Great products and services begin with great ideas and great ideas are informed by the big trends that are shaping the world. But how do you sort through them all so you can zero in on the ones most important for innovation in your company?
Andi Plantenberg, founder and principal of FutureTight, an innovation consultancy based in San Francisco, has identified some valuable suggestions and resources to share. She talked about them with LEI Communications Director Chet Marchwinski at last year’s Designing the Future Summit where she discussed where to find publicly available resources on big trends, when to kill an idea, and the downside of striving for consensus on a new product or service.
Q: How can businesspeople sort through big trends and ideas?
Andi: I don’t think people realize that there’s a lot of information on trends out there and ready to use. You do not have to go to the large, expensive, fancy agencies of the world to do some of this work. There are organizations like the World Trade Organization, Forum for the Future, the United Nations, PwC, and Shell Scenarios are all publicly available resources where organizations have already wrangled the raw data and have made sense of it to a certain extent. So, I urge people to look at multiple sources and you’ll see patterns. These organizations generally are on the same page because they’re all seeing the same data. But some will have an expertise that’s a little deeper in one area or another.
Q: Let’s say a team is working on an idea. How does it know when to kill the idea or keep it going?
Andi: That’s a great question. A big part of the best practices now in Silicon Valley is a learning cycle. You experiment so you can learn about the real conditions of the market or the real conditions about the physical or technical feasibility of what you’re trying to make. And then you adjust your plans based on what you’ve learned. If you’re doing that experimental framework, you are moving towards a learning goal. And what you learn is going to inform you as to whether or not you need to kill the idea, whether or not you need to pivot, or whether or not you need to double down and persevere. So, it should be self-evident if you’re being clear about your learning goals.
Q: What, based on your experience working with companies, is your advice on how to align the broader organization on an innovation effort?
Andi: I think at this point in time there are a lot of practitioners of lean who are probably frustrated because there isn’t traction in the broader organization. Having the appropriate governance model to support the practices is critical. I think that a lot of people have experienced that pain firsthand. The companies that work with FutureTight normally have that understanding at the C-suite that they need to stand up an ability to learn at scale.
Where that doesn’t exist, there are techniques for how you might get traction. It really is around finding a problem that people care about solving, creating an informal coalition of people you work with to get some early wins, and then socializing it. It is not easy, but it can be done.
Q: I’ve heard you comment about the way we typically plan new products and processes. We get together, debate ideas, and then come to a consensus. But you weren’t that crazy about consensus. In fact, you said friction may be better than consensus. So, what did you mean by that?
Andi: This is a tricky one because people are hardwired to come to agreements; we don’t like conflict. But there are many studies now showing that diverse teams and differing points of view — where there is friction — and not an immediate alignment on a worldview, actually creates better outcomes. And these are outcomes in terms of dollars at the end of the quarter. There are scientific studies on this. I believe that Harvard Business Review a couple of years ago did a nice roll-up of this. So, having different points of view from socioeconomic backgrounds, different geos, different racial backgrounds is really important for creating good products that matter and affect the bottom line in a positive way.
Q: Finally, I know your consultancy helps companies that are fearing disruption to develop a continuous learning capability. I’m curious, what keeps executives at these companies awake at night and staring at the ceiling?
Andi: I would say it’s a nagging feeling that what we’ve been doing all along is not working anymore and it’s not because the bottom is necessarily falling out from under them. But they’re paying attention and they’re seeing that their growth is starting to flatten out, and they’re aware of the increased rate of change in both the market and in their competitive landscapes. And they’re realizing that they need to either diversify or just be ahead of the curve in solving new problems and creating new revenue streams.
Explore the resources below that Andi cited in the interview. Do you have favorite resources for trends? Share them in the comments section.
- World Trade Organization: statistics, research, economic analysis, and more.
- Forum for the Future: transformational strategies page.
- The United Nations: business resources page.
- PwC: library page with resources and insights.
- Shell Scenarios: “what if?” questions for leaders.
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