Innovation: Beyond Buzzwords

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Thinkstock

Out here in Silicon Valley, “innovation” is center square on buzzword bingo. Everybody talks about it. Everybody wants to be associated with it. Everybody claims to do it. But not all innovation is created equal. As we strive to become innovators in our industries, I’d like to offer a few practical tips for how to think about innovation in a way that breaks through the noise and delivers impact.

Necessity is the mother of invention
Step 1: Find a purpose.

Innovation is most useful when it’s in response to a clearly understood need. The more grounded we are in a precise, differentiated purpose, the more effective our ideas will be. Just last week, LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner shared with a group of LinkedIn B2B Connect attendees that having a clear differentiated purpose is in fact the single most important determining factor in the success of any new LinkedIn feature or service.

For a professional services organization like Blanc & Otus, there are three primary needs to consider: helping our own people, helping our clients, and helping our profitability. And while all three are connected, helping our people is the most important. After all, we are our own product.

Whether we’re looking to improve our efficiency and automate tasks we’re already doing, or looking to improve our effectiveness with new services we’re not doing yet, or looking to improve our impact with data services that show the value of what we’re doing…helping unleash the full potential of our amazing tribe of consultants is, I believe, the best possible purpose behind any of our innovations.

Engage in a little creative destruction
Step 2: Blow some stuff up.

Not literally, of course, but conceptually. When imagining and engineering new ways to work, it’s extremely helpful to blow up old assumptions and outdated models to clear a path for fresh thinking. When Facebook first launched, it was a stated assumption of all Internet-driven businesses that it was bad to have “white space” on your web site. MySpace had set the standard, and it looked a teenager’s bedroom wall that had been over-run with fan posters. But Facebook challenged that assumption and believed that a social network was less about pushing media and more about pulling people together. And when it launched, it had the most minimalistic webpage anybody had ever seen. It defied convention. And it worked.

So, once you’re grounded in purpose, ask yourself what old assumptions you’re carrying around with you. Dump them. Create some conceptual white space in which to work. And have some fun while you’re doing it!

Innovation isn’t just about technology
Step 3: Be human.

Innovation is about way more than the latest shiny new gadget or app. Technology is but one of many forms of innovation. People, process and technology all have to work in tandem for a new idea to work. And of the three, people are usually the slowest moving component of any change. After all, a new technology doesn’t resist change when you upgrade it.

That’s why cultural innovation and changing the human operating system are as important, if not more important, than the technology operating systems we work with. Process innovation, and shifting the protocols by which we work together, is also a great way to reduce complexity and increase speed and scale. Even environmental innovation, and changing the space in which we work, can have a profound impact on our overall creativity and productivity. So, ask yourselves, how can we innovate the non-technical aspects of innovation and make a real impact?

Ingenuity is as valuable as innovation
Step 4: Use what you’ve got.

Innovation is the creation of something brand new, like a wheel. Ingenuity is the creative recombination of existing components to produce something useful, like when somebody took two wheels, ran a stick through the center of them, and put a box on top to make a cart. Ingenuity is particularly helpful in professional services firms where people are already resourceful and tenacious.

Looking again at Facebook as an example, ingenuity is what the company was all about. Mark Zuckerburg didn’t invent anything. He used existing technologies in a new and disruptive way. Same with LinkedIn. Same with Uber and Lyft. So, the question is, how can those of us in the professional services industry become models of ingenuity?

Co-Create Something Amazing
Step 5: Crowd-source your solution

Once you’ve found your purpose, blown up old assumptions, thought through the human implications of your innovation, and used your existing resources to full effect, now you’re ready to create something brand new. And in this final step, nothing is more important than tapping into the wisdom of the amazing tribe of people around you. And it’s important to reach beyond your immediate circle of employees and colleagues. Involve your customers and clients, partners, influencers and most especially your critics in your creative process. Collaborative co-creation yields so much more innovation because it brings together such a rich combination of complementary perspectives. And collaborative co-creation allows for more people to have a personal stake in the success of the innovation initiative you’re pursuing.

