A personal journey
into the world of innovation and what it might mean for your business
By David Quinlan, VP of Marketing, Better Business Bureau Northwest + Pacific
Few things can be scarier than challenging ourselves and our preconceived notions. Yet, fewer things can be more rewarding.
This is my behind the scenes, unscripted back story of how I
challenged myself and staff. We tore down our preconceived notions and learned
what it means to be innovative and how even a 107-year-old organization like
BBB can make it happen.
Trust me, I get it. I’ve found myself in numerous situations
where I felt like a fish out of water, grappling with an abstract idea or
concept. It’s uncomfortable – especially if you’re a process freak like me!
So, when my organization, BBB Northwest + Pacific, moved
forward with an outside the box approach to tackling innovation – I wasn’t
convinced. Where’s the market research? Who’s going to be our PM? Where’s the
Calm down David! We’re not creating a Trello board – we’re
This is a blog post about my journey into the world of
innovation and enrollment in the Innovators Academy (IA) led by a team of
internationally recognized business advisers who specialize in a creative and
systematic approach to business.
We are innovators
I assure you my cohort felt little out of place when we
first met. Twenty people from our organization were selected to join this first
team of the IA. The cohort included board members, managers, executives, new
employees, and a mix of different teams across the organization inside
It is day one of a two-day session. The first of many in-person meetings that will stretch over the course of twelve months. Packed into a conference room at the Boise Hilton Garden Inn - everyone looked nervously around, curious as to what was about to happen. Dale Dixon, BBB's Chief Innovation Officer, kicked things off by introducing Evans Baiya - a consultant, innovator, author, speaker and our boss for the duration of this journey.
"We are about to disrupt ourselves," Evans told
us. "We are going to create a culture of collaboration and all of you are
going to play a big part in it."
Okay, this sounds really intriguing. But disrupt us how? And
what does he mean by innovation?
I'll unpack the first question later - but the best way to
describe innovation is this simple formula:
Innovation = Value Created
Innovation can take on many shapes and sizes, but if done
correctly it can build organizations by creating revenue, growing its brand,
attracting talent and most importantly providing value to the customer.
Think of Moore's Law and how the world of computing changes
every 18-months making what was once a new device obsolete. Organizations need
to look at innovation the same way. If we don't look ahead, we will not be able
to adapt and change. If that happens, we don't have a chance.
The IA team is here to create value. That's our one job over
the next year and it's up to this group of innovators to lead the way by
training, practicing, and experimenting with innovation. It will be our job to
identify, develop, and scale ideas that create value for our customers.
We must have a customer voice in everything we do.
I think of Jeff Bezos, Amazon's CEO, when he holds his
leadership meetings and always leaves one chair empty to represent the
customer. I thought that was so powerful because how often do we as business
leaders assume, we have all the answers?
I remember a mentor of mine once asked me, “if your organization dies
today - who's going to miss you”
It better be your customers!
There are five types of value that we define at IA.
Each one raises questions that organizations need to answer.
For example: What do customers think of value? How does value help us get a job
done? What are people willing to pay? How can we make money and are there any
social gains? However, probably the most important type of value to include, is
people. We cannot underestimate the value of people.
It's a powerful statement, but it makes perfect sense.
Valuing people means we know how to position them for success and aligning them
with their strengths. That will lead to innovation. To get there, however, we
are going to have to collaborate and disrupt. Challenge each other as a team.
Collect data. Listen to feedback. Never assume. Solve problems together. After
all, innovation always circles back to how well we collaborate - especially
when you collaborate with an unlikely person.
Stages of innovation
Did you know that 83% of US companies under $300 M in
revenue do not successfully innovate? That's because they never had to
innovate. When I heard that, I thought of Kodak and Sears. Two powerhouse
brands that quickly fell behind.
So now that we've defined what it means to innovate and how
collaboration plays an instrumental part- it's time for us to understand the
different stages of innovation. The Innovators Advantage breaks it up into two
different buckets - front end innovation and back end innovation.
Front End Innovation
Back End Innovation
Each stage has different objectives, goals, and activities that
allow us to come up with a solution, develop it into a product and eventually
deploy to our customers. This is a critical process and powerful tool in how we
identify an opportunity and execute on a goal. It's at the core of IA - a
continuum of selecting, refining, and creating outcomes.
(Read Innovator's Advantage to see the full context: http://theinnovatorsadvantage.com/)
Creative vs. innovative
Being creative is not the same thing as being innovative.
Creativity is a driver for innovation. It helps get us there. Creativity is
thinking up new things, while innovation is doing new things.
How many ideas can you come up with that have been super
successful on their own? Most innovations are built off another idea, but with
disruptive impact. This is easier said than done considering the number of
barriers there are preventing individuals / organizations from reaching that
Four P's of Innovation
The Innovator's Advantage describes two categories of
innovation: incremental and disruptive. I touched on both earlier, but
incremental refers to building off something that already exists while
disruptive is considered radical and a breakthrough innovation.
Taking innovation one step deeper - there are subcategories
or types innovation, which impacts a specific part of the organization.
Innovators Advantage identifies four.
- Product Innovation
- Process Innovation
- Position Innovation
- Paradigm Innovation
Being that the BBB is a multi-sided organization with different customer segments, defining the different types of innovations can be challenging. It will be up to this 20-person team to help lead that discussion across the organization and to our customers.
Okay, let's recap
- Better Business Bureau Northwest + Pacific is
trying to disrupt itself to create new value for its customers.
- A team of innovators has been selected to help
collaborate and lead by undergoing a challenging, one-year innovation academy.
- Innovation equals value created.
- There are different types of innovations that
impact all aspects of an organization.
- Never underestimate the people value! Positioning
people to use their strengths will lead to greater success and innovation.
I really encourage you to check out the book The Innovators Advantage by Ron Price
and Evans Baiya. It's at the core of what we are trying to do as an
organization. While we are only one-session in, our team of innovators has been
challenged in creating new value for BBB that our current and future customers
will need to help them be successful.
Let's do this!