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Inclusive innovation: roadsigns for technological intersection


A new year is upon us and, like every new start, it brings with it the promise of new possibilities. On the technology side, we can expect both breakthroughs and debacles. Most importantly though, we can expect a lot of delivered impact! The start of 2018 has already seen this with the bitcoin rollercoaster and new security flaws in our chips impacting the entire industry. How can companies react? How should they handle all these dynamics while contending with the pressures of daily operations and impatient stakeholders?

One solution would be to shift the focus from individual technologies to the organizational inclusion of innovation in the daily practice of the organization. For me, the biggest take on 2018 is the real convergence of business and information technology. More organizations will reevaluate the role of the CIO versus other CxOs and better balance how business architecture affects technology architecture. This is driven by disappointing results from earlier initiatives and by external disruption. I believe that we must shift from PoCs to the real-life implementation of IoT, AI, and blockchain to take up the challenge of digital transformation. For me, then, 2018 should be the year of inclusive innovation. It should, of course, be inclusive in many ways, but two stand out particularly:

  • First and foremost, inclusivity is important in the daily practice of the organization.

I have held numerous discussions with organizations on how to be more innovative and, while initial focus was on technological opportunities, discussions soon veered toward the operation of the organization itself—the culture, the competencies, the management style, the innovation process. It is, after all, these factors that determine whether an organization can truly drive value from technological innovation. Discussions about the role of the CIO (or, in certain cases, the CDO or CTO) versus all the other CXOs need to stop and a new balance struck between the business architecture and the effect on the technology architecture.

  • The second inclusion is the inclusion of all different kinds of technologies.

I don’t believe in focusing on single technologies to drive change. According to the “The Medici Effect,” true innovation happens at the crossroads where different disciplines meet. The author Frans Johansson maintains that this is why the Renaissance was able to take place. The same applies to technologies. True innovations take place when we combine new technologies together, e.g., connect IoT with Deep Learning to create new customer experiences or improve operational processes. Yes, organizations need to understand how the individual technologies work, but they also need to have processes in place to manage the “meeting at the crossroads” of these technologies.

How do you organize all this? That is the golden question; one that hinges on the individual organization, the competencies available, and the culture in place. There is no excuse for not investigating how this will work for your organization. Some guidance can be found in the book “Social Physics” from MIT which explains that real innovation takes place in organizations with optimal Idea Flow.

Creating such Idea Flow calls for two conditions:

  • Get your information from outside so that you don’t end up in an “echo chamber” in which everyone repeats themselves.
  • Ensure open and equal discussion on the gathered information from outside, that is not dominated by one boss or discipline. You think this is overrated, then just think about your own management team meeting and really check if everyone has the same speaking time!

Together, the insights gleaned from “The Medici Effect” and “Social Physics” can propel your organization toward an innovative 2018. As long as the innovation is not owned by any one part of the organization, and assuming that your focus is not constrained to a few individual technologies, it is in the mesh of technologies as well as in the integral approach of the organization that you will make your mark and map your future.

I wish you a great and innovative 2018!