Finally, A Majority of Executives Embrace Experimentation: HBR Blog

My second post on the Harvard Business Review site went live today! The post was written in collaboration with H. James Wilson and is titled, Finally, A Majority of Executives Embrace Experimentation. The post outlines the value proposition of building an experimentation culture within organizations and how executives can support employee experimentation.

The post has been picked up by Bloomberg Businessweek as well.

We would love to hear your comments on the ideas presented.

Towards Evidence-Driven Policy Design: Complex Adaptive Systems and Computational Modeling

Along with my doctoral student, Yuan Lin, I have co-authored an article that describes how we might move towards evidence-driven policy design. This article draws from the keynote that I have at the 2010 Computational Social Science Society Conference.

Efforts to design public policies for social systems tend to confront highly complex conditions which have a large number of potentially relevant factors to be considered and rapidly changing conditions where continuous adaptation delays or obscures the effect of policies. Given unresolvable uncertainty in policy outcomes, the optimal solution is difficult, if ever possible, to nail down. It is more reasonable to choose a solution that is robust to as many future scenarios that might ensue from the decision. Arriving at such a solution requires policy makers to actively explore and exploit rich information to support their decision making in a cost-efficient, yet rigorous manner. We name this new working style as evidence-driven policy design and outline the characteristics of favorable evidence. We then argue that computational modeling is a potential tool for implementing evidence-driven policy design. It helps the study and design of solutions by simulating various environments, interventions, and the processes in which certain outcomes emerge from the decisions of policy makers. It allows policy makers to observe both the intended and, equally important, unintended consequences of policy alternatives. It also facilitates communication and consensus-building among policy makers and diverse stakeholders.

Deploying IT for Organizational Innovation: Lessons from Case Studies

Along with several colleagues, Jaka Lindic (University of Ljubljana), Peter Baloh (BISOL, d.o.o), and Vincent Ribière (The Institute for Knowledge and Innovation (IKI-SEA), Bangkok University), I co-authored a paper for the International Journal of Information Management.

Organizations must innovate if they are to survive in today’s fiercely competitive marketplace. In this paper, we explore how leading organizations are using emerging technologies to enable novel forms of ideation that can radically increase the sheer volume of ideas they explore. In addition, we outline how organizations use technologies to cost effectively manage this increased volume of ideas by optimizing generation, mobilization, advocacy and screening, experimentation, commercialization, and even the diffusion and implementation of ideas. Critical to this is the management of knowledge during the innovation process.

Lindic, J., Baloh, P., Ribière, V.M., and Desouza, K.C. “Deploying Information Technologies for Organizational Innovation: Lessons from Case Studies,” International Journal of Information Management, Forthcoming.

What kind of a management consultant are you?

On a fairly regular basis, I am asked, “What kind of a consultant are you, Kevin?” I admit that my typical response has been to take the easy road by responding, “It depends.” For the last several weeks, I have begun to think more creatively on the nature, type, and roles of management consultants in organizations. I have served in various capacities as a consultant to a myriad of organizations; reflecting on what I do in the various situations can only help me get better. During these reflections, I have come to the realization that there are archetypes of management consultants.

Lawyers: Management consultants often are called in to act as lawyers. These engagements occur when an organization is need of specialized, strategic, decision-making advice. When done correctly, the consultants are called in to help an organization evaluate strategic options before they choose a major course of action. When done incorrectly, consultants are called in to help mitigate damage from actions, or even to address public relations disasters.

Engineers: One of the most popular role for management consultants is that of an ‘engineers.’ Most graduates take on this position as their first job after completion of their  studies. In this role, the consultant helps an organization to ‘build’ something, most commonly an information technology solution or a human resource process. The management consultant builds a new organizational artifact and helps an organization make it a part of its operational fabric.