At B&O, we’re fortunate to have a tribe of digital natives who are in touch with the latest digital tools and techniques, and who are on the front lines of delivering value to our clients. Our Facebook, Instragram and LinkedIn programs were all started by our youngest employees. We recently aired one of our marketing summits on Periscope at the recommendation of our staff. By being open to experimentation and involving a broader group of people in the creative process, we’ve been able to embrace change in a way that brings us closer together as a team. 

What are your own pointers for embracing innovation? We’d love to co-create some professional service innovation with you, so join the conversation!

Things that Go Boom: Kicking Off 2015 with Some Creative Destruction

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Thinkstock

Every December, my brothers and I gather with our parents on our farm in Missouri to ring in the New Year with some serious fireworks. There’s something cleansing about blowing things up — a reminder that in the wake of creative destruction, a blank canvas emerges, paving the way for new possibilities.

As storytellers, B&O deals in the currency of words. We use them to change attitudes, impact markets and create understanding. But we know that some words carry more value than others. Through overusage, many lose their power. Others have hazy meanings to begin with. Some are just nonsense. The technology industry, with its acronyms and “insider” language is no doubt an offender. Tech PR is also an offender, relying on the familiar crutch of jargon or buzzwords to tell their stories.

So, as a start to the New Year, we asked B&O team members what words and concepts they would like to blow up in 2015.

I’m kicking things off by blowing up the word “innovation.” It’s the most overused word in tech PR, one that through extensive usage has lost its meaning. Hear what else I have to say about this word in my video:

And stay tuned to our Twitter feed (@BlancandOtus) over the next week to see what other terms members of the B&O team want to blow up. Because there’s nothing like a little #creativedestruction to set the stage for a great 2015!

From Buzzwords to Business Innovation

Credit: Ramunas Geciauskas
Credit: Ramunas Geciauskas

At Blanc & Otus, we have a ritual around buzzwords. Whenever we hear the trinity of “mobile, social, cloud” spoken together, we pretend to do a shot of our favorite drink. Unfortunately, we hear this phrase so much, the drink has to be a virtual one, or else we’d never get through the day sober.

Other technologies are reaching such a fever pitch of hyperbole, they could easily be added to the mix, including big data, nano-tech, and wearables, which topped the peak of inflated expectations in Gartner’s 2013 Emerging Technologies Hype Cycle. (With hype cycle season starting next month, it will be interesting to see which terms crest the wave in 2014.)

Unfortunately, it’s all too easy to become jaded to the real impact of these technologies and just look at them as distribution and delivery channels. But if you think about it, they’re about much more than doing old things in new places and ways. They’re about dreaming up entirely new things that weren’t possible before.

And in a commercial context, the real impact comes from the business processes innovation these technologies enable—what we call ingenuity over innovation. In the field of mobility, Kony enables multi-channel applications that include the use of mobile application development platform and cloud-based technologies. And yet the real reason they matter is that customers can evolve application delivery beyond the old “anywhere, anytime, any device” mantra and actually let their employees do brand new things. While social technologies first helped transform marketing strategies, today companies like HootSuiteLinkedIn and Lithium are spreading the benefits to other parts of the enterprise such as customer service, sales and operations, as entirely new human workflows become possible. And Axway leverages proven technologies such as EDI, MFT and API management to govern new data flows that result from innovative new business processes enabled by cloud computing.

This means that the traditional tech PR emphasis on how things work must shift to why they matter and what they enable if we are to keep the conversation focused on the right things—the impact to individuals, organizations and industries. All technology is ultimately about what people can do and what we aspire to become. As storytellers, our job is keep us focused on the real hero’s journey—the journey of the consumers, workers and communities that put technology to good use—and position technologies as the tools and talismans they are in helping us achieve our quest. And that’s a PR job worth drinking to.