How to reduce the failure rate of innovation

‘The innovation journey’ – written by Andrew van de Ven and his team[1] – is offering a vivid description of the innovation experience of 14 North American companies. The book offers snapshots of brilliant ideas, whimsical processes, failure and success. After having read the book you will understand why 50% of all investments in R&D had to be amortized.

Against this background, it is not surprising that scientists and business people have been thinking for decades how to improve the efficacy of the innovation process. The most famous example is Cooper’s stage-gate model. The underlying assumption of this model is that the success of the development of new products and services depends from moving along consecutive stages with Go / No-go decisions in between.

Stage-gate model

You will ask, “Does it work?

The question that has to be answered is which kind of ‘guidance’ will facilitate innovation processes best? Most authors feel that the initial stage of the innovation process – named ‘fuzzy front end’ or ‘ideation’ – offers best chances for improvement.

Last year, I did a research project in order to unveil whether careful planning of this stage will increase the success rate of innovation. I visited ten companies where I spoke with managers and leaders of innovation teams. Each of these companies deployed the FORTH innovation method (developed by Gijs van Wulfen) in the period 2007 – 2013. I wanted to discover critical success factors during the initial stage and the impact of the initiation stage at next stages as well.

Download the research report HERE

The FORTH innovation method is modelled like an expedition[2]. The innovation team moves along five stages: Full Steam ahead, Observe and learn, Raise ideas, Test ideas and Homecoming.

FORTH methof

The first step – Full steam ahead – includes a precise definition of the assignment. Here the management takes the lead. A good assignment defines the direction of the expedition, and the conditions that have to be met. Besides, the team is selected based on criterions like diversity, innovation-mindedness and team spirit. Premature generation of ideas is a frequent mistake in this step, resulting in the failure to make an adequate selection.

Therefore, during the second step – Observe and learn – participants visit customers or clients at home in order to discover preferences regarding new products or failures connected with existing products. For most participants this is the first contact ever with customers or clients and the experience is valued highly. In addition, the participants are enabled to deepen their knowledge of new technological developments, mostly related to ICT. By taking this step, participants are developing a feeling for customer frictions and innovation opportunities.

With this baggage, participants are ready for the third step, raising ideas. New ideas are produced by hundreds and afterwards channelled into 12 concepts. These concepts are carefully scrutinized, taking into consideration the conditions that were formulated at the beginning.

Now a next step – Reflection – can start. A second confrontation with customers or clients is organized in order to check the assumptions regarding the usefulness and market-potential of the concepts. In the end 3 – 5 concept survive, often after thorough revision.

The last step – Homecoming – includes further elaboration of the concepts into mini new business cases, possibly with the help of internal or external experts.

All companies that participated in the research expressed their enthusiasm about the FORTH innovation method. They were convinced that no ‘mini new business cases’ would have come into being without the systematic and motivating character of the method. Besides, participation at the FORTH innovation trajectory has created an innovative mind-set and a corresponding innovation culture. Employees are eagerly waiting for the next innovation expedition to start.

Critical remarks have been made too. Some members of the innovation team went too fast through the process of discovering customer frictions and customer needs. In some cases the satisfaction with the results of the ideation stage resulted in a rash decision to enter the market without additional research.

Gijs van Wulfen’s ‘Innovation expedition’ is based on thorough knowledge of potential failures that are described in Andrew van de Ven’s ‘Innovation journey’. Therefore, both books are sides of the same medal.

At Thursday January 15th 2015 4.00 PM Herman van den Bosch and Gijs van Wulfen will discuss the results of the research project mentioned-above. You are kindly invited to participate and to listen to the discussion and to ask questions (by chat) if you want.

Go to: http://portal.ou.nl/en/web/masterclass-mw-150914 for signing in and to register.

If you have arrived at the right page, press SIGN IN before registering and move along the prescribed steps. It will take you a couple of minutes.

[1] Van de Ven, A., Polley, D., Garud, R., Venkataraman, S (2008): The innovation journey, Oxford University Press, New York.

