FEI 2017: Balancing Innovation Pursuits & Business Realities

Earlier this month I had the opportunity to attend the Front End of Innovation (FEI) Conference in Boston. There seemed to be an underlying feeling of, “There’s a lot that we want to do, that we can do, but how much of it will we actually be able to realize?”

Overall, the feeling in the room:

Of the roughly 600 attendees, the general sense I got was one of optimism followed quickly by a healthy dose of apprehension. I met a number of innovation leaders that are intrinsically wired to see immense possibility on the horizon for their organization, but that also feel varying degrees of buy-in from their executive peers and sponsors. This seemed to drive an underlying feeling of, “There’s a lot that we want to do, that we can do, but how much of it will we actually be able to realize?” And what innovations can be realized, of course, is different for every organization as it is quite dependent upon the organizational culture and appetite for embracing new ideas.

 

During the conference:

Speakers shared stories about specific innovation pursuits ranging from Smart Trucks (Volvo), to Connected Consumer Products (Keurig), to New Product Incubation (Brookstone). And more broadly, some of the sessions focused on the “How” of actually driving innovation within an organization through Empathy & Research (UnitedHealthcare), Generating Buy-In (Wrigley), and Category Definition (Chris Lochhead; probably one of my favorite talks).

 

The biggest takeaway for me:

In the end, it appears evident that many organizations are still figuring out how to translate ongoing innovation into a sustainable corporate function. Innovation teams aren’t yet as process-driven as say, Finance or Human Resources. And, innovation by nature tends to be a little bit messy in that there may be lot of new ideas generated, but then the act of distilling those ideas into actionable initiatives can be a tough bridge for some corporate teams to cross.

 

Why innovation is critical to future-proofing your business:

We see this innovation dichotomy play out in our work at Essential as well; clients that have the desire (and need) to innovate in their space to retain their competitive relevance, but that also have to balance innovation pursuits against the need to strengthen their core business lines so they don’t lose any existing competitive dominance they may already have.

 

If innovation execution sounds like sometime you’re wrestling with:

On the off chance that you’re responsible for innovation execution and are bumping up against internal roadblocks, a conversation could be worthwhile. Hopefully you’ll find it encouraging knowing that you’re not likely alone in your pursuit of instilling a culture of innovation at your company, and the challenges that come with that. And, it’s entirely possible that some of our experience and the experience of others could be helpful.

 

Innovation at Essential:

Our design, research and innovation teams spend a lot of time helping clients imagine alternate futures for their business, surface and clarify opportunities through user research, and take advantage of design trends so they can be positioned ahead of the curve in their industry. In that context, there were a lot of amazing speakers and sessions at FEI that really struck a chord.

Send me a note at shawn@essentialdesign.com if you have any of your own thoughts to share, or if you’d like to talk further.

 

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Shawn Torkelson is the Director of Business Growth at Essential Design.

Essential Design is an Innovation Strategy & Design firm providing Product Design, Service Design, and Digital Design services to help clients create breakthrough customer experiences.