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Modern Innovation in Practise

Innovation focused on services

A review of the Veech Innovation Model

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The Veech Innovation Model has five parts;

                         (1) Personal Effort       | (4) Information | 
                  - -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --- ---|----------------------->(5) Outputs
                          (2) Community Support    | (3) Resources  | 

I recently reviewed the description of 22 modern innovations as explained by the one of the leading people who made each innovation possible.  There were two new services for every new product in this mix.  The Veech Innovation Model above is 10 years old, and I imagined as I did this work, that it might be time to start again, to build a new more modern model.

I discovered to the contrary that the model stands up very well, but the new data did give me a new appreciation of the models strength.  The key weakness in how I've always explained the Veech Innovation Model in the past has been quadrant 2, the Community Support element.  I now appreciate more fully how critical that community is, and how difficult it is to change whatever community values and ideas exist there. 

Dean Kamen said, "You don't have to be innovative.  But you do have to be innovative if you want to be relevant and successful."  It's a choice.  To be or not to be? 

Let me expand the model just a little.

The Expanded Veech Innovation Model has five parts;

                         (1) Personal Effort       | (4) Information | 
                           Goals and Objectives    |    Procedures and Routines
                  - -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --- ---|--------------------------->(5) Outputs
                          (2) Community Support    | (3) Resources  | 
                      Culture, Values and Ideals   |  Teamwork and Making a Difference

My improved understanding changes nothing in the model itself.  What is changed is my appreciation of how each of the parts is bound together with the other parts. For instance the Champion (1) defines his goals and objectives in a way that encompasses both community values (2) and the desire of the internal team to make a difference (3). 

The Champion often begins in this space.  "I see an opportunity to innovate, but I don't know how to do that".  Not knowing is a powerful force, it starts you looking; looking for possible solutions.  You have to begin as the champion for your own ideas.  You start with nothing.  Then you begin conversations.  Whatever your idea might be, getting any information uptake is always a key problem.  Talking to people brings the idea to life.  Nothing really happens until the idea gets so strong that it cannot be resisted.  The Champion has to carry that strong point of view forward.  The Champion must be the constant that gives the idea energy and meaning. 

Both members of the team (3) and the champion (1) are members of the community (2) and involved in various activities some directly related to the innovative work and but mostly not.  This is a source of external ideas and values that can either help or hinder the innovative project.  Because these ideas and values are held in the wider community, it's hardly possible to change the content of that input.  Given that "constant" one needs to adapt what is being done to recognise that constraint. 

While the forces impacting on the champion may force a change or realignment of the goals and objectives as time passes, it's more difficult to get the team (3) to make that shift.  The team are constrained by accepted rules and procedures (4) which in the past have made it possible for them to contribute together towards a common objective.  Let's call that "making a difference".  Communities of practise (2) exist beyond the firm in which several team members may be participants.  This can be a powerful source of informed ideas and principles that team members will find relevant. 

Innovation occurs most readily in the spaces between the diverse views of different people.  It's really beneficial to be connected to the conversation of people on the other side of the world.  The contrast in the way they think, forces you to think.  Innovation is primed by experiences like that.  The Veech Innovation Model has people in three of the four quadrants.  The Champion (1), the public (2), and (3) the team the champion has developed to bring the innovation to reality.  There's plenty of scope there for innovation to occur provided there is open communication.  Successful innovations are team events, particularly so when the innovation is service focused.  There are two main ways by which the inspiration that allows innovation to happen enters the picture.  One is the hiding hand.  You try to do something that doesn't succeed.  Instead something else happens, a surprise, that leads to a new idea or a new understanding.  The second way is for someone from outside to enter the circle, bringing new experience and new ways of looking at the same data.  You can't plan either of those interventions, but talking to lots of people, and doing interesting things, makes both of them more likely.

Many of the innovations in this data set, engaged significant teams of specialists from quite unrelated fields, each working to make the innovation successful.  Sometimes the prestige of a team leader, or an institution that is backing a project is the only way to bring such a group of specialists together at an acceptable cost.  Everyone wants to be associated with a successful venture.  The internet allows widely dispersed specialists to contribute to a project without incurring great personal and financial costs.  Innovation occurs at the intersection of diverse viewpoints. 

The hardest problems in modern innovation involve solving problems in the public arena (2) where the entrenched views of some people prevent progress.  When people come to the subject with prior knowledge that is strongly held but wrong, communication is always difficult.  For instance 95% of all HIV infections are transmitted by sexual acts.  But in country after country, improved sex education is not implemented as a means of protection, condom use is not promoted as a protection, and prostitutes are not given medical and social support to practice safe sex.  Legislators point to programme's for hygiene in tattooing, and to the provision of clean needles for drug addicts as progressive moves to fight HIV-aids, ignoring the fact that this is less than 5% of the problem.  I give you that much detail, only to highlight the problem type.  When you think you KNOW, and act on ideas that are not valid, your progress as an effective innovator is likely to be minimal.  One of the great benefits of team work, the diversity in the team, gives some protection against entrenched but wrong ideas.  However, highly efficient, tight teams can agree to inappropriate goals and engage in a process of group think that blocks the inflow of new and vital data.  Once again, being connected to diverse sources of information is an insurance policy against the long term maintenance of entrenched faulty thinking. 

John Stephen Veitch

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