[2] Van Wulfen, Gijs (2013): The innovation expedition. A visual toolkit to start innovation. Bis Publishers, Amsterdam

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“The Big Shift” No single organization will be the same

Looking back in 2050 at the first decade of the 21th century our (grand)children will probably recognize the characteristics of another industrial revolution. The Edge, the research institute of Deloitte is speaking of The Big Shift’[1]. The ‘Big Shift’ is the joint effect of two processes:

Distributed growth of knowledge

The old Philips buildings offer workplaces to many small innovative companies

During the past 10 years, ICT – bandwidth, memory, speed, and especially software – has improved tremendously. Connecting ICT-power with other devices has enabled 3D printing, Internet of things, wearables and robotics. Its disruptive influence at industry is only in the first stage. However, even more important is that the underlying knowledge has become distributed and is no longer limited to small groups of scientists in universities and R&D centres. Worldwide, millions of young entrepreneurs prefers the live of an explorer and innovator in garages, empty industrial buildings, science parks or wherever over being employed in a large bureaucratic company.

Global competition

Until recently, a centre-periphery model sufficed to characterize the economic relations in the world. The centre (Europe and the USA) bought raw materials, and mass products in the periphery in exchange of high-end products, knowledge and (financial) services. Nowadays, a multitude of centre-periphery relations has come into being. The old centre has to compete with rapidly developing competing centres. The winner is going to be the owner of the most distinguishing innovation capabilities. Besides, the development of ever-changing new products requires a high degree of inter-firm cooperation. Here too, small and agile new market entrants seem equipped best.

“Traditional” companies have to reinvent themselves In order to cope with the ‘Big Shift’. The first step is dividing itself in smaller flexible entities. Further, the process of reinvention has to put knowledge workers in the centre of operations at the expense of the until now dominant position of managers-class. The feasibility of a redesign depends from the degree of engagement and intrapreneurship of the work force. In this respect, recent studies are not encouraging.

Engagement

Each year Gallup is collecting data of the engagement of the global workforce[2]. Employees are characterized as being ‘engaged’, ‘actively disengaged’ and ‘not engaged’. The table beneath gives an overview, showing that the USA, Australia and Canada have most reasons for optimism.

Engaged employees worldwide 2The lack of engagement is caused by the “low strain” characteristics of the majority of jobs, the authoritarian behaviour of many bosses, the uncertainty of keeping one’s job and work pressure.

Intrapreneurship

I prefer the term intrapreneurship over ‘passionate explorer’, as deployed by Deloite[3]. Intrapreneurship is based upon specialist business knowledge, the drive to explore new frontiers and a feeling of urgency to cooperate. The ‘Big Shift’ report reveals that only 12,5% of the workforce is ‘intrapreneurial’. Probably the lack of engagement is prohibiting quite a number of latent intrapreneurs to act.

The lack of Intrapreneurship is quite understandable. The 20th century companies have organized their production according to well-chosen strategic principles empowered by detailed planning, control and quality systems. Consequently, skillful and accurate performers dominated the workplace. Competence management systems guaranteed the right employee at the right spot. Room for intrapreneurship was limited.

It is this lack of intrapreneurial opportunities that has causes a true exodus of talent from companies in the USA and other countries. Each year, about 2 millions of employees have given up well-paid jobs. The estimated damage caused by the departure of high-potential employees is about $200 billion each year. The independent workforce in the US nowadays counts about 17 million people.

The conclusion is obvious. Above all, the strongly-needed reinvention of companies depends from the retrieval of engagement and entrepreneurship al main characteristics of the work force.

Engagement will increase as soon as the workforce feels more respected and recognized and if managers do better jobs as coaches. Structurally, workplaces have to become more demanding. Theresa Amabile has discovered that employees are motivated in the first place by ‘the progress principle’, the meaningfulness of their contribution [4]. In order to comply, workplaces have to combine a sufficient degree of challenge with a corresponding degree of autonomy.

Retrieval of intrapreneurship is more demanding. Needed are: decentralization of the governance of firms, servant leadership, reduction of management, smaller differences in compensation of managers, active promotion of (open) innovation, and deploying collaboration opportunities outside the firm.

Anyway, most companies worldwide have a long way to go. The most innovative firm will be the firm that is succeeds in the improvement of engagement and intrapreneurship.

[1] http://goo.gl/QaNXdy The report is a comprehensive study of global development, innovation and entrepreneurship in contemporary history

[2] See for more results: http://www.gallup.com/poll/165269/worldwide-employees-engaged-work.aspx

[3] http://goo.gl/oQEQzi. Research with respect to the passion of the workforce included 4000 employeed in different branches in the US.

[4] TED-talk Theresa Amabile: The Progress Principle: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XD6N8bsjOEE&feature=youtu.be

e-Learning: Boost to education in developing countries

Distance education is the principle way for developing countries to cope with the fast growing educational needs of their population. Worldwide from 2000 until 2010, the number of students in higher education has increased from 100 to 150 million. Primary and secondary education is challenged even more[1].

