The Rising Age of Applied Innovation

Did you know that France, despite the never ending self-bashing mindset that make us “so French”, is one of the leading countries in the world for innovation? Working in a country ranked 6th in the world for international patents, the European leader in business start-ups, and home to the largest incubator in the world, Halle Freyssinet, is actually not that bad.

I strongly believe that on this side of the Atlantic we are in the best position to take advantage of a major shift that is coming — a scary, but highly promising digital move that will disrupt business ecosystems everywhere: the fall of the “Age of Information” and the rise of the “Age of Applied Innovation”.

Why? Because information is now readily and freely available to anyone with a wireless connection. Internet is now a “utility”, no different, and no less necessary, than water and electricity. Information, and the sharing of it, is no longer the force that is going to change the world. That change has already happened. Sorry for those who missed it. Now is the time of “Applied Innovation” (that is innovation that is pragmatic, and result oriented, rather than innovation for its own sake). This kind of innovation is going to be the fuel to sustainability, and competitiveness, in a world where the pace of change will never again be as slow as it is right now.

The One More Thing Effect

Businesses, whether they are start-ups or Fortune 100 companies, are all on the search for “One More Thing Effect” — feeding the need to be one step ahead of the competition, to innovate. When I think about fostering innovation I like to look closely at the tools that are provided to the workforce, to the innovators, because a craftsman cherishes a well-made hammer. If you give an artist a beautiful tool, their talent, skill and imagination will come to the work.

The concept of tools is, in its own way, a microcosm of innovation.

In a competitive industrial environment, the right tools used to be the sharpest axes, and the quickest looms. Then the right tools became sales reps in big cars, with product sample kits and a cold calling program. Then it was computers the size of your lounge room, frequent flyer points and persistence (actually it doesn’t matter what else changes, persistence is always in fashion). Now the right tools are social media presence, high speed connectivity, and virtual workspaces.

The digital workspace is now the most important tool for a technologically progressive company to foster innovation. The digital workspace adapts to the working style of the innovator, rather than the practical, physical limitations of the company. It allows innovators to work where, when and how they choose, providing them with the freedom to be creative, and the ability to share their work seamlessly with team members anywhere in the world. These cutting-edge workspaces are incredible playgrounds for innovation because they are designed to allow the innovator to be themselves, and develop cool new ways to use the latest devices.

And if a company today is serious about innovation, this is where the investment needs to be made.

The Pace of Change

The pace of change will never be as slow as it is right now. Innovation is outdated almost instantly. That fantastic gadget you bought yourself last year is now frightfully out of date. Companies like Apple and Samsung, on a constant mission to deliver the Next Big Thing in order to satisfy their shareholders, obsolete their own products at each Keynote presentation. What other industry is built around such a rapid obsolescence cycle? But nonetheless, each event needs to be more innovative, more extraordinary than the last.

What does that mean for you? Sure, you need the new iPhone every year, but is there more to it than that? The short answer is ‘yes, there is’.

The tools provided to employees 3 years ago are now fundamentally inadequate. If you believe a workforce can compete at the sharp edge of the digital wave with wooden planks strapped to their feet, that’s okay — you’re entitled to your wrong opinion. That equipment has been rendered irrelevant by the pace of change. And why do I keep talking about tools and workplaces? Because they underpin innovation everywhere. Just as a good carpenter needs good tools, so does your employee Jimmy, who is sitting outside your office right now.

People are the Cornerstone of Innovation

Companies have invested in people. They have hired the sharpest IT professionals they can get their hands on, and they believe that’s what will take them to the lead in that race. What they need to understand is that those people need a very particular type of workspace. They need a workspace that will fit first with their working lifestyle, rather than the business’ needs, and that workspace looks different than the one we’re all used to seeing.

Go outside, have a look in the coffee shop around the corner. There will be people working there, hunched over the laptops as coffee goes cold beside them. Are they really “officeless”? I don’t think so. They just want to break the code because being innovative is about breaking the codes. If I was running my own company, I’d hire those guys even if just for all the potential their creativity offers. Sure, for most of them, no one will ever read their blog or buy something on their online store. But that’s not important, because they are creating something. They are creating tomorrow.

The challenge then for businesses now is that you can no longer just talk to the business about their needs, but you need to talk to the individuals engaged in the organisation about theirs. Give them a well-crafted hammer, and they will build one of the Wonders of the World.