“In most cases being a good boss means hiring talented people and then getting out of their way.” – Tina Fey
“In most cases being a good boss means hiring talented people and then getting out of their way.” – Tina Fey
“If you had shown [companies] the iPhone 10 years ago and said, “This will be the future of how civilization works,” they would have said, “No, it won’t.” In fact, some companies looked at this space and elected not to pursue it.
This is because their innovation process doesn’t give their leadership a context for thinking about profound innovation. In a conventional company, an innovation process is often a substitution for creativity and thoughtfulness. Companies have come to us and asked for something like “disruptive innovation.” It is fashionable and they’ve read about it; they don’t know why they need it, but they hope it will help. However, they are seldom prepared to embrace what’s necessary to actually do this.”
Bran Ferren on the Art of Innovation interviewed by Art Kleiner in Strategy+Business magazine.
Now, more than ever, the power of collaboration is manifesting itself across space and time. Digital tools are helping us to create connections between seemingly disparate interests and to solve problems on a global scale. Nevertheless, in regions in development and, in particular, in Latin America, there exists a range of problems in the public and private sectors that could be solved through collaboration, innovation and excellence. Problems such as energy generation, response to natural disasters, and high school desertion to name just a few. Design thinkers say that collaboration is viable when there is a better understanding of users, a relevant place to prototype ideas and the built-in motivation to implement those ideas. If you turn this around, it holds true that if you don’t have these three elements, collaboration – and the viability of using “community” to solve problems – may just be impossible. What is happening in Latin America, then, to make “community” viable? Perhaps a closer look at these three elements can help us see why the region is falling short.
First, when we better understand users, we can better address needs and design a product or service that fits those needs. Seems simple, but implementation of this element is difficult in high context cultures such as those that exist in the majority of countries in Latin America. In cultures that encourage alignment with social status and formal social rules, understanding users – and users in multiple interest groups – is a challenge. It involves using interviewing techniques and empathy to gain a complete understanding of stakeholders and usage. Understanding what question to ask and being able to bring the answer from various areas into context, helps form an accurate picture of users and their needs. Striving for a better understanding of users – and using multiple research methods in order to overcome cultural characteristics – is key in solving users’ problems.Embed from Getty Images
Second, designing solutions must be an interactive process. We will always need a place to work with stakeholders, test assumptions and take risks. This is why innovation centers sometimes fail: they need to work with community and not in isolation from them. Nevertheless, innovation centers in Latin America specifically are extremely useful in fostering more cross functional collaboration and mitigating some of the risks associated with large scale innovation investments in developing countries. Multinationals Dupont and BBVA as well as “multilatina” Stefanini have successfully gained insights and new products through their centers; illustrating that while innovation centers may have their drawbacks, they can be a relevant place to prototype ideas.
Finally, motivation must be present at the idea implementation phase. This means that while we may have a prototype or project, there is always more work to be done in implementing the idea. What can help with the successful implementation of the idea is community. As the old saying goes, people are more committed to that which they help build. If communities are collaborating on ideas that benefit them; they will have a higher successful implementation rate. There is also the possibility for the ideas that spread. Like a TED Talk, a good idea can spread and be implemented much faster when members of community that will benefit from the idea get involved and share their passion around a solution.
Is community viable? Yes it is. But seeing collaboration for what it is – working towards understanding users, engaging users and prototyping with users in the Prototype-Pilot-Product triad – makes community collaboration viable. In Latin America in particular, understanding these elements and their unique challenges in our region, is essential in community viability.
Don’t be a “copy cat”. We want to hear your voice, your ideas, your work. Be authentic and true. Write with mistakes and correct them later. Go with the flow of your ideas and you will see that it leads you to somewhere that no one else could have imagined or written down. You cannot copy inspiration. Intelligence. Wit. Yourself.
If you do copy. Do so gracefully. State where you took the information. Hat tip your source. Thank someone who inspired you.
If you copy and take praise, remember that it is not professional and you lose moral authority as a person or entity or project you are associated with. Although the source may never find out, you will know that you did and that’s what matters.
