Miranda Hill
Miranda Hill Jun 28, 2017

Foster, connect, expect great things: The Innovation Engine’s heart and soul

Innovation comes from people meeting up in the hallways or calling each other at 10:30 at night with a new idea, or because they realized something that shoots holes in how we’ve been thinking about a problem

—Steve Jobs

 

Looking at the macro landscape, it’s clear many traditional financial services organizations have answered a critical call to arms. They now rethink, reimagine and disrupt their own businesses to keep pace with the changes technology and customer expectations drive. Labs, innovation centers, incubators and accelerators are ubiquitous among top- and mid-tier financial institutions. And many apply their own science to place bets and enable test-and-learn within their organizations (see Figure A below).

 

Figure A: Innovation Engine

Innovation Engine

Yet not all place equal value on the Innovation Engine’s second half—“Foster” and “Connect”—as they do the first (“Focus” and “Enable”). This crucial half of the engine focuses not on the science but rather the art of fostering an innovation culture that builds bridges through multiple connection points.

Fostering a culture of innovation might sound challenging given the time change that  management takes. The great news is that easy-to-implement tactics allow you to score some quick wins for your innovation team as well as the broader organization. Figure B highlights two examples.

Figure B: Two Quick Wins for Fostering a Culture of Innovation

Two Quick Wins for Fostering a Culture of Innovation

The innovation story represents your opportunity to make your work transparent to the rest of the organization—and external audiences if you so desire:

  • What was the concept you tested?
  • Why did you test it?
  • What did you learn?

Sharing metrics, and better yet customer verbatims, are truly powerful mechanisms that bring home the value of the concept. Fidelity Labs does a fantastic job at describing innovation journeys on their website. You can view the opportunity areas they focus on, as well as success stories, through their comprehensive list of case studies.

You can also gather immediate feedback on your activities through the storytelling process. In my previous role at Wells Fargo, the team showcased demos through the innovation lab and took the show on the road. The original intent was to present our innovations. But very quickly, we realized that these forums held value for gathering immediate commentary from employees. We addressed questions such as:

  • What do you think about this concept?
  • Do you think your customers would use this?
  • What could make this better?
  • Thumbs up or thumbs down?

Team Members at the forefront of customer interactions provided very valuable feedback and enabled us to pivot quickly on concepts being tested based on these real-time insights.

You’ll also gain powerful insights through fostering an innovation culture that leverages the power of the crowd for ideas. Companies can accomplish this through idea forums—think My Starbucks Idea—but also through less onerous mechanisms that aren’t as resource-intense.

In this instance, think hackathons and design-a-thons where developers, designers and product teams come together to make, tinker and create around a problem statement. Simpler yet, gather a cross-functional group of employees who happen to be available; then, grab a conference room and have a quick brainstorm around a particular customer or business problem or pain point.

Connecting the dots across the organization is really about building bridges internally and externally to create a network effect around innovation. You don’t know what you don’t know, so make sure you view different internal stakeholders as part of your innovation constellation: This is critical to staying connected to key enterprise partners.

For instance, no single group can know everything about the needs of different lines-of-business customers. So it proves advantageous to have the right champions in the lines of business, collaborate with them on ideas and co-sponsor pilots. This generates goodwill and ensures mutual skin in the game when placing bets, no matter how large or small.

Similarly from an external perspective, it’s always good to take the pulse on happenings outside the organization. One way to connect the dots from outside is to provide thought leadership around key macro trends and report back to the organization. Probably the most powerful way is by making connections with other innovation groups—either within financial services or outside of the industry. Visit other labs or innovation centers and converse about how you approach innovation—and even share use cases around innovation agendas—to shed light on new customer problems and business opportunities.

In focusing on innovation culture and networks of internal and external partners, you disseminate the task of innovation across the enterprise rather than contain it to a small subset of employees who get to do the “cool stuff.” You begin to construct and sustain a healthy innovation pipeline as you establish relationships that inspire new ideas. What’s more, you gain understanding of the pros and cons of existing concepts. This part of the engine focuses less on methodology and process and more on soft skills, where innovators:

  • Build trust
  • Listen
  • Gather feedback
  • Make sense of the data
  • Connect ideas, and
  • Diverge and converge on new opportunities.

A continuous journey where science and art combine allows the Innovation Engine elements to create a flywheel effect that kickstarts innovation. To begin, develop an innovation agenda, sustain it by activating on concepts through a healthy pipeline, and continuously feed the engine with ideas and insights gathered from your constellation of innovation partners.

Most importantly, enjoy the journey as you celebrate wins, learn from losses and ultimately launch new innovations that drive value for your customers and business. In this fashion, your Innovation Engine won’t simply run: It will outrun the competition.

 

This article is Part 1 of a 2 Part series. To view Part 1, click here.

 

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Miranda Hill is director of innovation and commerce strategy at ThoughtWorks. She can be reached at Mihill@thoughtworks.com. Miranda recently shared her insights as a guest of the BAI Banking Strategies podcast.

 


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