Recently, an exclusive group of executives from an array of business disciplines and industries shared their insights, best practices, and lessons learned in a highly experiential workshop at the Georgia Institute of Technology. The thought leaders gathered at the Advanced Technology Development Center, a technology startup incubator, to focus on business model innovation. Part workshop, part tour, the event was sponsored by Frost & Sullivan’s Growth Innovation Leadership Council, and consisted of presentations, interactive discussions, and a guided tour of The Invention Studio, the largest student-run makerspace in the nation.
“An excellent forum for discovery of like communities to accelerate ideas, insights and real-world case studies.”
The day kicked off with a Headliner presentation, Putting Innovation at the Center of your New Business Model Growth Strategy, led by Diana Smirnova, Vice President, Research and Development at Avery Dennison. Smirnova discussed the impetus to “innovate or perish” and provided examples of how companies like Nokia, Kodak and Blackberry, that once were industry leaders, failed to respond to consumer needs and ultimately went out of business. She emphasized the need to engage in disruptive innovation in the current era of rapid change and noted that some new technologies are already disrupting existing markets. In addition to outlining implementation guidelines like setting a clear vision and strategy and aligning the business around key goals, she encouraged the innovation executives in attendance to be open to exploring ideas that they were not experts in, and to consider unconventional collaboration opportunities.
Benjamin Karas, Digital Product Manager at Grainger, led a Crowdsource session, Getting Buy-In on New Revenue and Growth Models. Participants broke into three groups and brainstormed growth ideas for a prototypical company with 5,000 international employees. The groups were also tasked with determining the best way to get in front of decision makers. Many key practices and insights emerged, including:
- Create a healthy competition between company branches to source new strategies for growth
- Remember that a good idea may be defined as something new, or something that explores an existing strategy in a new or different way
- Be nimble enough to implement new strategies without too much red tape
- A guiding principle: most successful companies can explain the why behind what they do
Jacqueline Krain, Global Head of Business Innovation, Amazon Web Services (AWS), shared a Success Story, Hyperscaling Business Model Innovation at Amazon. As noted, “Success isn’t alchemy; it’s a combination of science and art driven by humans for humans”. Krain shared that it took a little over a decade for AWS, (a high-risk environment) to grow to a 10B business. She encouraged participants to remember that not every new idea would be remarkable, but to keep trying until the right one materialized. She also shared a new term: Minimum Loveable Product. Her point? It’s critical to ask whether customers will use and enjoy the product you’re envisioning. After discussing Amazon’s Growth Flywheel tool, she shared valuable guidelines with participants:
- Start every process with the customer and work backward
- Be stubborn with the vision, but flexible with the details
- Be willing to fail
- Be comfortable being misunderstood for a time
“A great mix of presentations and collaborative workshopping.”
The event’s FIX sessions, Crowdsourcing Tactical Solutions to Our Most Vexing Challenges led to some very robust discussions. Participants were divided into three groups and asked to crowdsource “fixes” to common innovation challenges. Key insights are highlighted below:
The Fix on Rethinking Traditional Measures of Business Success
Old ways of doing things can get circular, how do we bring about positive changes?
- Get over trust issues with new metrics (wariness of new technology)
- Ensure the metrics of measuring innovation are actually measurable
- Are metrics related to compensation a hindrance to innovation?
The Fix on Innovating Customer Engagement Models
Understand your customer’s business better than your competitors do.
- Do your customers see you as a provider of goods AND as a problem-solver?
- Choose who to engage with most, based on your capacity and priorities (challenge is to grow mid-tier customers so that they see providers as partners and want to grow with them)
- Aim to help your customers make more money than your competitors do
The Fix on Getting The Organization To Think Outside The Box
How to think about and implement long-term growth?
- Understand that sometimes the ROI is knowledge, not cash. (It can be worthwhile to get that knowledge in the long run)
- Create FOMO (fear of missing out) in regard to developing new technological innovations. For example: chatGPT
- Fail fast and fail cheaply
INNOVATION CENTER TOUR – The Invention Studio at Georgia Tech
After a networking lunch, participants toured The Invention Studio at Georgia Tech. The Innovation Center is split into three main areas based on the materials that can be used in them: the Hub, the Metal Room, and the Wood Room. Each room contains different tool groups that specialize in a variety of fabrication methods. Participants explored:
A 3D Printing Space
This is often used for rapid prototyping and has a fleet of 37 FDM printers for quick and high- volume parts. The professional printers, like the resin SLA printers, allow for more precise parts in engineering materials. All filaments and resins are free to access, which encourages users to experiment and iterate their designs.
