Two of our Future Shapers, David Cowland, a Technology Director at Fidelity International and Simon Hill, CEO and Founder of Wazoku, recently got together to talk through their shared innovation journey. Here is a write-up of that discussion and the valuable insights that came out of it…
SH: Hi David, I hope you’re well? Today, we are going to talk through a somewhat metaphorical story about an established firm that’s seeking to become more innovative. I say, ‘somewhat’ metaphorical, as it will draw on your experiences at Fidelity, but we will also lean on metaphor on occasion to help bring some of our examples to life.
To kick us off, I want to ask you a rhetorical question: Were not all businesses innovative once? After all, every business is a start-up at the beginning…
DC: Hi Simon, a good question and the perfect opportunity to kick things off with a metaphor! I would like to invite the reader to join me in this story: Yesterday, metaphorically speaking (!), you were the CEO of an established, large, nicely profitable company. Maybe you were not in the number 1 position in your sector, but you were doing well. Your products were tried and tested and well received in the market place. Life was good. Today you woke to find that someone had disrupted this comfortable existence. Not only that, but they were taking your customers and eroding your healthy profits, with innovative, technology-powered solutions and automated processes. Not constrained by legacy systems, outdated or traditional practices, they are moving fast, changing constantly, and adapting to an environment that seems to be changing monthly and growing rapidly.
SH: This is a reality for every sector. Too many have spent too long naval gazing, dismissing the pesky start-up as nothing more than a fad, with no real market share, unable to compete with their scale and marketing power, and thinking that their customers trust them, so they therefore won’t take the risk of working with a start-up company.
Have you heard of the Singularity University?
DC: Yes, I’ve recently been made aware of them and have been reading through a number of their interesting articles
SH: Yes, it’s a really interesting topic and the approach they take to some of the world’s biggest challenges is really fascinating. I recently wrote a post in which I cover this topic in more detail (entitled How to avoid the iceberg). The reason I brought this topic up, is that once we realise the need to change, it’s often too late!
DC: Which is exactly my point; whatever the company in my story needs to do, it needs to be done fast. These start-ups are not taking years to become established, they are doing it in months!
SH: Very true, and they are building credibility and trust in ways not previously witnessed. They are able to build agile technology off the back of Google, AWS or Azure for a fraction of the cost of your legacy systems, and come to market with a more open-source, integration-first, iterative mindset – and at a price point that brings tears to the eyes of the legacy provider!
But let’s assume this isn’t news to anyone. We are aware that disruption through tech is a thing. What can the incumbent, legacy business do?
DC: Okay, so you know that your organisation needs to innovate. The question is, how? You have thousands of staff spread across multiple regions. The company is diverse, both in terms of product and culture. There is no way that you and your board can make the changes on your own. In fact, you need the input of a younger generation to help define new products and processes for the new generation; you need a different approach. What you have is the experience to drive the transformation as, after all, you got the company here in the first place.
What happens next has been happening across any number of industries and tends to break down into a number of phases, along the lines of the ‘Why Where, How and What’ of Innovation.
SH: A nice framework approach to work to, excellent! There is a great website, book and TED talk by Simon Sinek on a very similar topic and, as you dig into this topic more, I recommend giving that TED talk a watch. Adding ‘Where’ to his ‘Why’, ‘What’ and ‘How’ approach is important in the context of the innovation challenge, as there are so many areas to potentially focus on and so many competing requirements. It is vital to identify where to focus time, resources and energy, aligned to the purpose set in phase 1 – Why?
Could you please share your views on the four innovation spheres, David, and I will chip in with any thoughts as we go…
To read the full article, visit The Future Shapers.