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Innovation Learnings from the BSR Conference, Part 2:


In my last post I discussed some strategic insights from Pascal Finette’s keynote at the recent BSR Conference; this time I’d like to talk about his subsequent panel discussion with three startup entrepreneurs, in which Pascal sought to bring out ideas any company could use. These seemed to come in two flavors: problems that need a solution and solutions that need a problem.
 

Let’s look first at problems that need a solution.

One of the most important requirements for a successful new solution is a customer-centric perspective. Maintaining this perspective can be difficult for any sized organization but may be most difficult for the largest of companies.

Accepting that we don’t all think alike and using the customers’ perspectives automatically gives you an advantage in solving their problem. Allied with this idea is the panel’s recommendation to pursue partnerships. By partnering with another organization, inside or outside your own, you may find insights and knowledge that speed up your development cycle. The idea of bringing “fresh eyes” to the problem kept popping up – but it requires an admission that your own group doesn’t have all the answers.
 

Another recommendation:  strive to remove the fear of failure.

Pascal reminded us, “No one learned to walk without massive amounts of failure.” In a large company with a reputation to uphold, this one can be tricky. By putting development at arm’s length, perhaps through one of those partnerships, even the biggest companies may be able to try out new ideas without jeopardizing their core brand and business. Keep in mind that, very often, the best ideas are fragile at first—they seem outlandishly different. We need to protect them; cultivate belief in them within the team and then across the larger organization. Beyond that, noted the panelists, don’t be afraid to compete with yourself. Maintaining the status quo in this rapidly changing world is a sure path to failure (and an open door for disruptive challengers).
 

What about finding a problem for your invention?

In a poll during the breakout session most people felt that the next big innovation in their field would come from a player outside the field. At some point you need to define the critical problem your invention solves. Does it save lives? Move people from here to there more efficiently? You may find that your solution that was designed for a more rigorous environment works really well in a less challenging one. Can you take your technology to a different industry where you can be the disruptive force? One fascinating example is the “blockchain” that enables Bitcoin users to confidently conduct transactions – by simultaneously leveraging networked computing, encryption, and the profit motive, it creates what The Economist magazine calls “The Trust Machine.” Applying the technology to other applications has the potential to revolutionize accounting, public databases, and dozens of other fields.

None of these ideas is limited to innovation in the sustainability space, but those of us working in that area have tremendous incentive to apply them, teach them and proliferate them. Thanks, Pascal, for sharing with us.

 

About the Author:  Lise Laurin, CEO and Founder of EarthShift Global — Lise is a pioneer in Sustainability Return on Investment (S-ROI) and Life Cycle Assessment (LCA). She continues to develop and leverage sustainability consulting services, LCA as well as SROI software and training programs to build organizational capacity in driving large-scale change. Her unique skill set and knowledge base has put her in demand globally by companies, organizations and governments alike.