Innovation Insights with Roland Harwood from 100%Open

In the first episode of our all-new innovation video series, we met Roland Harwood, an innovation expert that has worked with global brands including Ford, Unilever, UBS & Oxfam. Roland gives insight, advice and take-aways on the latest innovation trends, avoiding common mistakes and how to maximise business impact.

Owen Hunnam
by Owen Hunnam
roland Howard 100% open interview

We invited Roland for our first Innovation Insights video interview to find out more about open innovation and how enterprises can benefit from it. We also cover the main ways how to measure innovation, senior stakeholders’ role in the process as well as how to form an innovation team.

If you enjoy this video, subscribe to our blog and be the first one to find out about our future interviews with other global innovation thought leaders. We have senior executives from Twitter and EY coming soon!

Below is a slightly edited transcript of the conversation.

How would you define innovation?

The best definition of innovation that we use is simply ideas plus impact. That means coming up with new ideas, bringing them through, then realising them to create commercial or social impact. 

How does 100%Open help clients to innovate?

So the way that we help clients to do open innovation is by bringing them through three steps: Think, Jam and CrowdThink is helping organizations to develop the strategy and capability to come up with innovations. To do so, we run trainings and we do classic strategic consulting around open innovation. Jam is running and facilitating lots and lots of online and offline events and workshops, and by doing so, bringing different groups of people together to develop ideas. And then Crowd is doing that on a scale of thousands of people using technology in all its different shapes and forms.

Innovation has been around for 20-plus years. More recently trends like open innovation, or user-driven innovation have become quite fashionable. Crowdsourcing as well! More recently, big companies are getting behind startup accelerators incubators, corporate venture capital funds. This means that lots of new trends are coming up all the time around open innovation. We’ve ridden the wave of many of those developments. With us hopefully pioneering the way around open innovation, it’s an exciting time and we are only aspiring to get better and better at what we do!

Can you give us few examples of your recent projects?

There are three projects that we were very excited to have the opportunity to work on over the last few years. The first one was with LEGO, where taking a small crowdsourcing community called LEGO Ideas, we managed to turn it into a two million plus community of people sharing ideas for new LEGO products and services.

With UBS, we ran a global startup competition to find high growth potential startup companies. These companies have technologies which can solve challenges that will address the future of finance.

With Ford, we’ve looked at the emerging mobility and transport needs of citizens in New York City and Detroit.

What are the biggest challenges that corporates are facing at the moment?

Some of the biggest challenges that corporates face are prioritising process over culture. Many organisations will put in place an innovation process but not back that up by empowering people to develop the skills and the capabilities, and the permission to have ideas. Sometimes they might be bad ideas but they can be turned around and developed and shared. Organisations often prioritise quality over quantity too early. So they’ll kill an idea early because it’s not good enough. This tends to inhibit people to want to share and contribute, which is essentially a bad thing. 

A lot of organisations say they want innovation but they don’t really mean it. They don’t want to take risks, they don’t really want to invest time and money. In essence what we do is really about connecting that vision from the Chief Executive through to the ideas of anybody in the organization and outside to create new impact together.

What is the best way to innovate?

The best way to innovate is to lead by example: start small, and scale big. So if you’re a Chief Executive, start by creating a forum space or a technology platform to share ideas and develop them. If Senior people actively participate in that, others will naturally follow. You need to be aware of hierarchy and some of the structures that can sometimes get in the way. Allow running lots of pilots and projects, giving permission to trying new things but also having clear metrics of success. Also, stopping as many things as you are starting is important. Over time, be sure to develop a culture where innovation is habitual and where it’s everyone’s job. It’s not just the role of a team or a department or a few very creative entrepreneurial individuals. It’s everybody’s job, so not only are they expected to innovate, but are also empowered to do it and they measured on doing it as well.

How do you measure innovation?

Fundamentally it’s about creating new business value; whether it is commercial value, brand value, or social value – it might ideally be all three of those! So it’s really not that complicated. I think a mistake many people make is that they only track the number of ideas and the number of projects. Those are both useful benchmarks along the way; but just because one workshop has created a hundred ideas and a second workshop has created ten ideas, that doesn’t mean that the first workshop was 10 times better than the second workshop. So you need to be wary of those input measures. Quite simply, it’s about making money, it’s about building your reputation, and it’s about solving important problems for your organization.

What’s the best way to form an innovation team?