In the long run, acceptance of distance education requires the application of quality standards likewise in f2f and distance education. Worldwide agreement prevails that the quality of education is better if it promotes:

  1. Active learning
  2. Frequent and timely interaction between students and teacher
  3. Co-operation between students
  4. Personalization

These standards have in common a high degree of interactivity between students, teachers, resources, and the outside world. In developed countries distance education can comply with these standards: The availability of IT-support in particular enables a high degree of interactivity.

At first sight the potential contribution of IT-support to high quality distance education is beyond reach in many parts of the world. Capacity for implementation of IT appears to be inversely proportional to the perceived needs. However, new opportunities come from an unexpected direction: In developing countries the use of mobile technology as a substitute for computers is booming.

The availability of mobile phones in developing countries is increasing apace. In 2000 the mobile access in Africa was 1%. Now 60% of the total population (1,1 bln) is in easy access of a mobile phone. Many mobile phones offer Internet connection, albeit slow. Consequently in Nigeria 42% of the population has some form of Internet access.

Afrikaans meisje beltThe number of M-learning applications is also growing fast. For instance, mobile phones are used to increase language proficiency and as tools for education in mathematics. A large number of (small) companies is developing content, gratefully using the abundant worldwide offer of Open Educational Resources. Several applications enable students to listen to Wikipedia content[2]

Mobile connectivity and other connected Lo-Tech applications are enabling emerging countries to cope with the four above mentioned quality standards .

Active learning

Active learning is based on a balanced delivery of content and assignments requiring students to apply the content in their own workplace or in cases. Among others, the African Virtual University distributes videotapes and CD’s with lectures. These lectures could be accompanied by assignments in students’ home environment. CD’s have one major advantage over ratio and television; they can be used during periods when electricity is available! Mobile technology is enabling interactivity. Quite a number of experiments have taken place with tutorials where students receive automated feedback by mobile telephones. Mobile phones are also in use for the delivery of short instruction and material of a limited size.

Frequent contacts between students and teacher

One of the best applications of M-learning is the submission by students of results of their assignment by mobile telephone. Mostly, the messages of students will be gathered in a mailbox and teachers can edit their commentary in messages for different group of students, based upon common mistakes or failures[3]. Feedback to students is possible also in educative radio broadcasts. In order to prepare feedback, teachers must listen to a selection of the submitted answers.

Co-operation between students

Collaboration between students from different places benefits highly from the use of mobile phones. In particular, if students work together in order to create knowledge by solving problems. Communicate by forum, mail of phone is improved significantly by the opportunity to have incidental meetings in study centers every now and the. The African Virtual University has invested in the creation of study centers, although its number stays behind significantly the growing demand.

Personalization

The African Virtual University is developing a ‘digital library’ in which students will find manuals, study books and relevant articles. The number of computers and printers still is limited and therefore benefit for students is restricted. Equally promising is an application for mobile phones that allows students to search in Wikipedia and subsequently to listen to the content (‘audio wikipedia’). This application complies with the oral tradition in many African countries.

Three conclusions can be drawn. It will take decades before the availability of computers in emerging countries compares with that of rich countries, also because of the necessity to have a reliable supply of electricity and enough expertise to maintain the network. In the meantime mobile learning will be a substitute, especially in combination radio, television and CD’s and an accessible network of study centres. In the third place a distance learning infra structure has to be developed that is characterized by an adequate mix of faculty (course developers, tutors and supporting staff) and that develops adequate didactic solutions to deploy the growing Lo-Tech infrastructure.

[1] Altbach, P., Reisberg, L., & Rumbley, L. (2009). Trends in Global Higher Education: Tracking an Academic Revolution; A Report Prepared for the UNESCO 2009 World Conference on Higher Education. Paris: United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

[2] See a comprehensive overview by Saga Briggs: How Educators Around The World Are Implementing Mobile Learning http://shar.es/1Xbbay

[3] Visser, L., & West, P. (2005). The promise of M-learning for distance education in South Africa and other developing nations. In Y. L. Visser, L. Visser, M. Simonson & R. Amirault (Eds.), Trends and issues in distance education: international perspectives (pp. 111-129). Greenwich, Connecticut: Information Age Publishing.