Designers:  Consultants who act as designers, or architects, oversee the work of engineers who might later build something. Designers are involved in the process of architecting organizational re-designs, system integrations, and even process improvement projects. The major element that differentiates designers from engineers is that designers need to have broad knowledge about the business and industry in which the organization operates. Engineers, on the other hand, have deeper knowledge about their particular too lsets.

Doctors: There are management consultants who are called upon to work as doctors. They deal with specific organizational problems, when management knows that either 1) the organization needs a routine check-up, or 2) the organization is suffering from an ailment and needs a medication (fix) to remedy the situation. Management consultants that work as doctors have deep knowledge within specific domains and are often experts in these spaces. Doctor-like management consultants are common for issues such as employee morale boosting, global innovation team management, or assisting in managing organizational change programs.

Artists: The most eclectic of management consultants function as artists. These individuals bring innovation into an organization. They bring new ideas that the organization did not know were there and are meant to stimulate fresh thinking and reflection. Like Picasso or van Gogh, artists rarely come up with creations to meet specific needs of an organization. It is more common for organizations to recognize the value of their work and then bring their ideas into the organization. Like hanging a painting on the wall, the ideas are meant to stimulate the organization to fresh and invigorated thinking.

Coaches: Management consultants who have a track record of working with senior executives and organizational leaders are often called upon to take on the role of coach. This also happens to be my favorite role as a consultant.  In this role, the coach serves as a confidant and mentor to an executive. Executives use their coach to help them improve their skills (from building effective business plans to creating effective teams).  In turn, the coach puts executives through a series of "exercises" to train them on how to become effective leaders.

How do you feel about this classification scheme? Have I missed any other types of consultants? What kind of management consultant do you want to be and why?

Innovation Reflections from Thailand

I just returned from a wonderful trip to Thailand. During my visit, I had an opportunity to give a talk at Bangkok University on Designing the Innovation Process. The talk was sponsored by the Institute for Knowledge and Innovation - South East Asia and Thailand's National Innovation Agency (NIA). During the event, I had a chance to dialogue with over 60 distinguished managers and executives who represented Thailand's leading private and public sector organizations. I had the opportunity to discuss research collaboration with the Thailand Productivity Institute, and Bangkok University, among other organizations. It was a real treat to meet University of Washington alumni in Thailand.

I was impressed by the breadth of knowledge management programs in various Thai organizations. In addition, I learnt how Thai organizations are tailoring standard knowledge management approaches to meet the cultural and economic realities of the country. Thailand is an up and coming Asian economy. While, still highly dependent on tourism, the Thai government, through agencies such as the NIA, are supporting the development of innovative and highly entrepreneurial organizations in areas such as green technologies, and biofuel, among others.

My host, Dr. Vincent M. Ribière, did a marvellous job organizing the event. I look forward to my return trip back to Thailand!

Keynote Presentation – Center of Excellence for Biosensors, Instrumentation and Process Control, Slovenia – Ten Rules of Leveraging Ideas for Innovation

On November 10th, I will give a keynote presentation for the annual conference hosted by the Center of Excellence for Biosensors, Instrumentation and Process Control (COBIK) at the University of Ljubljana, Slovenia. The conference is titled: Slovenska visokotehnološka MSP na prepihu inovativne in razvojno tehnološke prebojnosti: Slovenija x.0 ?

The Slovenian government has supported the development of Centers of Excellence. Each Center of Excellence focuses on creating efficient relationships between public and private research institutions, technology driven firms and their global market positioning. The Faculty of Economics, University of Ljubljana, is one of the partners in the Center of Excellence (COBIK) and is responsible for enabling the research and technology driven firms to gain business knowledge and helping them in the process to market their innovative products and solutions.

The program is available here [LINK]

Ten Rules of Leveraging Ideas for Innovation [LINK]

In this keynote address, I will discuss how leading organizations are building robust processes for leveraging ideas within their organization and across their networks. Ideas are critical ingredients for innovation. Designing robust innovation processes calls for great care in the handling of ideas. To this end, leading organizations are designing, and deploying, a portfolio of mechanisms to help their employees seek out, share, experiment with, commercialize, diffuse, and implement, ideas. I will highlight emerging technology solutions. In addition, I will outline how smart organizations are capturing knowledge about their innovation process and employing it for continuous refinement and renewal.