Miles Davis decía que si no está cometiendo un error, es un error. Tal vez lo que quería decir con esta frase es que hay que arriesgar lo seguro, lo practicado y lo hábil para abrir paso a la creación de algo nuevo e innovador. La música jazz es un campo fértil para la experimentación y para diseñar con intencionalidad por la serendipia – que es el descubrimiento inesperado y el hallazgo fortuito – en nuestras organizaciones.Embed from Getty Images
La canción “Take Five,” creada por Paul Desmond e interpretada por Dave Brubeck y su cuarteto del mismo nombre, logró una aceptación comercial espectacular en muchos países debido a varios factores incluyendo el empleo de un compás inusual de 5/4; inspiración para el nombre de la canción “toma cinco” en español. Escuchando nuevamente este tema, me vino la idea del jazz “mindset” o modelo mental aplicado a los negocios. Las habilidades que se practican con la experimentación musical son habilidades que también se necesitan en nuestras organizaciones modernas.
En música jazz, existe un equilibrio entre restricciones y libertad; se puede decir que la autonomía es guiada porque existe la capacidad de pensar e interpretar de forma diferente dentro de ciertos parámetros. Hay puntos donde uno puede escoger su acción, sus “notas” y su interpretación de la puntuación musical sin que las reglas estorben y que las decisiones sean rutinarias y mediocres. Para lograr este equilibrio en organizaciones no se busca siempre el consenso sino una cultura donde la mejor idea gana – fomentando debate y experimentación dentro de la infraestructura de la empresa. Elon Musk, emprendedor y fundador de empresas como PayPal y Tesla Motors, se suscribe a esta filosofía.
El énfasis en el liderazgo a veces nos hace indiferentes a las pistas o señales de los demás; sin embargo, estudios hechos por varios grupos, incluido el Dr. Ram Charan de Harvard Business School, dicen que la habilidad de escuchar es tan importante que la expresión cuando se trata de un líder efectivo. En música jazz, hay momentos para liderar y para seguir al líder. Los músicos reconocen cuando hay que acompañar a los otros miembros de su grupo y cuando es su momento para liderar o ser acompañados. Los mejores líderes en el mundo son estas personas que hacen que los demás “suenen bien” y muchas veces, no suelen ser los que salen en las noticias.
En ingles hablamos del “flow state” – un estado donde se siente que todo fluye y está en harmonía con el ambiente y con el cambio mismo. Músicos de jazz dicen que el “flow state” es cuando la creatividad fluye de un esfuerzo colaborativo entre músicos que trabajan hacia el mismo objetivo; puede ser una realidad tanto en los negocios como en la música cuando se logra conexiones entre personas, funciones, entidades e ideas. Muchas veces las organizaciones no se dan cuenta de la importancia de las conexiones y las relaciones humanas: entre el cliente y la empresa, entre empleados y gerencia, entre proveedores y los compradores, etcétera. Ser conscientes de estas conexiones y relaciones humanas es una manera de asegurar un ritmo donde fluyen ideas y soluciones innovadoras. Roger Martin, en su libro “The Opposable Mind” habla del pensamiento integrante y como los líderes más efectivos pueden contemplar dos ideas opuestas en su mente al mismo tiempo. Martin dice que estas ideas – provenientes de conexiones entre funciones o áreas distintas – ayudan a que la empresa este más conectada con el cambio y que sus productos y servicios sean relevantes para sus clientes en el corto y mediano plazo.Embed from Getty Images
Dave Brubeck decía “hay una manera de jugar seguro, hay una manera de utilizar trucos pero esta no es la forma en que me gusta jugar; me gusta jugar con el peligro, en él vas a tener la oportunidad de cometer errores con el fin de crear algo que no has creado antes.” No es cuestión de buscar el fracaso sino acoger la improvisación, la disonancia y el desorden que es el mundo de ahora. El jazz – la improvisación, el equilibrio entre estructura y expresión y las conexiones colaborativas – puede servir como un modelo mental que nos ayuda a desarrollar las habilidades más fructíferas e innovadores para liderar la organización moderna.