MOOCs: The announcement of the wrong revolution

A litany of recent complaints shows that something is wrong with higher education: Cost are rising with 10% every year (US), content has lost track with the explosive development of new knowledge, alumni’s competences do not match with the requirements of the labour market, teachers deliver lectures in the same way as their predecessors did for centuries, revenues for society are unclear. 40% of all students are leaving without a grade. Universities are inside looking, fixed at ratings, complacent and self-confident and so do not consider any reason for change.

According to Christensen[1], universities are on the eve of disruptive innovation. Disruptive innovation is the fast acceptance by the public of affordable new products and services, which were disregarded by established companies and are mostly offered by new entrants.

MOOC producentenLess than one year ago, the first MOOCs (massive online open course) were launched. Their pros and cons are discussed in an uncountable number of blogs; presumably, papers in academic journals are still in the peer review stage. The appearance of MOOCs is pleasing me. Not because they are free of charge or massive, but because they open the gates towards uncountable sources of knowledge, which will allow students to customize their need for information. I am confident that MOOCs will displace lecture-based teaching at short notice

However, this is the wrong revolution.

The future of the lecture theatre
The future of the lecture theatre

The exchange of lectures for MOOCs does not question the dominance of the acquisition of knowledge in higher education. Yet broad agreement exist that higher education in the first place has to develop ‘readiness for society’. The attainment of this goal is encompassing three learning processes: (1) the acquaintance of relevant knowledge, (2) the application of knowledge and (3) and the exchange between codified and practical (or tacit) knowledge. The best way by far to organize these learning processes is by merging them.

Learning processes
Learning processes

A critical assessment of mainstream of higher education reveals that universities spent most energy on delivery of knowledge. Application of knowledge is dominated by ‘near transfer’, which means that students learn to give practical examples of theoretical concepts. ‘Far transfer’ originates from the analysis and solving of real problems, without prior exposure to cues about relevant knowledge. It occurs in Schools that deploy problem or project-based learning. Exchange of codified and practical knowledge is absent in general. It might take place during internships, but projects outside the university are better and moreover, they offer opportunity for integration with other learning processes.

A balanced and integrated approach of the three learning processes mentioned above is occurring in only few universities. Elsewhere, students learn (and forget) lots of knowledge, have only limited experience with the application of knowledge and are ignorant of the clash between codified and practical knowledge. Consequently, the majority of our universities are disavowing their main goal, the development of ‘readiness for society’. It is this verdict that justifies a revolution in higher education.

Who will smash the first tomato and start the right revolution?

I guess, nobody will, and this brings me back to the topic of disruptive innovation. Corporate universities have the best chance to take over higher education for adults at short notice. They are in a perfect place to organize projects and to exchange codified and practical knowledge. Until now, they are incompetent to organize the delivery of knowledge. Still, the breakthrough of MOOCs will make the difference. Deploying MOOCs will enable corporate academies to organize the three educational processes mentioned above in an integrated fashion at relatively low-cost. This will enable companies to scale up their learning programs and to improve the level of competence of their employees, which is badly needed in face of our society’s need for innovation.


[1] Clayton M. Christensen, Michael B. Horn, Louis Caldera, and Louis Soares: Disrupting College: How Disruptive Innovation Can Deliver Quality and Affordability to Postsecondary Education February 2011 http://goo.gl/ogr5r

My inspiration

I decided to start writing a blog only recently. The first question was about choosing a topic: innovation, regional development, quality of higher education, corporate social responsibility, just to mention a few ideas that came up. Did these topics have something in common? This question inspired me to have a short period of introspection[1].

Value free science

Protest meeting in Nijmegen 1969
Protest meeting in Nijmegen 1969

In the sixties, I studied human geography at Radboud University in Nijmegen and it took not very long before I got involved in the students’ movement. In one of my first pamphlets I excited myself about value free science, which I renamed into valueless science. We propagated some kind of ‘advocacy science’ in service of oppressed people. When the oppressed, whoever they were did not show any interest in our engagement, fellow students started to read Marx or travelled into exotic places to free their minds. I felt that it was time to quit the ‘movement’.

Education again prejudice

Education was my new passion. Teaching is the way to a better society; you only have to wait long enough. After a short career as a secondary school teacher, I moved into university and wrote a PhD thesis about the contribution of primary education in fighting prejudice. In this post cold war period most children saw Americans as the good guys and Russians as the bad ones. We – the Dutch – of course were considered as the best.

