External input in innovation isn’t part of the traditional process. In fact, it’s still very much a ‘new’ concept and approach to growth and development. And so the big question that this sparks is this: why are more and more CEOs looking for external support with their innovation strategy today?
The reason why an increasing number of business leaders are deviating from the norm can all be traced back to the 1990s, when a group of MIT School of Management professors had their unique management framework published in a local magazine.
The framework laid out three ‘lenses’ of management:
This initial framework was developed to help managers to more clearly see and understand both the challenges of management and the opportunities it can provide. It quickly became obvious that these lenses could be translated into the innovation process.
From this, the three lenses of innovation were formed; a similar framework that would help organisations to build the essential foundations to support successful innovation and answer the question of how to implement innovation in the workforce.
While the ‘3 lenses of innovation’ looks slightly different to the original MIT management framework, it’s built around the same strategic, political, and cultural elements.
This is the innovation equivalent of the rational, strategic lens. It means that you’re innovating with purpose, developing new ideas that solve a customer problem, or meet a customer need. This is essential because the ultimate purpose of any innovation is always to help you remain connected to the market; to bring supply and demand together to keep the order book full. When you innovate in a way that puts the customer at the core, you’re giving them what they need to keep coming back.
This is the innovation equivalent of the resourceful, political lens. It means that you’re not wasting your time coming up with ideas that you can’t possibly action, and that you instead drive your efforts into realistic ideas and examples of innovation that can be developed using the technologies, budgets, skills, and partnerships that you currently have access to. This is a critical lens as there are often many good ideas within an organisation, but you need to ensure you’re investing only in those that have the potential to become something.
This is the innovation equivalent of the value-driving, cultural lens. It means that you’re innovating in a way that does something positive for the overall business; that you’re creating and developing ideas that are sustainable in the long term, will work successfully, and perhaps most importantly of all, will generate profit. This is where your short and long term corporate goals come into play, and why it’s so important that any innovations are properly aligned with the aims and missions of the organisation.
What many businesses struggle with is transforming this 2D framework into a real life, 3D solution. So let’s take a look at these three lenses in action with a recent case study.
CSU is a leading facilities services provider based in the Netherlands that partners with up-and-coming startups for exciting collaborations to transform the cleaning sector. The company partnered with young business SeeSoap during the COVID-19 outbreak to develop a solution that promoted the importance of good hygiene in children.
The result was a friendly mascot, Rein, who encourages frequent hand washing.
The three lenses formed the core foundation of the development:
The reason why more and more CEOs are turning to external input is the direct result of the three lenses of innovation. This trio of factors is essential for successful innovation, but it’s certainly not easy to tick all three boxes simultaneously! It’s so easy to assume that just because you’re giving your customers what they want, and just because you’re developing an idea that’s possible for you, that you have a commercially viable product. That’s not always the case. The 3 lenses can be very tricky to bring together.
And that’s really where external input comes in, particularly output-driven input. It’s about engaging the right skills, at the right time, and leveraging the power of experts in specific niches to change systems, challenge tradition, and move you forwards.