WHO SAID ELEPHANTS CANNOT… INNOVATE?! by Enric Segarra

Perhaps the title of this post may sound familiar to you especially if you are a great reader of classic books on business management.

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You are correct. This title reminds you very much of the name of the book (Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance? Harper Business, 2002) that accounts of IBM’s historic turnaround by Louis V. Gestner, the former chairman and CEO of the firm who lead the company from the brink of bankruptcy into the forefront of its industry.

What has happened is that that book came to my mind because nowadays, “making elephants move” is a hot topic in the world of business.

In the midst of the digital revolution and in the global post-crisis scene, all companies are figuring out the best way to (first survive, then) thrive. Being “agile innovation” the holy grail of many, if not all, business strategies.

One could think that these times of change are breeding ground only for entrepreneurs and nimble startups; a battlefield were big companies (to keep the image, let’s call them elephants) have little to do. Nothing, however, could be further from the truth. Therefore if we accept the “theory” that elephants can really dance so they can innovate too, despite the majority of people you could ask both from within and outside big corporations, would say otherwise and the reason for it is not certainly lack of talent nor lack of resources which is something big corporations have got, and lots of it.

And so some big players are demonstrating they can by embracing sound general business principles and practices that too often as companies get bigger tend to be missed out. Read here, never forget that the only source of true money is the client (therefore an in-depth and acute understanding of our customers and prospects is a must to increase the odds of creating value for them) and be as agile as possible to ensure you can quickly adapt to the changes in the environment.

Thus, we are starting to see how “old” concepts and managerial mantras popularized in the late eighties and early nineties like “Lean” (the systematic method for the elimination of all kind of waste within a process streamlining what adds value derived from the Toyota Production System) and “Get closer to the customer to observe them in their context” (which was called Empathic Research and later gave rise to what today is known as Design Thinking) to infer the needs they have got but they can’t really tell us because customers themselves cannot recognize them yet (latent needs), are beginning to be blended in something “new” labeled “Lean Design Thinking” and being applied for big corporations with the aim of not to be better at being a startup than a startup can be, but to learn from what they do while not giving up the advantages in terms of knowledge, money and assets they have in order to innovate. In the end it is just a matter of going back to the roots. Something that should not have ever been forgotten.

If big companies instill a strong sense of urgency “to invent the future from within” rather than assuming that is a given thing, reinforce the idea and importance of becoming user-centered again (and not process or function-centered which makes lose the focus), and shake a little bit their hierarchical structures encouraging/allowing the internal-preneurship, then we will start seeing many elephants moving with grace and not being out of place and still stay competitive amid this environment of turbulence and change.

The results gotten in my recent workshops held with Banks, Hospitals, Institutes of Research and Science, Technology-driven companies, Pharma, Consulting firms, etc., blending the very best of the Design Thinking and Lean methods (helped in my particular case by the fact I have been a business practitioner teaching Innovation along with Operations to executives for many years and so Lean Management theories are rooted in my way of doing) enable me to state, this is the best path to innovate because it helps companies to reframe their proposition on a user-centered approach which ensures the solutions they propose fulfill a true need while reaching the market on time at competitive prices and stay within budget. All of us should be proud such a big amount of talent and resources “elephants” have are not wasted and people working for them begin to feel alive and making meaning again.

If you want to know more in detail how Lean and DT are mashed up, what kind of issues each one addresses and what benefits they bring, don’t miss my next post (coming soon).