The drive to innovate


Introduction

The MD came to me a few months back and said:  “Vaughn, you have some spare capacity.  We need to do some innovation.  Get going.”

So what now?

The first thing I did was to hit Google to try and get a definition of innovation.  I soon realized there was a difference between innovation and R&D.  With innovation, the research could move quickly between different topics, without much red tape.

What did I know?

I knew we had to look at innovation relating to our product – different ways of communicating with our ERP.  Somehow, this would have to include a form of social media integration.

An idea that was constantly in my mind was “Where are people?  Where do they exist?  How can we get our product to them, there?”

There had also been talk around the office of integrating with some sort of CRM.  The names mentioned were Sugar and Microsoft Dynamics.

Where do I start?

The first thing I did was to create an entry on the wiki and let all involved know about it.  I listed all sorts of ideas that I had and encouraged others to add their own.  Of course I knew that only a very few might actually be chosen.

Next step was to create an address.  This referred to one of our meeting rooms which could be found at the corner of Innovation Drive and Exploration Lane – this gave us an identity.  After this I got the senior staff together in the room and tried to motivate them into thinking about innovation.  I did this the only way I knew how – using objects that inspire me personally.  These included the transistor, the NE 555 and the Bugatti Veyron.  Each, in its own way, changed the way we worked and thought.

Social meetings

This was something new I tried.  On all the meetings that I chaired, I declared them “social”.  By this I meant that I encouraged the folks to tweet, retweet, answer those emails, accept meeting requests and poke friends on Facebook.  One rule:  keep your phone on stun.  Unfortunately it did not take off.

Getting Started

First things first:  get a Facebook developer login and an application code.  The initial idea was to see how things could be shared and “Like”d and how they all fitted together.  To do this I needed a server that was open to the world (it’s here that network admins cringe!).  The only way to get around that was to buy and install a secure certificate, turn off certain protocols and configure the firewall properly.

During this time I installed the community edition of Sugar CRM, followed by the writing of a few extraction programs to get data from our ERP into Sugar.  Once the concept was proven, I moved on to Microsoft Dynamics.

The iPad

We always knew we were going to get a tablet or two, together with some smartphones.  Luckily the MD had budgeted for this and soon a new iPad was on my desk, followed later by an Android smartphone and a Blackberry.  Getting the iPad allowed me to look critically at the applications.  The questions I asked myself were:

  • How are they designed?
  • Where are which buttons and what do they look like?
  • How are the apps terminated?
  • How are they distributed?
  • How large are the fonts?
  • What don’t you do, or can’t you do?

Reading the iOS design guidelines also helped to understand the philosophy behind the design.  And don’t forget Jobs’ biography as that also helped.

Our partners

Another part of the process was to talk to our partners to find out what offerings they had.  It was after just one meeting with a partner that we realized our innovation drive was drifting to a specific product and there was no stopping it.  But that’s a story for another day.

Some reference links:

So, what do you think about this?  How did you approach innovation?

22 April 2012

As a follow up, take a look at this blog entry from Simon Rucker:

http://blogs.hbr.org/cs/2012/04/why_you_wont_get_breakthrough.html