Innovation is a great word for a great concept, and most people seem to have something to say about it, but the fact remains that innovation (or being innovative) is not something said or claimed, but rather it is best used (preferably by others) to describe an accomplishment. With that in mind, how difficult or easy is it really to innovate, or to be innovative?
Tough questions which it seems can only be answered by those who have themselves done it. Apparently, there exists different categories of innovation, including: incremental, tangential or accidental, and the much-loved (by start-ups and investors) disruptive innovation. Over the past few weeks, I had several opportunities to discuss or participate in activities, events and groups concerned with innovation, to different degrees, and below are brief highlights from some of them:
- Brand New BCS Entrepreneurs Specialist Group – In an industry famous for turning other industries on their collective heads, the BCS Chartered Institute for IT has finally created a specialist group dedicated to fostering innovation and entrepreneurship among its members, businesses and society at large. I attended the pre-formation meeting, at the rather appropriately named Innovation Warehouse, and can safely say that the aims / aspirations of this group to engage with entrepreneurial communities in order to grow the digital ecosystem is right on target, and should be one to watch.
- Mentoring innovation at the Information Technologists’ Company – An event on mentoring, organised by the 100th livery company of the City of London, was the forum for meeting several like-minded entrepreneurs, investors and technology leaders. Suffice it to say that this company takes seriously, its aim to give something back to society via robust programmes of charity and education (including mentoring) of those less fortunate / established amongst us.
- Innovation Foundation – I recently had a chat with Professor Hargreaves, of UK IP Review fame, at the London HQ of NESTA, (the independent charity for innovation and entrepreneurship with stated mission to “help people and organisations bring great ideas to life”). The aims and objectives of this organisation are ever more relevant and urgently needed for a sustainable economic recovery, especially as more people are venturing to set up their own innovative technology businesses in the UK.
- Parliament, Industry and the Lord Sugar – The Industry and Parliament Trust works to encourage more real world interaction and constructive dialogue between UK business and parliament. Their recent AGM featured renowned entrepreneur, the Lord Sugar (from BBC’s The Apprentice) who held a Q&A session which covered among other things, the often unrealistic expectation of young entrepreneurs (who mostly wish to become the next Mark Zuckerberg), and his belief that entrepreneurship is a quality best observed, commented and bestowed upon a person by others, pretty much as observed earlier about innovation.
- Social Media Jam – A brief internal social media event featuring digital agency co-founder, AKQA’s Ajaz Ahmed, talking about the Seven Laws of Velocity, in his new book entitled “Velocity: The Seven New Laws for a World Gone Digital”. A wealth of anecdotes on innovation included an observation about how really great innovative companies (e.g. Sony or Apple) will not often to themselves as innovators, rather this is how others perceive and refer to their products and services – once again, after the fact!
All wonderful stuff indeed, and which has left me with a fierce hunger (or “La Niaque”) to do and become more involved in groups and activities that foster innovation. For example, next week, I’ll be speaking about the role of enterprise architecture in innovation at the Open Group Conference in Washington DC. In any case, the two key messages I picked up from the above listed flurry of activities / events / groups are:
- A common theme that real innovators and entrepreneurs will often be perceived and described as such, by others, after the fact. Actions truly speak louder than words in this respect.
- Technology consulting firms and system integrators, such as Capgemini, may have a key role to play in the innovation / entrepreneurship ecosystem, especially as a trusted advisor and potential partner to large organisations clients in their quest to connect with those innovative, high-growth companies (not necessarily early stage start-ups) that can help them differentiate / change / elevate their game in the fast changing business and technology environment.
I would welcome any suggestions / comments / critique on the best ways to help make the latter happen. As for the former, I guess we’ll just have to wait until after the fact!
On Tuesday evening, I had the distinctly heady experience of speaking to an audience of some 100 Entrepreneurs, Investors and Service Providers in an event to “Celebrate the 10th Anniversary of UK’s Internet Industry”. This informal event, organised by the eponymous FirstTuesday.org, consisted of three brief panel discussions (focusing on the past, present and future of the Internet), and interspersed with severe bouts of furious networking (the primary goal of the event) between attendees. The representative panel members included: Peter Whitehead (Moderator and FT Digital Business Editor); Sean Phelan (Entrepreneur and founder of Multimap); Julie Meyer (Investor and founder of FirstTuesday & Ariadne Capital); and yours truly (Service Provider and Capgemini Consultant).
Some key take-outs from the event include:
1. Capping the Crunch on Investment – With potentially less money available, entrepreneurs and start-ups must be ready to ‘bootstrap’ their own business development in order to ride out the current dire economic situation, and to prove the viability and resilience of their business models
2. Successful entrepreneurs never say die – The next wave of successful Internet businesses start-ups will be the ones that can adapt and survive even in adversity (such as in the post ‘dotcom bubble’ era).
3. Technology won’t stop evolving – from the static / info-centric Web1.0, to the hyper-collaborative web2.0 and potentially contextual / dynamic WebN.0; it seems that technology-enabled change is definitely here to stay, therefore we (i.e. the entrepreneurs, investors and service providers) must evolve our models accordingly
4. The role of service providers – In my opinion, service providers should lead the way in enabling and supporting their client’s entrepreneurial efforts and business transformation goals based on a clear vision and broad industry experience / expertise. Our approach might include:
• The TechnoVision 2012 – This concept describes how and why service providers must have a comprehensive perspective on the evolution of technology, as well as its likely impact on their client’s business and the way they work. This is supported by initiatives like RAIN (RApid INnovation), RDV (Rapid Design & Visualisation) and the ASE (Accelerated Solutions Environment)
• Thought leadership – Capgemini’s CTOs and subject matter experts have become authors, and evangelists for change, withseveral books published on various forward looking and game changing topics like: Mashups, Mesh Collaboration, 21st Century Business & IT Communication, Wealth Management and The World Beyond DRM.
The question then remains as to whether service providers like Capgemini, and other similar organisations, should invest time and effort in supporting entrepreneurs and start-ups, and if so what would be the best way to go about it (in light of lessons learnt from the ‘dotcom era’)?
There is no easy answer other than to highlight the fact that; given the harsh economic realities of a changing global business environment, it might be prudent or even vital for all segments of developed economies to invest more resources towards realising a coherent framework for a truly global digital economy, based on a more evolved concept and interpretation of intellectual property rights. Basically, not everything will be free, open source, or ad-funded in tomorrow’s digital economy, much as we might wish it to be so, and I welcome any observations to the contrary.
In conclusion, I thought this event was an excellent networking forum for entrepreneurs, investors and other Internet / start-up cognoscenti in attendance; and I also met a couple of attendees with really interesting ideas which I can’t reveal here on pain of discomgooglation (yes, it is a word). I would gladly recommend it.
Note: Originally posted on Capgemini’s Technology blog at: http://www.capgemini.com/technology-blog/2008/10/