How is your Annual Report?

Winnovation: Rowan Gibson's January Column
By Rowen Gibson
January isn’t called January for nothing. Named after Janus, the Roman god who faced both forward and backward, it’s a time to look ahead and define new goals, as well as a time to look back at what we accomplished – or didn’t accomplish – in the last calendar year.

Like many companies that are busy now with their annual reports for 2011, I decided to sit down think about my own business performance over the previous twelve months and about exactly what I’m planning for 2012.

Rowan GibsonThe first thing to report is that, last year, in spite of the volatility of the global economy, the volume of my public speaking engagements reached an all-time high. Clearly, organizations everywhere are recognizing that innovation is the only realistic strategy for driving sustainable revenue growth and building competitive advantage. And as an innovation speaker I’m honored to be one of the people they turn to for advice on making that happen. Last year, my keynote speeches, two-day masterclasses and one-day public seminars took me to wonderful venues in Dubai, Kuwait, South Africa, England, Scotland, the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland, Sweden, Finland, Panama, Costa Rica, Peru, Colombia, Argentina, and the United States. So far it’s been 54 countries over the last five years alone. Clients in 2011 included Dow Chemical, H.J. Heinz, Accenture, Manpower, Mars, Novartis, the Panama Canal Authority, DEWA (Dubai Electricity and Water), S-Group, BAE Systems, Chalhoub Group, KEO, Cementos Argos, Belcorp, Giant Leap, Novozymes, Banco Popular, Banco Supervielle, Imaginatik, and INCAE Business School, among others. For the latter, I actually delivered my first ever MBA Commencement Speech on a beautiful bright day at the business school campus near San Jose in Costa Rica.

2011 was also a year of dramatic growth for my strategic consulting activities in enterprise innovation. The issue that’s facing most companies is how to actually build a systemic, companywide capability for “all-the-time, everywhere” innovation – one that becomes part of the organization’s bloodstream. And so far very few consulting firms seem to be able – or even willing – to deliver on this promise. By contrast, I have been busy developing an integrated range of services and tools to provide companies with everything they need to build a profitable and sustainable capability for innovation. It usually starts with a comprehensive organizational diagnostic – an audit of the company’s current innovation capabilities that highlights the gaps between where they are and where they need to be. This is followed by one of my two-day innovation masterclasses for the leadership group, aimed at building a shared understanding about what is necessary to turn innovation from a vague aspiration into a deep core competence. We come out of this masterclass with clear goals and commitments that form the foundation for the next stage in the program: the development of a strategic roadmap which provides a detailed action plan of all the specific activities the company is going to undertake over the next 12-18 months on their stepwise journey to innovation excellence. This roadmap covers everything the organization intends to do to build leadership commitment and innovation infrastructure, institutionalize systematic innovation processes and enabling tools, engage all of their people in the innovation process and develop the necessary skills, and utilize the right mechanisms to embed innovation into their corporate culture and values.

What follows is the implementation phase of the program: the consulting, training and coaching, as well as the deployment and integration of tools that will dramatically improve innovation performance. This means spending time with the company’s core innovation embedment team, supporting and guiding their efforts to drive innovation into the organization’s DNA. It means delivering training and organizational development at four levels of the company: first, for the top leaders; second, for those who are selected as innovation coaches and change agents; third for the middle management level; and fourth, for the general employees, of which there may be tens of thousands. This training and development is supported by sophisticated innovation profiling and 360 assessment tools, as well as personal coaching and e-coaching. It also means working with HR to build a governance infrastructure for innovation that goes from the very top of the management hierarchy right down into every nook and cranny of the organization, as well as incentive and recognition programs to involve everyone in generating new ideas.

Most companies would admit that they lack systematic processes and tools for continuously generating novel strategic insights, turning these insights into breakthrough ideas and new growth opportunities, screening and aligning ideas with corporate strategy, reallocating resources to innovation opportunities, managing a portfolio of experimental projects through the pipeline, and launching and scaling up radical new products, services and business models. That’s why I devote a lot of attention to institutionalizing these processes and tools. At the heart of my approach is the creative thinking methodology I’m probably most famous for: the “Four Lenses of Innovation” – Challenging Orthodoxies, Harnessing Trends, Leveraging Resources, and Understanding Needs. I work with a company’s innovation teams to develop a whole set of new strategic opportunities for their future – products, services, strategies, and business models – not just using this methodology but embedding it into their innovation processes and into the everyday jobs of ordinary employees. It’s part of the broad-based training and development program I mentioned above, that spreads this innovation knowhow to everyone throughout the company, at every single level. It’s also at the heart of a specially-designed IT platform, based on the “Four Lenses”, that anyone at the company can use to generate new insights and ideas and submit them to a central database as part of the company’s crowdsourcing strategy, either from the desktop or a mobile device. It’s even the central operating system for a physical innovation center that has four dedicated spaces called the “Orthodoxies Room”, the “Trends Room”, the “Resources Room” and the “Customer Needs” room. Everything works as an totally integrated and synchronized approach to making innovation happen on a daily basis.

Last year was also very special for another reason. On August 1, together with my co-founders Braden Kelley and Julie Anixter, I was proud to launch, an exciting new web portal that we created to serve the global innovation community. In just six months, it has become the most popular innovation website on the Internet, currently receiving around 10,000 visits a day from 175 countries. The site offers 4,000 articles, as well as videos and white papers, on how to build a high-performance innovation capability, with regular contributions from thought leaders like Clayton Christensen, Tom Peters, Seth Godin, and many others, as well as experienced innovation practitioners from a whole spectrum of industries. We also started a LinkedIn Group called Innovation Excellence that already has close to 9,500 members. Now we’re working on an eBook that captures the spirit of this amazing, community-driven phenomenon.

So, all in all, 2011 was an incredible year. But business never stands still. For 2012, I have some other very ambitious developments in the pipeline which I hope to be able to look back on happily in twelve months from now when I write my next annual report. And what about you? Are you happy with everything you achieved last year? Or are you looking back wondering where the time went and why you didn’t accomplish all that you hoped? How is your own annual report, in business and in life? Let’s face it: time is basically all that any of us have. So the best thing we can do as we enter this new year is to resolve to use it well.

© Rowan Gibson 2011

Rowan Gibson is a global business strategist, a bestselling author and an expert on radical innovation. He is also one of the world's most in-demand public speakers. Rowan's books have been translated into over 20 languages. His latest book Innovation to the Core is published by Harvard Business School Press. He is co-founder of Innovation Excellence. He may be contacted at [email protected]

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