påverkas i högsta grad av sin miljö (samhällsstruktur, marknad, ekonomi, etc.) Detta är en utmaning för de flesta när vi nu lämnar industrialismens miljö till det uppkopplade samhällets miljö.

Mer animeringar av Robert Loebel hittar ni på http://www.robertloebel.com/

 

Say hello to the era of social business

post-1-siembraviva-768x373In our brand new report, The Social Business Era: Creating Impact and Influencing Change, we explore a new model for 2017 and beyond: The Social Business. This is a new type of company on the market that is out to challenge traditional ways of doing businesses.

The majority of companies operating today use profit as their main measurement, i.e. the business is judged by others (the market) with economic figures and the potential for growth. But things are changing.

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It is no coincidence that social businesses have recently emerged and developed in the Networked Society. But why is this happening now?

  1. The ultra-capitalistic industrial society of the late 20th Century is now being questioned as a relevant model for a ‘good world’. At the same time, the state and traditional social institutions that are supposed to care for the welfare of citizens are failing people across the world.
  2. New generations growing up with mobility, broadband, and internet access are now entering the arena of social issues. They are also used to things moving quickly, getting things done right away, and seeing direct impact. They experience frustration with old ways of doing things and the slowness and inefficiencies of institutions to accomplish any real change.
  3. The necessary technology is already in place. Today, we have technology platforms, digital tools, and social networks available for free or at a low cost, which makes it possible for people to start something without the need for large investments or technological skills.

How do we define The Social Business?

  1. No dividends allowed. “A non-dividend company that is created to address and solve a social problem”.
  2. Focus on intent and output: “An organization formed by one or more people whose commercial activities are primarily driven by the desire to create positive social change”.
  3. A broad, pragmatic approach: “A business whose primary intent is to create social impact and that uses revenue streams to become financially sustainable in order to further that impact”.

Create positive impact…who wouldn’t want to do that?

In my next post for the Networked Society blog, I will take a look at the main differences between traditional and social businesses.

Read more about this report at Ericsson Networked Society site

Related: The Social Business Era: Creating Impact and Influencing Change

 

Are we shaping smartphones or are they shaping us?

In my last post, I wrote about two-way flexibility – about people trying to understand the new norms and rules in the changing landscape of work and leisure. In this post, I want to continue that discussion further and look into what issues arise as the private and personal spheres merge.

In his book from 1963, ‘Understanding Media’, Marshall McLuhan wrote the following: “For the message of any medium or technology is the change of scale or pace or pattern that it introduces into human affair”. He continues, “The medium is the message, because it is the medium that shape and control the scale and form of human associations and action.” 

What is the message from a smartphone and what pattern does it introduce into human affairs? That is the content of this blog post. Continue to the Networked Society Blog.

When are you out-of-office?

Right now I am sitting at the co-working space, Impact Hub in downtown Seattle preparing for a workshop I will lead tomorrow. I could of course have stayed in my hotel room but I prefer to get a flavor of the local entrepreneurial scene and be a bit social as well (beyond the borders of my computer).

My first business trip with Ericsson was in 1999 to Pittsburgh and the CHI 99 (Computer Human Interaction) conference. Back then you did not really have any connection with work or family when you were traveling. Mobile phones and the internet both existed, but were far from the experience we have today.

A modem was the most common connection until 2005 and intercontinental calls with your mobile phone were not really practical because of the cost. I don’t think I took my laptop with me as it was pretty useless without a connection. So when the conference program was over you did not have any e-mail to answer or work to keep up with. There was a clear border that ended work, defined by the technically and economically limitations.

Today those borders are gone. Wherever you are, work can be there. Continue reading at the Networked Society blog.

It’s working life, Jim, but not as we know it

I have been writing recently about the changes happening in working life and the challenges that both employers and employees will face going forward into the Networked Society.

Today’s cultural changes and technological progress are transforming working life as we know it, creating a business landscape that is dynamic and changing.

The new business landscape emerging out of these changes is a challenging one, where there are no safe positions and where anyone can be overtaken or disqualified. In this harsh new world, you have to learn to adapt to the new rules in order to survive.

What do you as an employer, manager and leader have to think about and consider in this new working environment?
How should you as an individual or employee think? What will be important going forward?
Visit the Networked Society blog and check out some survival tips and advice in a new report, “The Next Generation Working Life – A Survival Guide.”

What is defining next-generation working life?

Recently, Tonny Uhlin and I went into the studio to record the first episode of the “Next-generation Working Life” podcast. During this first episode, we talk about the big and small changes we see coming to our work places as we journey deeper into the Networked Society and how these will impact our working life going forward.

Visit the Networked Society blog and listen to the podcast , or if you like, watch the video above and then read the full report: ‘Next-generation working life – from workplace to exchange space’.

Central sites or local hubs – reflections on future city offices

As mobile technologies continue to liberate us from specific locations and time restrictions, it becomes less important where, when and how work is done. This ultimately will change how people moving around in cities. Some will work from home,others will go to the office and still others may prefer to sit at a café. Telecommuting and distance working will increase but this does not mean that people will only work from their homes (although some will). We still need a social context to our day and this means that we will want to meet people and get stimulated.

Read the full post at the Networked Society blog >>>

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