Beca’s New Ventures Accelerator’s Top 5 Innovation Learnings and Insights
Techweek’s theme of ‘innovation that’s good for the world’ is a noble cause and one that aligns closely to Beca’s purpose: Make everyday better.
Disruptive competition is global and accelerating. It is increasingly based on innovation, technology platform, brand, design and business model. New Zealand businesses need to compete by unlocking the creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship of their people and think globally: ‘#8 Wire 2.0’.
But what does innovation mean in a NZ corporate environment and how to enable it in a large professional services organisation like Beca, and inspire and empower 3,500 smart people to create innovative new opportunities that’s good for the world’?
This blog for Techweek by Stephen Westwood, Head of Marketing & Communications at Beca’s New Ventures Accelerator, will share some key learnings and insights the team has experienced first-hand in their journey setting up a corporate innovation unit and running multiple innovation experiments.
Many of these innovation learnings are applicable to large NZ public sector organisations and also SMEs:
It’s an experiment – not a project
Each innovation ‘project’ needs to be treated as an innovation ‘experiment’ with a clear hypothesis to test that is risk contained. The experiment is executed via a very structured Lean Startup methodology through a series of ‘sprints’ that are strictly time-boxed, with measurable inputs and outcomes. The experiment must be lean and given just enough: time, team, money and expertise to get enough validated learnings to be able to make a successful ‘investment pitch’ to take it to the next phase of the experiment.
Experiments are open and structured: Focus the experiments to see what problem they solve in a very open and very structured way. Clear learnings validated by customer feedback and measurable data need to be regularly presented back to the business. Organise ‘demo day’ events that showcase the progress of the experiments that are open to the whole business. This transparency is the antithesis of the ‘skunkworks’ project that takes place in the bowels of a business over years and the true costs of it are unknown.
Treat everything as an experiment – it’s a liberating culture shift! Once the concept of treating innovation as an experiment and failing fast (see point 2) is understood and accepted in a culture it can liberate people from the fear of failure because they are testing a hypothesis. Business transformation becomes possible through running multiple lean experiments that test the ability of an organisation’s culture to adapt to disruption. The innovation experiments can target anything from automating internal processes to creating totally new business models. It was an experiment so what did we learn? Have fun. Stay curious.
Fail Fast! – what did you learn?
Fail Fast is a term imported from Silicon Valley and the Venture Capital ecosystem and it is an important concept to understand and imbed into a corporate culture and innovation programme - especially in NZ where we don’t have a culture that tolerates failure – think All Blacks – and there is very little appetite for failure in a NZ corporate context (let alone a firm like Beca with a 99 years’ delivering engineering excellence).
“What did you learn?”: Sometimes reality and customers don’t live up to the assumptions built into the experiment’s hypothesis - so ask “what did you learn?”. Deeper insights can come from the pain of failure which can prove to be very valuable in long run - when was the last time you really learnt something or gained deep insight from a success?
Innovation team not over investing time & energy: It can potentially be personally very disappointing for team members to fail fast as emotions, ego, ambition, politics and money are invested in the innovation experiment. Failing fast will test the resilience of the individuals and the team so there needs to be a careful management process in place to handle the personal impact of failing fast. Ultimately, by failing fast the team members are saving themselves, and the business, the time and energy to befree to focus on other value-creation opportunities…but remember - it was an experiment (see point 1) so what did you learn? Have fun. Stay curious.
Ask the right innovation questions of the business
When identifying internal candidate opportunities to be submitted that could go into a corporate innovation unit - be very clear and precise in what you ask of the people in the business to submit. Hunt for clearly articulated customer/client problems - not interpreted solutions. The aim is to increase the number and quality of innovation experiments while relentlessly driving down the cost-per experiment.
Don’t just ask for good ideas: If you just ask for people’s “good ideas” you may end up with solutions looking for problems to solve, particularly in technically orientated business i.e. start by finding a “problem looking for a solution” – that is where the value lives. Use themes to direct the focus of people in the business to submit their innovation experiments e.g. ‘Give us your client/business/industry problems’.
What's your problem?...
Problem Discovery is the relentless search for the truth/facts as validated from early stage customer interactions and feedback. This delivers the raw quantitative and qualitative data on customer/client needs, desired outcomes and ultimately the value in solving them. Before you come up with a solution listen to customers first i.e. not internal opinions or get asked to work on the boss’s pet innovation projects.
Problem Discovery is a technique: Use specifically designed Problem Discovery techniques and tools face to face with your clients/customers. A very structured Problem Discovery methodology gives the innovation team a new way of looking at the clients/customers world and just as importantly - gives your clients/customers a new way to work with your business! Problem Discovery techniques can quickly change the business as usual paradigm. We quickly found that people responded very differently when approached about their business problems and new insights and innovation opportunities can emerge.
You have a good problem to innovate on… but need the right team!
You have a good problem identified from listening to your clients/customers to innovate on but need the right person to lead the experiment - plus a small team with the right mix of skills to drive it - but they all have day jobs and bosses. Cue this response: “Hold on, you want to pull my best performer out of my team and business-as-usual to work on “innovation” for 12-weeks!?”. This is a big challenge for any organisation - even if the team are ‘doing innovation that’s good for the world’.
C-level “air cover”: A successful resolution can take a lot of time and requires skilful negotiation with internal stakeholders and ‘air cover’ from a C-level sponsor of the corporate accelerator program who has the vision, budget and political capital to ensure the innovation experiment gets a minimum of team of three people. A team of three, with the right mix of vision, passion, skills, experience and attitude is optimal to drive the experiment at the pace and intensity required.
The insights outlined above are just a few of many that the New Ventures Accelerator team at Beca have learned and these align closely to the experiences and best practice of other corporate innovation accelerators in NZ and internationally. Corporate innovation requires a long-term commitment and investment in time, money and political capital – but by unlocking creativity and empowering curiosity and entrepreneurship in people - innovation that’s good for the world can thrive!
About Beca’s New Ventures Accelerator
The New Ventures Accelerator is a dedicated innovation and entrepreneurship unit tasked to drive the commercialisation of the next generation of Beca’s services and digital products. This is achieved by creating a repeatable innovation process designed to support an entrepreneurship culture in Beca (a NZ company of 3,500 people in 20 offices operating in 8 countries) and through partnering with clients, the wider startup community, and the innovation ecosystem in NZ and internationally.
Learn more by attending Beca’s Techweek events.
This content is created in partnership with Beca.