Escrito por Esther Clark y publicado en America Economia en mayo 2015.
The most important thing in communication is to hear what isn’t being said.
A friend of mine who I met at the Drucker Forum two years ago observed that we often celebrate the new – the “new” year without giving the old – the “old” year its due respect and celebration.
As we enter into 2015, I have learnt so much from friends, family, colleagues and projects over the course of 2014. One of my key takeaways from 2014 is..
Always be learning.
It’s simple but it encapsulates my belief that we should always be striving to create a better world and the need to focus on improving ourselves as human beings. From an organizational perspective, I believe that learning – lifelong learning – is fundamental to success and being relevant and in touch with the world around us. It´s the world around us, after all, that provides us with clients, employees and stakeholders.
Happy 2015 and may we always be learning from each other towards a brighter future and a celebration of our accomplishments past, present and future!
Latin America has tremendous, and growing, purchasing power—due in part to economic giants like Mexico and Brazil—yet this has not led to strong innovation capabilities. While exceptions always exist, for the most part Latin American firms and subsidiaries are limited in their ability to develop innovations that make a global, let alone regional, impact. As practitioners in innovation and business leadership in Latin America for more than 15 years, we believe that one solution is innovation centers, similar to those that exist in developed countries.
The two groups with the most potential in the region are the multilatinas (Latin American multinationals) and the subsidiaries of large international corporations. However, both are currently underperforming. In a 2013 report, the World Bank states that Latin American subsidiaries are less innovative than their counterparts in other emerging markets. In the case of the multilatinas, other research has found that they too are much less innovative than other emerging market multinationals.
Why does the region fall short? In part, the problem is a lack of needed structural elements, such as intellectual property protection, access to capital, and open markets across the region. A shortage of skilled—particularly tech-savvy—workers, and a concentration of government-owned companies in the services industry also present challenges for innovation. In fact, the World Bank states that public sector dominance in the services sector might be the single most important factor impeding higher innovation levels in Latin America.
While these structural elements will ease over time, innovation centers offer a viable—and immediate—solution to fostering innovation today. The idea behind innovation centers is to be “living labs” that bring together cross-functional talent in an environment conducive to risk-taking therefore leading to improvements in an organization’s operations and development of new products and services. Internationally, companies as diverse as Capital One, Aetna, and Nordstrom, are using innovation centers to develop new processes and new ways of connecting with customers.
Within Latin America, Dupont is an early leader in the use of innovation centers; its facilities in Mexico and Brazil have led to collaboration across various industry sectors, with both public and private partners. In one notable result, Dupont’s efforts in Brazil led to the development of locally manufactured, bullet-resistant body armor used by police and security personnel.
We looked at two companies—one multinational subsidiary in the region and one multilatina—to discover the results of these innovation centers and what lessons we can learn from them. The first company, BBVA, is a multinational banking group based in Spain with a strong interest in overseas expansion, particularly in Latin America. The bank has developed a plan to become the leading digital bank in the region, investing more than $2.5 billion over four years; 40 percent of this investment is allocated to technological projects, including innovation centers.
The company’s strategy is to insert its centers as close to its customers and the business and entrepreneurial hub of a given country or area as possible, so that it can tap into local insights and issues, in order to develop the best solutions. BBVA’s innovation center in Bogota is the first such facility in the banking sector in Colombia, the second that BBVA has opened in Latin America—along with Mexico—and the company’s third worldwide (the first was opened in Madrid in 2011).
The center in Bogota has both laboratory and ideation space and the center’s goal is to function in part like a mini Bell Lab: a pocket center for basic research on digital banking applications in Latin America, with the objective of developing new products and cross-functional solutions for BBVA’s customers. It relies on BBVA’s corporate innovation center in Spain for its strategic direction as well as financing. All three of BBVA’s centers also host workshops, contests, and conferences with select groups inside and outside the BBVA world; fostering innovation beyond the banking industry—and beyond the region of Latin America.
BBVA points to a continuous succession of innovations; the next generation ATM called ABIL is one example of BBVA’s efforts. The ABIL is a result of studying how consumers behave at BBVA’s ATMs in Mexico, Spain and the US. BBVA’s focus on innovation – and innovation centers – is working by creating new customer centric products and services.