Culture-critical thinking

In my eyes, scientific concepts and theories were powerful tools to free common sense thinking from prejudice. I tried to implement this view in geography education, which meant a radical change. For many years, geography education had been based upon knowledge of facts. I invented the ‘culture critical model’: Our environment can be conceptualized with four different approaches: physical-biological, economical, social and cultural. Each approach is one-sided and children have to learn to construct images of reality based upon tension between two or more approaches.

University education under attack

The conviction that education must be more than the acquisition of knoledge, opened a new battlefield, namely academic teaching itself. As a student, I had spent most of my time with remote learning. My wife and I listened to taped summaries of books all day and subsequently the professors honoured our proficiency. In my view, the lecture was the symbol of bad education. Later, the Board of our university appointed me as educational director of a new faculty in order to prove that things can be done better.

From problem-based to project learning

lifelong learning1I was challenged and twelve hectic years followed. Everybody who is searching in Google with ‘large-scale educational innovation’, ‘low budget’ and ‘massive enrolment of students’ will only find one hit, namely: “Do not”. That was no option and after the implementation of problem-based learning, we developed a ‘hybrid’ model that combined problem-based, project-based and traditional education (Van den Bosch & Kieft, 2001). We managed to implement this system in the bachelor program of the seven educational programs in the Nijmegen School of Management. Thanks to this approach, students learned how to analyse and to solve policy problems with insights from several scientific disciplines.

Active students count

I do not promote one single type of education anymore. The quality of higher education depends from whether students learn to relate theory and practice. Educational programs might arrive at this aim in several ways. Sometimes even a lecture is helpful. As a member of peer evaluation teams, I frequently visit faculties and I can only observe that most faculties share this vision. However, they bother with its implementation.

Scientific research

In 2001, I was appointed as dean of the Faculty of management of the Dutch Open University. My colleagues and I had to improve the quality of research, in which we succeeded. Nevertheless, I started to worry about the direction into which scientific research is moving. Most research is lacking societal relevance. Publishing has become a career instrument for staff. Universities will be marginalized in the long run if they continue like that. I tried to implement ‘mode 2’ research, which proved to be a partial success.

Back to geography

A couple of years ago, I decided to take more time for research myself. The ‘learning region’ appeared to be a challenging theme, because of the involvement of geography, educational science and business administration, the three field of science that I got acquainted with during my career. The relations between institutions of higher education and companies have my first interest. Universities differ with respect to their willingness to play an active role in regional development. I try to find out whether this has to do with differences in their vision at science.

Applied research

van de venStokes_Critics of ‘engaged scholarship’ use to confuse engaged research with applied research. Two publications have convinced me that this view is wrong. In the first place Donald Stokes’ book  “Pasteur’s Quadrant: Basic Science and Technological Innovation” (1997). This book makes clear that research could be ‘engaged’ and ‘fundamental’ at the same time. The second book “Engagedscholarship; a guide for organizational and social research” is written by

Andrew van de Ven (2007). Each student and scholar ought to read this book. It demonstrates that societal engagement results in better research!

Valorisation

Nowadays, universities have a mouthful of valorisation of knowledge. This is a first step, albeit small. Many scientists believe that thinking about the application of their research is only starting after the research has been finished. Van de Ven rejects this view. In his words: “”Who is asking the wrong questions, must not be surprised when nobody cares for the answers.” Stakeholder commitment from the beginning of a research project is a prerequisite for successful valorisation. During this dialogue, the right questions are raised and sources of data that were closed before are opened.

When all parts fit together

After my short introspection, I knew what is engaging me. The clumsy rejection of value free science, the application of scientific knowledge to fight prejudice, the connection of theory and practice in education by realistic problems, the interest in the role of universities in regional development, the aversion of the perverse effects of the ‘publish or perish’ mechanism in universities and the approval of Van de Ven’s ‘engaged scholarship have the same root, namely the mission to commit science in service of a better society. I hope my blog will contribute to some extend.

Stokes, D. E. (1997). Pasteurs Quadrant: Basic Science and Technological Innovation: Brookings Institution Press.

Van de Ven, A. H. (2007). Engaged scholarship; a guide for organizational and social research. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Van den Bosch, H. M. J., & Kieft, M. (2001). The hybrid curriculum; the acquisition of academic competencies in the university curriculum. In W. Gijselaers (Ed.), Educational innovation in economics and business administration, part VII. (pp. 41-56). Dordrecht: Kluwer, Academic Press.


[1] Posted in Dutch the 5th of January 2013