I think top level sponsorship is essential. Some research we saw recently said that for 90% of all Fortune 500 companies, championing innovation is a strategic priority. But there’s a big difference between saying that and actually doing it – living and breathing it. Having that top-level endorsement is absolutely critical for innovation.

Do you have any tips for organisations on how to be more innovative?

Innovation is a U-shaped process. It’s fun and easy at the beginning when you’re having ideas, it’s fun and easy at the end when you’re creating the best-selling new products and services. It’s generally really difficult in the middle where you’re still not sure about what it is that you’re doing and why you’re doing it. So you need to create a safe space to nurture and develop ideas.

My advice to organisations that genuinely want to innovate rather than just say they’re innovating is to start at the end and be clear about the customer’s need and the business’s need. Be very clear about what the commercial and social tangible value of solving a particular problem is; and then work backwards to find the ideas, the innovators, the tools, the systems, and the processes to realise that. So there’s a lot of value in taking it that way forward, from where the process is a pull rather than push. Rather than forcing an idea that nobody asked for, you’re offering a solution that solves a burning need the business has. So, start at the end would be my advice!

What is your opinion on a challenge-led approach to innovation?

A challenge-led approach to innovation can be really effective, especially when you have a known tangible problem, to which you don’t know the solution. You can put that problem on crowdsourcing platform or through your organisation and see who has the best possible solution or idea in response to that. There are other tools and techniques that you can use. The challenge-led approach isn’t appropriate in all circumstances but it can certainly be a very powerful enabler for innovation, both inside and outside of organisations.

What other tools or techniques would you recommend for organisations?

Online crowdsourcing communities can be especially effective to let good ideas bubble up and emerge from the crowd. Being absolutely transformative in all aspects of business and all aspects of life in the last 25 years, we’ve become connected far more than ever before. What that means for innovation is that you no longer necessarily have to be the most creative, most entrepreneurial organisation. What you do need to do is to tap into great ideas, great people, great talent wherever it is in the world. Technology can help you do that!

You need to be able to separate the signal from the noise. So you still need to apply your strategic business strategy and your skills working with people, perhaps outside of your organisation. Technology is a phenomenal tool that has really transformed the way the innovation happens inside and outside of organisations, but it is just that – it is a tool. You need the strategy, you need the culture, you need the team, you need the processes in order to realize that value that technology brings you. Technologies like Idea Drop, and other crowdsourcing platforms, are a fantastic way to gather and harvest ideas from a much bigger group of people than would ever be possible. 

How can you get a buy-in from the entire organisation for new initiatives and innovations?

In terms of getting a buy-in across an entire organisation, you should start small. You’ll never get a buy-in from the whole organisation on day-one unless you can demonstrate success. So find a small team of committed people, develop something successful with them and then your success will sell. Once you’ve got your first or second successful project off the ground, other people will naturally follow and fall into line. So even though you want that top-level sponsorship and support, start small, demonstrate success, and then scale it from there.

How would you define the relationship between corporates and startups?

They both need each other more than ever. We call it the suits and the sneakers. Big companies need the creativity, the agility, the ideas, and the technology that small companies can bring. A lot of small companies need the infrastructure, the investment, the customer base, and the brand that company can bring.

So it can be a match made in heaven when you bring those two together. It can also be extremely difficult and painful if it goes wrong. So the number one kind of advice on both sides would be to seek to build reciprocal relationships where you are creating value on both sides. Often if the dice are loaded too heavily in the favour of one partner, that relationship will fall down before too long.

Although easier said than done, a marriage of equals between a small and a large company is very important for this partnership to succeed.

How do corporates build relationships with start-ups?

There are lots and lots of networks out there that bring together startup communities. A lot of the corporate innovation professionals that we know spend a lot of their time networking and connecting with those communities. It’s time-consuming and if you work for a big company you can often become a target at those events because people really want to talk to you which can sometimes be quite exhausting. So create a space, be clear about what you want and what you need. Direct people towards it. 

What is your advice for business leaders?

Business leaders need to work on their networks. You need to build your own network as an individual and as a company, but you also need technology platforms and processes in order to manage the signal from the noise. That’s because there’s a lot of noise and that’s generally not an efficient use of anyone’s time. My advice for business leaders who are thinking about investing in innovation more seriously is – connect more, control less. Connect people both internally and externally. Innovation is fundamentally connecting. Listen to what people are telling you and respond to it. At the same time, don’t try to control every aspect of it. If you do that, you’ll kill the spark, you’ll kill the culture and you’ll kill the goodwill that is required to realise any idea from early stage to the end. So connect more, and control less!

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