These allow for very quick fabrication of 2D designs. The tools specialize in thin woods but also cut a few specific plastics like acrylic. They can also engrave the surfaces of a few metals and glass to make custom designs. The applications are wide, ranging from engraving names into custom gifts or making fast prototypes for robots.
This is a fast-manufacturing tool for 2D metal parts. It can cut through up to 6 inches of solid steel and handles a variety of plastics and composites. This tool is usually used for higher level engineering projects like chassis parts for the competitive robotics teams on campus. It can also be used for more artistic projects however, like the steel roses that are made for a workshop around Valentine’s Day.
After the tour, Greg King, Associate Vice President for Economic Development, Georgia Institute of Technology, led a session on Open Innovation: Outside In, Inside Out, Run in Circles Scream and Shout. When Greg asked the group to define what innovation meant to them, the consensus was that innovation involved the monetizing of a new and better solution to a real problem. It’s important that the problem has a real need to be solved to make marketing the solution viable.
The group discussed innovation resources such as start-ups, vendor partnerships and competitions. They examined the concept of open innovation, i.e. “bringing the outside inside” and drawing on novel talents and ideas. Universities can do cutting-edge research and are good sources of such talent. Questions that teams will need to ask themselves before bringing “the outside in” include:
- What capabilities are needed?
- What capacity do we currently have?
- What is the timeline, and what level of completeness is needed?
“Many of the concepts we walked away with will be implemented in our journey.”
Determining the answers to these questions beforehand can help prevent friction with outside groups. When it comes to funding and determining where to allocate resources, using a model with the horizontal axis ranging from incremental to disruptive (innovation) and the vertical axis ranging from low to high risk was endorsed. This can help enterprises map out the relative returns for different options.
ASK THE EXPERTS!
An Ask the Experts! Panel Discussion – Lessons Learned Along My Business Model Innovation Journey brought forth many hard-won innovation insights:
How do you keep momentum in innovation?
Companies get excited about innovation when the leaders get involved. There needs to be more involvement from more levels to keep interest and energy up.
What are some best practices to foster innovation?
Communication is the most important thing. Go back through the cultural parts of what the company stands for. The pandemic has led to less in-person brainstorm sessions, but you can hire talent where they are.
What happens when they cut your budget?
Determine whether it’s due to external or internal impact. If it’s an external cause, then it will likely slow other factors too, so it could be a blessing in disguise (you can’t grow too fast). If it’s an internal cause, then it forces you to narrow down priorities.
How do you innovate when you have to push through the inertia of long running industry practices?
You have to be clear about what you’re trying to do. It’s a long game that deals with a lot of personalities and feelings. Innovation is personal.
Scott Hartman, Market Development Manager – Chemicals, ExxonMobil, presented an Executive Insight – Business Model Transformation Towards Sustainability. Scott addressed the fact that meeting the demand for energy and products in an affordable and sustainable way is society’s dual challenge and shared his experiences as an executive tasked with thinking about the future of the company. He built a desirable (from a customer standpoint) new business model that included recycling options with chemical processes. Although the concept was validated by customers who were willing to pay for it, it took several tries to get senior leadership on board. He and his team ultimately succeeded by convincing leadership that it was crucial to the viability of the core business.
CREATING MEANING THROUGH INNOVATION
In his Capstone – Creating a Culture to Embrace Business Model Innovation, Jeetendra Kumar, Vice President IT Strategy, Innovation, Digital Value Streams at AGCO Corporation, discussed why “the art of innovation starts with creating meaning that can change the world.” Kumar explained that AGCO is the largest pure play farm equipment manufacturer in the world. This means that the only customers they serve are the actual farmers, not other corporations. This allows for a very focused mindset when trying to solve problems, because they have a clear idea who they are solving them for. Kumar shared four important practices that can be followed to create meaningful innovation:
Create Meaning: make the customer the hero of your story. At AGCO, this is making “farmer focused solutions to sustainably feed the world.”
Define your Mantra: what does your company stand for? Having a clear statement of what your purpose is helps to focus the pursuit of solutions: “Innovation comes from intention.”
Mobilize employees: create a true inclusive culture. “Customers will never love a company until their employees love it.
Motivate: believe that something wonderful will happen. “We didn’t come this far to only come this far.” Focus on what value you can create for your customer. This will empower people to innovate and break the cross-collaboration boundary.
These four M’s – meaning, mantra, mobilize and motivate – encapsulate points brought up many times throughout the innovation event. In sum, innovation is best approached when you can clearly communicate who you are as an entity and who the customer you are serving is.
“A terrific way to step back and refocus on the future.” “Really refreshing and energizing.”
Don’t miss our next Innovation Workshop and Tour at MIT InnovationHQ. Find more information and register here.