Tag Archives: innovation

Evidence +/vs Innovation

Paul Carttar has an interesting post up over at the Bridgespan Group’s blog entitled Evidence and Innovation – Friend or Foe?

Carttar frames the discussion with an anecdote:

…during a recent discussion about what makes a nonprofit organization “high-performance.” One participant nominated innovation as a critical factor. To my astonishment, this stirred an impassioned dissent from another participant, a recognized and vocal proponent of evidence and accountability, who argued that in the nonprofit world the word “innovation” typically implies the generation of exciting new ideas, apparently free of any bothersome, killjoy demands for validation of merit.

Carttar talks about how this is nothing new – that during his time running the white house Social Innovation Fund, he often heard complaints that evaluation stifles innovation. And I’ve certainly seen numerous innovative approaches shut down or left un(der)funded because they’re not “evidence based” – but Carttar makes two important distinctions: 1) Innovation is less about “something new” and more about “something better,” and 2) ” hard evidence of relative performance is the most legitimate, productive way to determine what actually is better.”

Carttar then goes on to discuss the varying types of “hard evidence,” clearly stating that not all types are appropriate for all efforts. He makes the crucial distinction between startup and mid-stage enterprises, and what type of evaluation and “evidence” makes sense for each.

At its best, evidence serves as innovation’s good friend by stimulating continued improvement and providing potential beneficiaries, funders and other stakeholders an objective basis for determining whom to turn to and to support. In this way, evidence can not only “cull the herd” but actually propel the growth and scaling of the best innovations, enabling them over time to become the prevailing practice. In fact, that’s the hopeful theory underlying the SIF.

To be sure, there are plenty of opportunities for conflict between evidence and innovation, which must be diligently managed. Potential funders may demand unrealistically rigorous standards of evidence to assess relatively immature, still-evolving programs—potentially stifling the development of promising solutions. Ill-timed, poorly executed, or inaccurately interpreted evaluation studies can also prematurely choke off development. Or backers of a program with a robust empirical basis may hesitate to invest in further improvements (that is, continued innovation) for fear of undermining the program’s evidentiary support and perceived competitive advantage.

The discussion continues in the comments, and is worth reading for its thoughtfulness and appreciation of nuance.

John Kotter on organizational design

A review of John Kotter’s new book Accelerate: Building Strategic Agility for a Faster-Moving World in HBS Working Knowledge offers both a summary of the book’s key principles and an excerpt from the book itself. The concept builds on Kotter’s earlier work that focused on adding speed and agility to large businesses, and advocates for creating an organization that has “two operating systems” – one for everyday business and a smaller, agile system that “sits alongside to focus on the opportunities and demands of the future.”

Under a dual operating system, all processes and activities that involve what a company already knows how to do stay on the regular, hierarchical side of the company. High-stakes initiatives that involve change, speed, innovation or agility, go to the new agile network.

Reviewer Kim Girard continues, emphasizing that Kotter is not looking to abandon the traditional hierarchical model, but enhance it:

A dual operating system is a nod to what Kotter believes is some of the most interesting management thinking of the past few decades, from Michael Porter’s “wakeup call telling us that organizations need to pay attention to strategy much more explicitly and frequently,” to Clayton Christensen’s insights about how poorly companies handle the technological discontinuities inherent in a faster moving world. Kotter also credits recent work by Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman, who describes the brain as two coordinated systems, one more emotional, the other more rational.

 

In a typical organization—from the federal government to a pharmaceutical giant—a hierarchical operational structure meets daily demands through clear reporting relationships and responsibilities, Kotter writes. This structure minimizes risk, keeping people in boxes and silos, sorting work into departments, product divisions, and regions. Trouble is, managers in hierarchical organizations don’t promote or reward risk and innovation—they rely on routine, and turn to the same trusted people to run key initiatives.

Girard goes on to discuss Kotter’s 5 key principles for the dual operating systems, which ensure that the system works as envisioned (an “enhanced heirarcy” that focuses on leadership and innovation) and 8 accelerators that help managment tackle big opportunities for change. The accelerators are strikingly familiar, as many seem to have been adapted from Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit. Overall, an interesting approach to organizational design.

CyTunes – download music, downsize cancer

I’m readying a series of posts about CyTunes – a great example of social enterprise, community, fundraising and innovation.  I’ll let you know up front that I’m biased, as my wife is the project manager and I’m volunteering to help with the social media aspect of promotion.  Below is my first cut at building a widget, built at sproutbuilder in a couple of hours (and I’m sure it would have taken less time for someone who is more technically proficient):

CyTunes sprout

Update: I was going to have the sprout embedded here, but apparently I can’t do so on the free version of wordpress (or I’m just not very savvy).  Easy interface is provided for over a dozen services, including facebook and blogger, so if you want to see how the sprout looks “in action” you can go to my facebook page – it’s both under my “info” and in a separate “my stuff” tab.  I’ve also added it to my tumblr site, which I’ve found incredibly useful and fun for keeping track of little bits of info that I think are worth sharing.