Winning the Business Case for Knowledge Management

If you have ever struggled to write a business case for a knowledge management effort, I encourage you to read my recently published article in Business Information Review. Without a sound business case, securing resources for knowledge management is difficult. When organizations do not devote the necessary resources to knowledge management efforts, it is often not due to a lack of resources, but rather because managers have not made an appealing business case. In this article, I outline guidelines on how to tie knowledge management efforts to an organization’s goals, objectives and key performance indicators.

To access the article, please click here [LINK]

Optimizing Idea Generation for Innovation

I have spent the last few days meeting a number of executives from technology giants like Microsoft, to smaller, yet highly innovative firms, such as biomedical research institutes. During my meetings, I engaged in very interesting conversations, most of which centered around helping organizations design sustainable innovation programs. A key question that kept coming up is how organizations should get their employees to be more effective, and efficient, in generating ideas that can advance the business cause.

One challenge for organizations is directing their employees’ energy toward spaces that need ideas. Deciding whether the focus is domain-specific (perhaps limited to engineering, sales, or accounting), or cross-domain is a first step. Another option is identifying the future areas that an organization would like to enter. For example, if the organization is thinking of entering a foreign market, it should solicit ideas about entry strategies, clients to work with, and finding the markets that are ripe for investment. The ideal organization will update its focus areas on a regular basis as conditions in its internal and external environments change. Of A.G. Laughley’s leadership at Proctor & Gamble, Tim Brown comments “He seems to see his role as constantly reminding teams of what they should be focusing on, rather than telling them whether they've got the right idea or not.”[1]

In addition, the organization should appoint key personnel to govern the ideas being generated in each area. These individuals can serve the role of contact points for employees who would like to submit ideas. They can also champion the focus areas and develop specific guidelines on how to submit ideas, specify what kinds of ideas are needed, and determine how ideas will be evaluated when submitted. The contact personnel is also important in transferring ideas between domains.  An idea submitted to one focus area may be more suitable for another one. In addition, there might be opportunities that are submitted in one domain which should be pursued as cross-domain collaborations. For example, CEMEX, the highly innovative cement manufacturer, has an Innovation committee composed of three directors, three VP’s, and one outside consultant. The team is responsible for defining the broad themes for innovation and structure for the innovation process.  Often, the committee considers strategic areas that are outside of the core product; recent focus areas included “integrated construction solutions for affordable housing, ways to support regional development, and making it easier for customers to do business with CEMEX.”[2]

Once focus areas are defined, it is equally important to communicate them to employees and inform employees across the hierarchical levels and functional divisions that they may contribute to these focus areas. It should be clear to employees that the work they do on a daily basis is related to at least one of the focus areas. Some organizations erroneously think that their mission statements are the best guide to how employees should focus their idea-creating. But if you asked a sample of employees in your organization to repeat the mission statement, by my estimates, less than15% would be able to give you a half-baked recital. Most employees do not see the relevance of these glorified statements as they have not been translated into terms that matter to their daily work. One useful strategy that I have seen work is to build archetypes that resonate with employees of what an idea contribution might look like in each of the focus areas.

To learn more about how to design innovation programs at your organization, or to optimize your current innovation processes, please send me an email.

[1] Brown, T. (2009, October 24). Corner Office: He Prizes Questions More Than Answers. Retrieved March 22, 2010, from Interview by Adam Bryant of NYTimes:

[2] Sull, D. N., Ruelas-Gossi, A., & Escobari, M. (2004, January 26). What Developing-World Companies Teach Us About Innovation. Retrieved March 2010, 22, from HBS Working Knowledge: