June 1, 2008

Learn to Innovate From Your Kids


Observing kids is actually an excellent way for ‎companies to develop the four critical areas of ‎Intelligent Innovation.‎

Dubai, UAE, June, 2008 – Managers in the UAE should learn how to innovate effectively from their children, by paying attentive observation to their environments and having the courage to learn and experiment and create the right environment for innovation as children do, according to a recent study by Booz & Company.

“Parents are amazed by the ability of their kids to learn at an amazing pace, and believe their children’s ability to learn and create is linked with their stage of development in life. Experiences with senior managers of multi-national companies rather suggest that context has often more to do with innovativeness than age,” said Fabrice Saporito, Principal with Booz & Company based in Dubai.

“Observing kids is actually an excellent way for companies to develop the four critical areas of Intelligent Innovation,” he said. “Attentive observation of environment and the ability to learn from others is a fundamental element in innovation. Experimentation, which is the basis for practical learning for a child is essential for creativity, and often results in unexpected results adults would not have thought of. Establishing the right playground for a company to prosper will ensure innovation is fruitful,” he added.

Saporito identified three different control regimes, which summarized the innovation process in modern businesses. Management control commands innovation with traditional management techniques, in Cost control the innovation process was adapted to focus on a specific performance outcome and in Profit control, innovation was managed as a portfolio of different projects.

“In Robert J. Sternberg’s book Successful Intelligence, he cites that successful human intelligence relies on a delicate balance among aptitude for analytical insight, practical insight and creative insight,” continued Saporito. “Successful innovation demands an equally deft balance between analytical rigor with creativity, curiosity, cultural sensitivity, leadership, agility and a learning organization, known as ‘Intelligent Innovation’,” he added.


A summary of the reports findings follows below:

Customer Insights
In the recent Booz & Company survey, ‘Mastering the Innovation Challenge’, nearly 50% of respondents were dissatisfied with their current approaches to customer understanding.

“Innovators must work hard to understand the changing needs and critical priorities of their customers – and to increase customer participation in the innovation process,” said Saporito. The report identified four areas where managers can learn from customers in the innovation process.

  1. Understand the customer buying experience. Assess customer touch points to yield ideas for important process enhancements and product or service improvements. Customer interviews and customer observation are equally important.
  2. Collaborate with customers. Organizations benefit from customer perspectives and insights including mid-course corrections to ongoing projects, new ideas for products and services and stronger customer relationships.
  3. Make employees customers. Understand the advantages and shortcomings of your product by using it yourself, and ensure that product development team members have regular interaction with customers.
  4. Understand customer economics. This is a powerful source of innovation and helps evaluate the way a product / service fits into the customer’s operating economics, helping to increase profitability for both customer and vendor. Understanding drivers of customer economics can help uncover new ideas well before customers articulate them.

Reach out
An organization must have an effective mechanism or network to share insights with stakeholders, particularly those within R&D. “Building an innovation network,” Saporito says, “requires three elements; sensing, accessing and melding.”

Sensing. Intelligent Innovators have well developed sensing capabilities, seeking relevant knowledge and skills on a global scale and study development in adjacent areas. By performing research, they leverage a variety of sensing channels including vendors, associations, conferences, literature and the internet, and control creativity, technical expertise, local knowledge, and relationships of many employees in their own organizations.

Accessing. They determine the best way to access critical knowledge and skills through an external partnership or an owned facility, based on careful trade-offs between the value of the knowledge and the cost to access it. These partnerships are often a cost effective channel and prompt companies to open up to the outside world.

Melding. Intelligent Innovators meld partners into a seamlessly managed innovation network, which harmonizes structures and processes, facilitating collaboration. This demonstrates management commitment and offers incentives to foster real collaboration.

Look into the future
“Scenario planning should be used to creatively identify tomorrow’s market opportunities and risks, and drive innovation,” said Saporito. “Scenario planning can be used to synthesize sensing data and focus additional research into plausible visions of the future.” The process to gain future foresight is based on three simple steps.

Gather Information with a focus on trends relevant to the business. Involve business units and research resources and harness the sensing network.

Synthesize information by using proven methods like war gaming or scenario planning to synthesize information into trends, which can be used for developing evolutionary roadmaps.

Share the information by deducing strategic and tactical implications of likely scenarios with senior management and share the information throughout the organization,. In this way, intelligent innovators will create buy-in around the innovation, boosting return on innovation investment.

Organize innovation
52% of respondents in the Booz survey felt they lacked an innovation culture – even though it was considered the fourth most important improvement for their organization.

Innovation potential must be unlocked. Intelligent innovators therefore embed intelligent innovation principles into their organizations’ DNA. OrgDNA thinking, pioneered by Booz & Company, highlights four aspects of an effective organization - decision rights, information, motivation and structure.

“Intelligent innovators empower cross-functional innovation teams to make decisions and have clearly defined decision making authority and responsibilities. They also make information available in an effective way, so innovation strategy is understood throughout the company with innovation metrics and accountability for performance transparently shared,” said Saporito.

The other two aspects, the study finds, are motivation and structure. Motivation is achieved by the clear commitment of senior management with risk-taking, dissent and creativity encouraged and rewarded. Employees are free to spend a portion of their time on new ideas with resources made available for exploring these.

Intelligent innovators should leverage a lean but empowered Innovation Management group inside their organizations, which coordinate the innovation efforts throughout the company. Rotation is encouraged as part of a career ‘fast track’, providing broad exposure to all functions.


The UAE ranks as the 14th most innovative country in the world, according to the World Business / INSEAD Global Innovation Index 2007. The rapid development of Dubai exemplifies the city’s innovativeness, but also highlights the continuous need for fueling innovation in the region.

The UAE is well positioned to make it to the first place of the Global Innovation Index. The family friendly country and rich cultural environment are assets few countries can leverage to apply this new approach of intelligent innovation. His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum’s $10 billion donation for research and education means the time is right for leaders in the region to better understand how to establish the right mechanisms between learning and innovation.