A panel of ten prominent innovation thinkers recently shared their theses for what it takes for corporate innovators to succeed in 2024.
You can listen to them all at the site of Innov8rs, the organization that hosted the event.
Assuming these speakers are correct, innovators must engage more closely than ever with their company core this coming year.
“Engaging more closely with the core” might take two forms, per my synthesis across the topics that each panelist mentioned:
2: Contribute innovators’ skills and analog experience to big issues with which your orgs will wrestle ever more (esp. AI, Sustainability)
What surprised me about these themes and caused me to share them was the consistency and urgency of what people called out.
In other words, these two themes may always have been good but optional ideas. In 2024, they may become must-dos.
Source of insights
The ten panelists stem from different ends of the innovation world (e.g., Europe and U.S., academia and industry, long-established and younger thinkers).
In case you don’t know them, I consider Innov8rs to be is one of the few corporate innovation content and conference companies worth following. IMHO, their content comes from people who know what they are doing and focuses on insights, not bland regurgitation, hype, or not-so-subtle sales efforts.
The IHB is one of their content collections. Think of it like a “once-a-year magazine.”
It features articles both by luminaries like Rita McGrath and Alex Osterwalder and by lesser-known-but-still-competent thinkers.
Geeky for sure. Useful too.
It covers more and broader topics than the curated launch event could.
(And no, I have no stake in it. Sharing it because I find it useful and hope you do too, not because of some hidden agenda. 😁)
The release event was a webinar on December 5 that resembled a startup pitch fest, just with thought leaders having a few minutes to pitch ideas instead of founders introducing hot new ventures. The format worked well, in my opinion. Speakers had to—and did—get to the point even faster than they must for TED presentations.
Key themes, in short
As always in synthesis, it took a bit of rearranging and inference. But overall, I mostly had to order, tighten, and name themes. The speakers collectively suggested fairly complete arguments (and action items too, which I’ll cover next):
Theme 1: “Offer more near-in value to your orgs, in ways the org understands”
- The demand for innovation work is cyclical. Right now, it’s coming through a part of the cycle where innovation is largely irrelevant (other than AI etc.).
- The resulting imbalance of power between core and innovation sets up orgs for long-term trouble and poses an existential near-term threat for innovation teams’ existence
- To overcome the imbalance of power, innovators must be a true source of value, not just a cost driver. That takes being closer to the core.
- Closer to the core, there truly can be no more “innovation theater:” Innovators can no longer ignore critical questions.
- No more “governance theater” either. Stakeholders must stop living in fantasy worlds, and many must up-skill significantly.
- In parallel, companies will also push to have everyone at the org innovate. But they will struggle at making it happen
Theme 2: “Contribute innovators’ skills and analog experience to big issues with which your orgs will wrestle ever more (esp. AI, Sustainability)”
- Re. AI: Beware of (and avoid) AI disillusionment caused by an excess of
AI-driven “shallow” innovation
- Re. Sustainability: Innovators can help companies take ESG from “corporate defense” to meaningful “offensive” capabilities that can add positive impact to both financials and sustainability
Why these themes? Proof?
The panelists' presentations were short. There was little time to justify. The time poured into more detailed action recommendations instead.
That said, the general setup of the session referred both to the state of corporate innovation in general and the current moment specifically.
Innov8rs' session host pointed out that the organization exists to make innovation achieve consistent results. Their overall call to action overlaps very closely with my pleading to work for more Credible Innovation:
"So often, innovation doesn't work. That's what the community was created for [to improve]."
As for the current situation specifically, Rita McGrath, the first speaker, offered a quick setup:
"People spent their year [of 2023] sitting on their hands. Innovation was seen as optional. That's not surprising. Corporate innovation follows a cycle.... My perspective on 2023 and 2024 is that we are coming through one of those cycles, with the exception of AI" [where innovation may go from being "Orphans" today to being "All-Out" needed or "Desperately Sought" soon].
In other words: Corporations see innovation as unimportant now. And it's our job to make ourselves indispensable, unless we are willing to wait around until whatever time when the organization will again come looking for us.
Few teams can afford such idling and irrelevance. So we must find a way to be useful even in lean times.
In my interpretation, this kind of argument is an example of what I call "parachute proof." I'll explain it in more detail another time. In short for now, "parachute proof" is the kind that you recognize instantly as relevant, even if you only have n = 1 available to you, as in: "If you stood at an airplane's open door, would you like a parachute? Yes or no?" It only takes a single data point to accept or reject an argument's validity.
Applied here then, 2023 and the start to 2024 either were/ will be crap for innovators in your space or they were not/ won't be. You know the answer that applies to you at a gut level, no further proof needed. If you work in an exploding space like AI, this may not be a pain point for you. But in many other spaces, it's an existential problem.
In other words, if this doesn't matter in your world, excellent for you. But if it does, do take action on a priority basis!
Interested in actions and specifics? Let's talk!
As someone who creates content that I hope others' will value, I'm equally mindful of other people's intellectual property (IP).
To respect that, I have not included the details behind the arguments above or the resulting action recommendations here.
Of course, I have my own notes from the launch, as rigorous as you would expect them from me. Reach out to me to talk more, either via firstname.lastname@example.org or using any of the other ways to connect.
Meanwhile, I also recommend a read of Innov8rs actual "Innovator Handbook 2024," for which this panel served as a launch event, after all. There, too, you will find more specifics about these topics and even more!
Innov8rs website – Note their conferences too. You actually have to apply (rather than sign up). They vet, only to allow in corporate innovators, not professional services providers.
Rita McGrath’s blog post about this launch event (requires Medium account to clear paywall)
Alternate theme summaries from the event, as synthesized by LinkedIn users:
Content © of the authors
Curation © Innov8rs
Synthesis and commentary © Custom Lightning 2023
Post title screenshot and IHB24 cover screenshot: Innov8rs