WHY INNOVATION THEATER IS THE ENEMY OF TRANSFORMATION SUFFICIENCY

The classic place to learn about innovation happens to be the Silicon Valley. Not surprisingly, this is why Silicon Valley tourism has flourished. Initially, during the dot-com era, what some companies took away from the tours were the external trappings of freedom for their employees—the casual clothing and foosball tables. Over time, this has matured into reapplying entire processes and practices for ongoing innovation and agility. But are we taking the right lessons from Silicon Valley even today? Or, are leaders choosing the surface-level exciting trappings of Silicon Valley culture e.g. Innovation outposts, hackathons, technology labs, cool consultants etc?

Don’t get me wrong—enthusiasm about change is vital. Where things start to fall apart is when it is not backed up by disciplined execution. If a digital transformation seems a bit heavy on any of the following six activities, then it might be time to bring in the rigor.

Silicon Valley’s Mecca tours—a few days spent in business-casual dress marveling at the magical offerings of start-ups. Or spent in the glassed-in innovation centers of the larger tech companies offering “inspiration workshops” on your problems.

Lonely innovation planet outpost—staffing a few people in global innovation hub locations, free from the stifling headquarters bureaucracy, but quickly forgotten or ignored by the core organization.

Internal crowdsourcing drama—the earnest attempts to collect innovation ideas from within the company, or the attempted one-off hackathons, without the wherewithal to execute them.

Outsourced innovation delusion—the hiring of highly paid consultants to take accountability for inspiration, iterative execution, and external solution connections. It’s a start, except that true perpetual transformation cannot be outsourced.

Labs for chasing cool technologies—the misguided attempt to focus on shiny object technologies without clarity on the problems to be solved.

Highly delegated souls innovation group—the group of junior resources flailing in their attempt to do their best to drive the hardest of changes in the company.

Granted, elements of each of the above tactics have a role to play in a successful disruptive transformation program. However, the haphazard application of these tactics does not lead to a sufficient strategy for digital transformation.

Innovation theater is the opposite of strategy sufficiency.

What delivers strategy sufficiency is a strong portfolio mix of innovation projects and the right critical mass of projects. These disciplines of risk-mitigation via a portfolio approach are the lessons worth  picking up from say, Alphabet/Google or the Virgin Group. These are organizations to which a fertile innovation culture comes natively. Somewhere along their early growth cycle, they recognized that their best business strategy was one of constant change. How they got there isn’t important. We just need to unbundle their discipline and get to the essence that can be transplanted into our organizations.

Tony Saldanha is a globally recognized expert and thought-leader in Global Business Services (GBS) and Information Technology. He ran Procter & Gamble’s famed multi-billion dollar GBS and IT operations in every region across the world during a 27 year career there.  He is a keynote speaker at the upcoming 4th Annual Global Operational Excellence & Process Transformation Summit. This is an excerpt from his new book titled Why Digital Transformations Fail which was released globally in July 2019.

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