The second company we looked at, Stefanini, is a multilatina founded in Brazil in 1987 that provides IT services worldwide. Stefanini currently runs an innovation center in Brazil that focuses on key trends in cloud computing, big data, social media, and mobility, where it hopes to define areas of synergy with operations and business verticals.
Stefanini has notable M&A activity in the last five years; among Stefanini’s recent acquisitions are Brazilian start-up Document Solutions in 2009, US-based TechTeam Global in 2010, credit card processing company Orbitall and core banking solutions firm Top Systems in 2012. Their innovation center is used to foster learning and idea exchange across various units and companies within the Stefanini organization. According to Stefanini, a portion of $400 million is earmarked for innovation projects in the next three years; projects that are essential to the “business” side of Stefanini and not just development of technology itself.
While some companies may not have an innovation budget like Stefanini o BBVA, many of their lessons can apply to fostering innovation in companies and in a region, like Latin America, that does not necessarily have an “innovation reputation”. To achieve similar successes, there are four basic guidelines that companies should follow.
1) Focus on talent: innovation centers help connect companies with talent that might not otherwise be discovered and developed; this talent may be a result of a company acquiring a strategic resource or company through an M&A (as is the case with Stefanini) or an organization’s proximity to entrepreneurial and business ecosystems (as is the case with BBVA).
2) Take an open approach to innovation: innovation centers are “living labs” and therefore should foster innovation in a cross functional environment conducive to risk-taking and integrative thinking; centers should be open to insights gained through collaboration with their stakeholders; BBVA’s ABIL is a good example of co-creation and their openness to community interaction through events and contests is also noteworthy.
3) Test and prototype: centers enable organizations to successfully administer the Prototype-Pilot-Product triad and manage cost and risk without directly impacting the company’s core business; in other words, putting products and services in front of people – and having them interact and “play” with them – can provide rich feedback before rolling out the innovations on a larger scale.
4) Focus on small “wins”: as we have mentioned, the Latin America region is characterized by lack of access to capital and public sector dominance in certain industries. Our last guideline illustrates why innovation centers work so well in this environment: they focus on effective innovations – small “wins” – that have the potential to be scaled in the region given the right conditions and early successes.
Can innovation centers be the catalyst for increasing investment in innovation and changing our view of innovation in Latin America and in emerging markets? We believe that by fostering more cross functional collaboration and mitigating some of the risks associated with large scale innovation investments in developing countries, innovation centers have enormous potential to make a positive impact on the future of business growth in the region.
Diego Vallarino is Managing Director at BEXTON Research, a Latin-American Innovation and Management Research Boutique. He is author of “Innovation from the South: How Latin American companies face new competition” (2005). PhD in Business History, GCP (Wharton), SEE (Babson), MBA IP (Adolfo Ibáñez). Follow @diego_vallarino
Esther Clark is the business and strategy lead at Hipona Consulting, a niche firm that specializes in Latin America in areas related to strategic communications, corporate governance and marketing. Follow @ClarkEsther
I came across this amazing video of Seth Godin’s over the weekend. It’s a great mix of classic Seth Godin (tribes, being “weird”, the entrepreneur/empresario) with doing business in a connected world. I found the following particularly interesting…
Godin describes the triangle of the connected world. We need Strategy, Implementation of Strategy as well as “Caring Enough to Fail” in order to create value, a following, and a company that matters. Oftentimes, our organizations get too big or too busy to question the status quo or care enough about experimenting and doing something that might fail. If we don’t care enough to fail how might we know what we are capable of and what our customers want and need?
In Latin America, I find organizations have a strategy and people to implement it but are set on what works rather than experimenting with failure ahead of the bell curve. How can we change this? Perhaps by leveraging connections and unexpected connections between things – and what is that? Innovation.
So this is the video that inspired me over the weekend to continue to tell meaningful stories to people who share (or will share) our views/concerns/needs. Let’s care enough to fail, be generous with ideas and…make them work through strategy and implementation.