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Emerging innovation trends from the US

I’ve just returned from a two weeks business trip to the United States, where I attended an innovation conference in Boston and met with innovation practitioners in the Minneapolis area. I greatly enjoy such trips  as they allow me to notice emerging market trends in the innovation domain. What three new innovation trends did I notice in the US?

Innovation trend 1. Expect an end to “business as usual”

The 2016 ISPIM Innovation Forum in Boston brought together leading academics and practitioners in the innovation field for an intensive 3-day exchange of new innovation research, best practice-sharing, hot topic sessions and innovation workshops under the umbrella of the International Society for Professional Innovation Management (ISPIM). Interestingly, one of the buzzwords I heard most often in presentations and private conversations was “disruptive innovation”.

Disruptive innovation means that a new technology and/or a new market entrant disrupts the long-established order in a mature industry, leading to new players dominating the altered market space and at least some of the old players willingly or forcefully exiting the market. Think of what digital photography did to Kodak and Polaroid, what the iPhone did to Nokia, or how AirBnB or Uber shake up the traditional hotel and taxi services. Or consider the current efforts of modern innovation power houses such as Apple and Google to make inroads into established old industries (e.g., automotive and banking) by reinventing the way we drive cars and handle payments.

These days, the expression “innovate or die” is not just a threat uttered by innovation consultants to highlight the urgency and importance of innovation (and to sell their services), but has become an inconvenient truth for Corporate America.

Innovation trend 2. The long-term approach to innovation

Larry Fink is the CEO of BlackRock, the world’s biggest asset management company with $4.6 trillion in assets. Last month, Fink sent a letter to the chief executives at S&P 500 companies as well as large European corporations, decrying the “quarterly earnings hysteria” and short-termism of large listed corporations. Fink also lashed out at CEOs placing too much focus on short-term performance and short-term measures (such as high dividend payments and share buyback programs) that boost the share price momentarily at the expense of value-creating investment.

While Fink still believes in quarterly results reporting for transparency reasons, he wants more: “We are asking that every CEO lay out for shareholders each year a strategic framework for long-term value creation.” In other words, Fink calls for a strategic innovation approach, for a framework that enables sustainable, long-term innovation in large listed corporations.

The Mayo Clinic, the first and largest nonprofit medical group in the world, is an example of how a company may establish such a platform. The corporate innovation center at its headquarters in Rochester, Minnesota spearheads the innovation efforts of Mayo Clinic’s 3,800 physicians and scientists and 50,900 allied health staff. Greatly impressed by my recent visit there, I asked my hosts how they got to where they are today? The answer: by following a long-term approach to innovation.

Mayo Clinic started its innovation journey 14 years ago by establishing strategic collaboration with a handful of external partners, who provided innovation methods and know-how to help gradually build up internal innovation competence. Nowadays, the Mayo Clinic Center for Innovation is the contact point for all innovation initiatives. But in line with their motto “Think big, start small, move fast”, the core innovation team of 60 only adopts those projects that have a large-scale impact for Mayo Clinic or the health-service industry as a whole, and coaches business units on how to approach and implement smaller innovation projects.

Investigating innovation trends and best practice at the Mayo Clinic Centre for Innovation


Innovation trend 3. Deal with the people side of innovation

At the ISPIM conference, one interesting thread in a number of presentations of predominantly North-American academics and practitioners was the emerging need to deal more effectively with the people side of innovation.

This topic involves answers to questions such as:

  • How to effectively find suitable candidates to staff certain innovation-related roles (e.g., an innovation manager, a technology & trend scout, or an opportunity recognizer)?
  • Who should be invited to participate in an innovation project, and at what stages of the process?
  • Who has a natural affinity towards creativity and innovation and thus may qualify as a creative change agent or even potential creative business leader?

It was a lucky coincidence —or an interesting synchronicity— that at the 2016 ISPIM Innovation Forum, I presented a conference paper titled “TIPS: Getting the people-side of innovation right” to introduce Thinkergy’s people-profiling innovation method TIPS to a wider audience. TIPS (Theories, Ideas, People, Systems) is a tool to help companies understand the preferred cognitive styles of their people, and how everyone can contribute to a firm’s innovation efforts, and it immediately stroke a chord.

After identifying the vast emerging market need for an innovation-centered people-profiling tool, Thinkergy plans to introduce TIPS to the US market by third quarter of 2016 through an online personality test and a local licensing and delivery partner model.

So what? If you’re a business leader, you should begin today to respond to the emerging innovation trends in the US; they are likely to reach Asia in three to five years. Counter the threat of possible market disruptions in your industry by becoming lighter, faster and more innovative ahead other players. Stop talking and start walking your innovation talk by setting-up a long-term, sustainable approach towards innovation. Finally, realize that it’s people who make innovation happen, and consider ways to better deal with the people side of innovation.

© Dr. Detlef Reis 2016. This article is published in parallel in the Bangkok Post under the same title on 31 March 2016.