Last week of November I attended Swiss Innovation Forum in Basel. This is a big annual event (over 1000 attendees) organized by Swiss Economic Forum and Kommission für Technologie und Innovation, focused on the worldwide achievements, inspirations and best practices in the field of innovation. Let me share my impressions with you.
The Forum began with the history of innovation in LEGO presented by David Robertson, Professor of Wharton School. In 1994 Founders of the LEGO Company which at the time was a family business, decided to change the way the company was approaching their customers. The main reason was that sales had stalled for few years. They decided to hire a professional CEO and let him execute his growth plan. The company sailed in uncharted waters, building new products and looking for new customers’ segments. The “go outside the box” strategy was initially successful. However, the portfolio of products aiming to compete in new market segments led to over investment and resulted in the company’s almost-bankruptcy. This was the effect of attempt to innovate without understanding the needs of the customers. The battle was lost, and the company changed the approach to “innovate around the box”, focusing on the core competency (LEGO bricks) and building products around it. The company was rescued, and on a good path to grow, which continues today. Their solution: “Make a date with you customer” made LEGO successful!
This is exactly the reason why our GTI innovation methodologies focus on creating value maps – understanding how customers behave, what problems they encounter and how we and our competitors solve those problems and deliver value. This helps to avoid unnecessary mistakes and design a competitive advantage literally on demand – this method is called Design for advantage™
There was a lot interesting presentations of successful start-ups and spin-offs but also stories from corporate technology and innovation officers like Bazmi Husain, CTO from ABB.
The stories of many of the start-ups, presented on SIF were summarized by Google Chief Innovation Evangelist – Frederik Pferd. He explained to the audience that we should let people to have a chance for creative freedom, sharing the ideas, and get it challenged with “yes, and…” approach. Asking questions, building scenarios of future, giving a team freedom of making mistakes: “Don’t excuse for new ideas – the first approach is never perfect” is his prescription of success in innovation. It leaves me with a mixed feeling: as long as we need an open culture to stimulate ideas, the example of LEGO shows perfectly that “freedom to make mistakes” can lead to the company’s death. Especially, that there are powerful and easy methods like GTI that minimize the risk related with innovation.
Why do we need to make mistakes if we don’t have to?