What if part of your innovation journey was to go back to the future?

3, 2, 1, go! Your company is now ready to innovate! The senior management message is that innovation is key to become more competitive. Everybody needs to be part of the quest for the silver bullet.

Your R&D team starts looking at how they could increase the performance of your product range: smaller chips, polymers that melt faster during extrusion, phone cameras with more megapixels than competitors.

If your marketing group is powerful, they will certainly mingle with the R&D team and influence their work. By revealing unmet customer needs and identifying new attractive market segments (i.e. sizable, profitable, growing, etc.) for which your company has or can acquire a competitive edge, they will steer product development efforts in the right direction.

If on top of this your firm also benefits from a business development organization that collaborates with marketing and R&D, your company might even look at what collaboration opportunities exist out there, whether through alliances, licensing, startup acquisitions.

Finally, a professional innovation management function steering the process, will help your business to go beyond incremental product features. They will think in terms of new market spaces, “value chain impact points”, “customer’s job to be done”, business model changes, solutions, etc.

As you can see there are many positive steps towards building an innovative company and also different levels of innovation culture.

Now, what if on top of doing all this forwards-looking innovation work, you could also look back…

Back from the future

Why look back? Because great ideas from the past might have been dismissed too quickly many years ago. The business eco-system (infrastructures, state subsidies, complementing technologies, price-point, etc.) were not adequate at that time, stronger lobbies won the race, or geopolitical factors disturbed an otherwise obvious path.

Think automotive: today, we all know that petroleum reserves are finite and subject to geopolitical tensions (as if the club of Rome report in 1972 did not contain enough clues… http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Club_of_Rome)

We are now therefore finally looking at alternative forms of propulsion, such as bio-fuel, hydrogen cells, electricity, hybrid gasoline/electricity and even compressed-air or hybrid wind/electricity.


But let’s now look at when these technologies were first considered for automotive:

Bio-fuel and electricity started to be used and perfected to power automotive combustion engines from the mid 19th century. The fuel cell technology principle was drafted in 1839 and tested in the mid 20th century on cars. The Maglev (magnetic levitation) technology was patented in 1905. As for compressed air, the first idea came from Dennis Papin in 1687 and the first air-compressed car developed in France performed well on a racetrack in 1838…




But petroleum won the race and all other smart ideas were left gathering dust in cupboards like old toys.

Now let’s imagine for a minute that petroleum did not exist, EVER…

Well, I’m sure that today we would have plenty of very efficient cars or mobility solutions, running either on electricity, compressed-air, bio-fuel or a mix of them. Instead of going to the petrol station you would stop at the air-station. We might even have Maglev cars (which could be the end-game as they will need nearly no energy without frictions on the road).

In other words, we lost more than 150 years not perfecting these technologies and not lowering their cost while using inefficiently petroleum (until new laws forced combustion engines to become more efficient and pollute less…makes me think that may be free markets are not so efficient, right?)

Therefore, while your companies start their journeys to reach a higher innovation level, what about also traveling into the past? What about exploring technologies that might have been dismissed at a time and could now perfectly address customers and society needs?

You might even have had patents on them that are now public domain. All you have to do is make improvement claims and file new patents…

I wish you a great innovation trip to the future and to the past.

More Innovation best practices sharing to come in 2014!

Thanks to all the business leaders, scientists, students and other innovation-minded people from 80 countries that visited smartinnovation.org in 2013 in their quest for innovation best practices !

After exploring the use of megatrends for strategic planning in 2012 (http://wp.me/p2rMHi-3a) and advocating for innovation with social impact (http://wp.me/p2rMHi-3t), we started 2013 with 7-moon inspired best-practices to succeed on a rough innovation path (http://wp.me/p2rMHi-3S). We also looked at the 3D printing revolution example to encourage businesses to go out of their core markets and business model comfort zone (http://wp.me/p2rMHi-4T). Finally we covered the topic of sustainability-focused-innovation, showing how critical it was (http://wp.me/p2rMHi-5K), what leading companies and institutions were doing on that front (http://wp.me/p2rMHi-6a) and how every company could innovate more sustainably (http://wp.me/p2rMHi-9Q).

I hope that you discovered a few good ideas, applicable tools and interesting links.

Even more importantly, I hope that you felt inspired to innovate with a focus on business model change, social impact and sustainability.

More to come in 2014…


Frederic Di Monte, Innovation blogger


Here’s an excerpt from the blog stats 2013:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 1,900 times in 2013. If it were a cable car, it would take about 32 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

5 tips to create a sustainability-focused innovation culture

A sustainability-focused innovation culture is a mindset that favours the design of products, production and supply-chain processes that take into account the limited nature of the earth resources.

An anti-planned-obsolescence tagline such as “design to last, not for the dump” describes it quite well!

