C-Suite

How to Practically Dream it and Get it Done

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“If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.” – Henry David Thoreau

Every big idea that changed the world — from Einstein’s theory of relativity to the internet — started with a dream. The innovators behind those inventions looked beyond the possible and took great risks to turn their dreams into reality.

In today’s era of unprecedented disruption, turning dreams into action can be especially tricky. Businesses must constantly reinvent themselves to keep pace with newer, nimbler competitors. Focus too much on growing and scaling products and you risk overlooking innovation and becoming obsolete. Put too much energy into chasing big ideas and you may alienate your customers.

Planning for growth and expansion doesn’t happen overnight. Businesses must find a balance between exploiting their existing business model and exploring new spaces to drive revenue and growth. Exposing this tension and leveraging the opportunity that it invites is ultimately what will allow businesses to reinvent themselves to ensure longevity and success.

Reinvention is all about balance. But how do you strike the right balance between creativity and technology, innovation and execution? How can you distinguish an idea that creates long-term value for your company from a passing fad?

Here are some starting points to get you on the path to dreaming it done:

 

Test and Learn

Start by putting innovation at the core of your business by testing out new ideas quickly and cost-effectively with customers. With the ability to leverage data in real-time, metrics can help companies determine value, including which products can be scaled up and which should be shelved. Sometimes, that involves changing the way the business is structured and the way employees are being measured.

Redefine efficiency and cost profiles. Assessing organizational assets and core processes can break down traditional silos and re-engineer process. Cognitive capabilities and deep analytics are attuned to this outcome — which includes setting next-generation talent strategies.

 

Adopt a Design-Led Approach

Shift your thinking about how innovation is expressed. Designers typically work together to understand the impact of a product. They think holistically and inherently embrace a test-and-learn mindset.

That doesn’t mean everyone needs to be a designer. They just need to think like a designer. Those who will drive change are those who can adopt a problem-solving mentality.

In 2009, Airbnb was on the verge of bankruptcy, so the founders decided to take a different approach. They applied the rules of design thinking: empathize, prototype and test. They traveled to New York and visited the homes of customers to help them take better photos and quickly learned that meeting with people in the real world was the best way to solve problems.

This human-centric approach to innovation helps companies better understand the mindset of the end-user.

 

Create an Innovation Infrastructure

Technology has made it easier for employees to work remotely, particularly as workforces have become increasingly global. But as the workforce expands, it becomes increasingly challenging for employees to collaborate, get inspired and ideate something new — the old-fashioned way.

One solution is to create innovation hubs for employees to convene and brainstorm. The spontaneity and creativity of these hubs is a hallmark of the startup community. Now, corporations are following suit.

Nike cooks up new shoes in its Innovation Kitchen; Delta dreams in the lab it calls The Hangar; and Target has a San Francisco lab staffed with data scientists, technologists and product managers. The lab works on projects that include augmented reality and wearable tech.

Some companies are turning to co-working spaces, such as WeWork and Regus, where entrepreneurs and startup employees rub elbows with the likes of designers, research scientists and writers.

Software company Adobe has a large, newly-designed headquarters in San Jose, California but shares space for some of its employees at WeWork. IBM Studios is out ahead with its global platform of 42 studio locations around the world. Stocked with 1,600 formally trained designers, the studios help clients amplify and accelerate innovation and human centered product and service delivery.

Businesses need to shift their mentality away from home working environments to collaborative and optimized physical spaces designed for innovation. Whether it’s co-creation, design thinking or adopting a faster way to get products out to market, one thing is clear: companies who want to reinvent themselves must shift their mindset, establish new ways of working and strike the right balance to help you put your dream into action.

Learn more about digital reinvention and how we can help you dream it done.

Vice President & European Leader, IBM iX

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