GPM Calculator

In June, I blogged about Fuqua professors Rick Larrick and Jack Soll and their push to improve fuel efficiency and consumer behavior by simply changing the measurement from MPG to GPM.  Today, Duke Research Advantage blogged that this work was featured in the New York Times Magazine’s “Year in Ideas” issue.  They’ve also launched a new GPM calculator to find your current GPM, compare cars, or see the GPM for all 2009 cars.  More information about this research, including an interactive fuel-efficiency quiz and a video of Larrick and Soll discussing their work is available at mpgillusion.com.

Staying pure after selling out

This week’s HBS Working Knowledge newsletter starts off with an interesting proposition: what happens when a well-known socially responsible business is acquired by a multinational?  Professors James E. Austin and Herman B. “Dutch” Leonard discuss their recent research, which examines such acquisitions as Ben & Jerry’s by Unilever, Tom’s of Maine by Colgate and Stonyfield Farms by Dannon.  Their work suggests that it is possible for a company to stay true to its social mission after acquisition, presented in a working paper asking “Can the Virtuous Mouse and the Wealthy Elephant Live Happily Ever After?”  

The discussion touches on some great questions, including why the elephants would want to acquire mice with a conscience and why it could be a good deal for the mouse (they’re not selling out – they’re scaling up).

An excerpt is below, but it’s totally worth your time to read the entire (brief) HBS interview with Austin and Leonard:

Q: How can elephants protect the mouse’s social value and brand integrity?

A: The more effective large companies have recognized that preserving the social icon’s distinctive culture and business approach is essential to preserving its key success factors. Consequently, they retain a large degree of organizational independence so as to prevent “contamination” of the social technology.

This stands in contrast to the common approach in acquisitions to integrate and rationalize the assets into the new owner’s systems, structure, and culture. Some of the specific mechanisms used in successful mouse-elephant agreements include governance structures and processes that give the “mice” review and even veto power over actions by the “elephants” that might jeopardize those elements that are deemed essential to the social values underlying the brand’s integrity.

Retaining the social entrepreneur in the joint venture is highly desirable

Software Testing – The Specialists Are Autistic

Going through the old e-mails again, and found this fascinating article in HBS Working Knowledge that was shocking and inspiring.  First off, I must admit that I’m a fan of the show Boston Legal and that most of my knowledge of Asperger Syndrome comes from that show (yes, i’m pitifully uninformed or misinformed).  However, I’ve worked with autistic children in after-school programs and have heard lots of scary statistics about the “autism epidemic.” This can be a debilitating condition and the success stories seem few and far between – the only one I can think of (disregarding the Hollywood savant examples) is Temple Grandin, who apparently also is in the Asperger Syndrome category on the autism spectrum disorder scale.

Usually, when I think of job training and opportunities for autistic people, I think back to working at the Volunteer Center of Durham 15 years ago, and how we used organizations like Good Work for low-skill labor opportunities such as stuffing and labeling envelopes for mailings.  The results were haphazard at times, and we often had our Board of Directors and Junior League volunteers come in instead to place mailing labels on fund-raising and development mailings to insure quality.  Granted, these were an entirely different population and spectrum of developmental disorders, but still, I never would have thought that anyone on the autism spectrum disorder would be not only well-suited for software testing.  Not to mention that it would actually be so well suited as to provide a competitive advantage.

Enter the shock and inspiration:

“But who is best suited to control and manage the tests? The surprising answer may be found in a group of people previously thought to have a crippling condition: autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

In a new case coauthored by Austin, “Specialisterne: Sense & Details,” an innovative consultancy in Denmark has turned testing into its own specialty. While its 50 or so part-time consultants are considered best-in-class—they are paid industry-competitive wages, and customers include LEGO, Microsoft, and Oracle—75 percent of them live with what others might consider a handicap: They have Asperger syndrome or some form of ASD.”

And later in the article:

Specialisterne now has two offices in Denmark, another under construction in Scotland, and branches being planned in Sweden and India. Its niche, according to the case, is testing when the cost of establishing automated testing is too expensive and complex. In March 2008 Sonne was honored with Denmark’s IT Award for outstanding contributions to IT development. In a statement read at the ceremony, the award was bestowed to Sonne of Specialisterne because “these highly gifted people require special support to get on in society—but via their particular logical skills and sense for precision, they can contribute massively.”

Entrepreneurship in the Social Sector – HBS Interview

HBS Working Knowledge pointed me to this interview with Jane Wei-Skillern about the recent casebook that she and her HBS colleagues James E. Austin, Herman B. “Dutch” Leonard, and Howard H. Stevenson wrote: Entrepreneurship in the Social Sector. Jane co-authored several works with Greg Dees and Beth Anderson that I read when I was working with them at CASE (Center for the Advancement of Social Enterpreneurship), and I really like her work. The book will be added to the list of many that I’d like to buy and read one day. Right now, I’ve got too many in my “to read” pile to go out and buy more!

My favorite part of the interview is excerpted below (emphasis mine), but it’s a brief interview and definitely worth reading in full.

A major challenge facing business leaders is how to enhance the effectiveness of their social responsibility initiatives while substantially improving overall organizational performance.

This challenge cannot be overcome through incremental change in existing activities. Instead, it requires a fundamental transformation in the way that companies do business. It entails identifying new opportunities, creating new strategies, and establishing the structures and processes needed to pursue them. It is more powerful to envision this challenge as an entrepreneurial undertaking aimed at the innovative cogeneration of social and economic value.