In past posts, I presented why sustainability-focused innovation was the most critical innovation challenge of the 21st century http://wp.me/p2rMHi-5K and large corporate and institutional players initiatives http://wp.me/p2rMHi-6a.

The first step for your organization is to add this dimension to its corporate culture.

Following “common sense” tips might help you succeed:

1 – Green up boards!

Influential shareholders (e.g. pension funds, insurance companies) can lobby for the appointment of board members and senior leaders with a track record of sustainability programs developments.

This list of the 100 most sustainable corporations in the world might help you identify whom to recruit next… http://global100.org/annual-lists/2013-global-100-list.html

global 100 innovation

As well as the shortlist of the sustainability leaders awards: http://www.edie.net/news/5/Congratulations-to-the-Sustainability-Leaders-Awards-finalists-2013/

2 – Add an innovation twist to the sustainability executive committee

A number of large companies have already set up sustainability steering committees. They defined goals around water and energy consumption, CO2 emissions or waste reduction.

Obviously, NGO pressure helped blue chips to take sustainability seriously. Management education now also boosts the understanding of “the triple bottom line concept” (for instance at Kellogg School of Management: http://www.kinglobal.org/about.php).

3 bottom line

However, many middle-size companies still have a journey to begin and baseline environmental performance indicators to gather.

Besides, for many companies, the sustainability dimension, which is both a must for humankind and a growing aspiration of populations, is not yet fully integrated into strategic planning and innovation processes.

A sustainability-focused–innovation executive committee lead by the CEO will ensure more focus and alignment on “innovation with sustainability inside”. It will review sustainability and innovation goals progresses.  It will ensure that both are integrated and that it encompasses all inputs, outputs, projects and functions of the company.

Who should be appointed?

A new dedicated leadership function: the head of sustainability-focused innovation, the heads of marketing, R&D, operations, supply-chain, sourcing, finance, HR and sales.

Nike took some leading steps in that direction: http://www.nikeresponsibility.com/report/content/chapter/our-sustainability-strategy

3 – Launch a centre of sustainability-focused-innovation excellence

A strong leadership team alignment is not sufficient to develop a culture of sustainability-focused-innovation.

It also requires a dedicated and passionate coordination as well as training activities for all functions. Launching an excellence centre is the perfect tool to promote hand in hand sustainability and innovation.

The excellence centre, under the CEO sponsorship, will coordinate the implementation of initiatives, notably in the area of strategic planning, product design, operations and supply-chain.

It can start as a one-man-show with a director level leader in charge of kicking off, communicating and pushing initiatives. It should then expand with a team of experts, champions and project leaders on an ad hoc or permanent basis depending on the projects scale.

4 – Create symbols of pride showcasing your sustainability and innovation mindset

Design and communicate about your innovative, low energy, no waste headquarters, R&D centers, and plants.

Dutch dairy company FrieslandCampina orchestrated a powerful communication campaign with the opening of its sustainable innovation centre by the Dutch Queen. http://www.frieslandcampina.com/english/news-and-press/news/press-releases/2013-10-18-frieslandcampina-innovation-centre-beoordeeld-als-zeer-duurzaam.aspx

News about your green HQ will provide trendy content to the press and bloggers. They will thank you in return with free corporate image improvement that will resonate positively with customers , communities and employees.

UN Headquarter in Copenhagen: http://denmark.dk/en/green-living/sustainable-projects/un-opens-green-headquarters-in-copenhagen/

Spiegel newspaper headquarters in Hamburg: http://www.smartplanet.com/blog/design-architecture/der-spiegel-moves-into-new-green-headquarters/1991

Amazon HQ in Seattle: http://www.sustainableindustries.com/articles/2011/03/amazon-responsible-urban-citizen

It will also prevent negative press coverage such as the one generated by the new “old style” Apple HQ: http://www.greenbiz.com/blog/2012/03/13/whats-wrong-apples-new-headquarters

Another way to gain free reputation improvement is to obtain independent recognition of your environmental performance such as expert-based GRI ranking (www.globalreporting.org) or consumer-based rankings (http://www.rankabrand.org).

rankabrand5 – Recognize and reward sustainability-focused-innovation projects

As was done with safety (e.g. Safest plant of the year award, entry sign displaying the number of days without injury), initiatives and achievements related to sustainability-focused innovation projects should be acclaimed publicly and incentivized.

BMW for instance pushes and recognizes suppliers’ innovations in sustainability at the BMW innovation awards: http://www.bmwgroup.com/e/0_0_www_bmwgroup_com/verantwortung/lieferkette/nachhaltigkeit.html

bmw innovation awards

Dow on their side organized a large student sustainable innovation award: http://www.dow.com/sustainability/studentchallenge/

I look forwards to hearing about future sustainable-innovation twists to your corporate culture!