Kick-starting innovation takes smart thinking, not just action

An innovation leader at a fast-growing Europe-centric consultancy shared with me tactics his firm uses to make its innovation engagements creative and pragmatic, with principles centered on adding real business value while capturing as much opportunity as possible for meaningful change.

First, pick one area to innovate, based largely on where you can expect value to come from. This echoes the age-old advice to search for what’s missing where it likely is, not where the lighting is best. And it echoes a recent theme we’re hearing from consulting and IT services vendors that clients need help making choices, not just understanding what choices they have.

Second, assemble the micro-learnings — the initial ideas and concepts — just to get people thinking, which I think reflects a trend of consultancies intentionally leaning away from “design thinking” as a term of art, while keeping the principles in place. Get creative, with purpose, but don’t get locked into an over-hyped and little-understood approach.

The third ingredient is multiple points of views, far wider than the perspectives of clients and their clients. If you’re considering supply chain, seek views from the HR managers at your client’s supplier. If you’re in the pharma space, talk to nurses actually distributing the meds. We’ve heard multiple stories of consultancies taking extra steps toward understanding a client’s ecosystem, but typically, this takes place when a minimum viable product is being tested, rather than early in the thinking-and-design phase.

Finally, when it comes to building something to test, focus on testing, whether you’re innovating around the right problem with the right idea, rather than the specific product or solution. Again, we’ve seen plenty of innovation engagements that move to testing and become too focused on the technology and making it work, not evaluating, continually, whether the innovation is being applied to the real problem.

Thinking on this discussion and reflecting on the last year of discussing innovation — as an offering, as an element of what consultancies and IT services vendors bring to their clients — we’re considering how to more fully capture innovation within the larger context of digital transformation. Look for specific assessments of innovation in the upcoming Digital Transformation Insights reports and the supporting vendor-specific quarterly reports, including Accenture, IBM Services and Management Consulting Benchmark Profiles for PwC, EY and McKinsey & Co.

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