Mark Logan: What we think about when we think about innovation

Orde Saunders' avatarPublished: by Orde Saunders

Mark Logan was talking about innovation, these are my notes from his talk.

Web companies disappear very fast if they don't continue to innovate - can't just do it at 4pm on a Friday, have to do it as a normal business activity. Innovation in business is more about taking barriers away from innovation. Process in big companies put up barriers.

Size matters - as a company grows it gets harder to innovate.

Predictability illusion: if you have to report to the market quarterly you have to meet predictions and expectations. We get time sliced - have to fit time slots. Innovation is inconvenient, it doesn't fit set time slots. Start from the position that you are killing innovation and work from there. Google's 20% time is done at weekends - it's not done during classic work time.

Innovation through setback. Most innovation happens when things go wrong - it changes the dynamic of how people operate. If you forget that you have to survive in the market you get complacent. As humans we innovate to survive. Societies innovate when they are under threat. During WW II the RAF went from biplanes to jets in five years. However: don't overdo it and scare people into accepting their eventual doom. People have to own the task they are innovating, if you have a borrowed project you try not to harm it - don't take any risks. It's a difficult balance to strike.

Antibodies exist in organisations as well as our bodies. Other parts of the business can feel threatened by new technologies and often react to delay new disruptive ideas. The result is that the message is that companies don't actually want disruptive innovation.

The strongest innovators in a business are often put into places where they can't innovate any more. They are given too many distractions, the organisation has to create distraction free conditions - has to come from senior management.

Iterative change isn't the same form of innovation as transformative change. Apple are still using the language of transformative innovation to describe iterative change and are disappointing as a result.

Three categories of activities:

  • Change the market
  • Grow the business
  • Run the business

Growing and running the business have to be managed in a very different way to changing the market. If you try and create a new product using the governance of growing the business then it won't work - the process that protects running the business kills changing the market. You need to incubate new ideas before putting them into governance, if you keep killing new ideas then you lose the people who come up with them - they are often labelled as problem employees.

Having a management hierarchy is useful but can't be the only way of running things. Innovation should happen at all levels of an org chart, you need to connect them up in networks that are outside the org chart structure but supported by it. These networks learn how to change things and bring it back to the hierarchy. Need to connect overworked senior mangers and enthusiastic juniors.

Think in orders of magnitude. Don't try and make things a bit better - how would you make a 10x improvement? Have to come up with new ways of doing things. What are your priorities? What risks can you accept?

Assume that a problem has already been solved - look outside your domain and see how other people have solved similar problems.

Look for problems in everyday life, how do things break? If you assume things could be better you are more likely to be innovative, don't assume how it is is how it has to be.

The brain has two systems - system 1 is fast and survival, system 2 is slower and reasoned. System 1 dominates our thinking: what you see is all there is. To activate system 2 think about how things could be the opposite.

Good strategy drives good innovation. Innovate for the longer term to protect your product. This informs where you should be spending your time.

  • Run for innovation not operational convenience
  • Create conditions for innovation
  • Life during wartime & ownership
  • Distinguish between types of innovation
  • Identify, educate and nurture innovation

Think about how a problem could be solved before being constrained by trying to actually solve it. When you start actually trying to solve it you can introduce governance. A 10% success rate for getting out of the idea phase into the solution phase is good. Adapt the level of control to the needs of the idea. Identify the right people for the right place in the process, someone who seems like they aren't good at their job can just be in the wrong job.

People think differently about technical delivery and business objective - think about what's important to you.