When you want to do new things: Conceptualize, Communicate, Manage & Produce

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The four engines of Innovation.

Organizations often find themselves needing or wanting to do new things - develop new products, new technologies; enter new markets; create new business models; or even look for the next big disruption. This is becoming increasingly so in today's interconnected and technology driven world. An interconnected world is shaping markets in new and unfamiliar ways and the technological landscape produces only a few and very large winners – industries are being dominated by few companies that attain this dominance rapidly and often in unexpected areas. In the face of this, the pressure to venture and explore new directions is almost an imperative, not just to grow but often just to stay relevant.

This article is the first of a series which introduces a framework-based approach that organizations can adopt to more effectively tackle the doing of new things: develop new technologies, new products, enter new markets and in other ways realign themselves to the market.

It rests on a system of four engines, that provide the dynamic thrust to innovation. These are the engines of Conceptualization, Communication, Management and Production. These concepts and elements that are familiar to most of us, how this approach differs from other approaches is in a holistic view that firstly addresses the key areas that need to be powered for innovation and growth, secondly it ties them into a single action based view of the innovation and processes and finally, instead of focusing on developing new organization components – departments, divisions etc. – it presents them as mechanisms that can be dropped in wherever they are needed and start operating almost immediately, powering your innovation efforts. In essence, what is proposed is a new way of looking at and organizing the key activities that are needed whenever a new venture, or initiative is started.

Doing New Things and Innovation

Broadly speaking, this doing of new things, is often characterized as innovation. However, there are almost as many definitions of Innovation as there are people defining it. Most of these definitions are built around words such as “idea”, “value” or “problem/challenge”. While all these definitions express some of the reality of what it means to innovate, they don’t provide a broad, yet simple definition of innovation, fixing their attention only on some aspects of it.

When we think about innovation, we generally characterize it as creating something that did not previously exist: for example the iPhone, the Google search engine, The Netflix online streaming business - examples of new things that fundamentally changed markets by radically re-imaging usage. But the arena of Innovation is much broader - to go back a to definition from as early as the 1590s, when it was defined as to "bring in new things, alter established practice". This sense: bringing in of new things or altering established practices is innovation at its core.

And the key issue is not whether something is new for the world, but rather whether it is new for the organization.

The four engines of Innovation - Conceptualization, Communication, Management and Production or C-C-M-P for short is - presented in these articles will be applicable when your organization finds itself in the following situation:

  1. You are about to start something new, or you want to do something new, or believe you need to do something new. Something that has potential payback in the long run - profitability, market-share, or even just the ability to stay relevant.
  2. You may have a clear idea of what this thing is or perhaps have only a semblance of an idea.
  3. You do not know what all it will entail, what all will need to be done, what new knowledge and skills will be required, and, how will you organize to achieve this.
  4. And most importantly the outcome is uncertain.

The C-C-M-P Engines

Most of us, when we read stories of innovation success, often think, "that was obvious". This may seem like 20/20 hindsight at work, but in reality, it is simply us picking up on some aspect of both predictability and repeatability in the story. Something tells us that the specific methods, approaches, means deployed in the story had a high probability of leading to success (predictability) and that beneath the story are some general lessons of wider applicability (repeatability).

It is possible to innovate successfully, which is why innovative companies innovate a lot – they have learnt and internalized the process. It is not that they don’t fail, they expect to fail in some ventures, but having learnt the innovation method and adopted its practices across the organization, they can cast their innovation net wide. This is not to say that innovation is formulaic – but that there is an underlying method and that method is a matter of arranging the various processes needed to make innovation happen.

The C-C-M-P Engine approach centers on two key aspects of addressing innovation - first, what are the methods and practices that allow organizations to innovate, and second, how can organizations adopt them in a light weight manner without large-scale changes to its structure and culture.

  • The method and practices of innovation are organized into the four core areas of this framework: Conceptualization, Communication, Management and Production. As we shall see, successful innovation require organizations to execute successfully in all of these four areas.
  • Innovation and growth can come from any part of the organization, organizations need to deploy method and practices where they are need. The packaging of these core areas as Engines creates framework that is lightweight, pluggable and consistent that can be deployed across the organization, put to use immediately and in an interconnected manner, and power your innovation efforts.

Conceptual Basis

The aim of this approach is not as much the traditional work of strategy and planning, but rather the underlying work of creating on which all other business functions rests. It is creative acts that lead to value, which is the ultimate aim and objective of all business, the creation here can be of markets, products ,services, technologies. And essentially is a pragmatic process, that rests on the long tradition of pragmatic thinking that has been used effectively by corporations in the US, Japan, South Korea and China, who pay less attention to theoretical ideas but more on doing thing – getting their hands dirty, so as to speak.

The terms conceptualization, communication, management and production can be applied to many elements within an organization – they are at one level individual skills and this is something we have natural familiarity with, there are some people who are good at conceptualization, some who are good at communication, some good at management and some good at production and some, of course, good at more than one of these skills. These terms can also be applied at the process, activity or departmental level.

So why call them engines?

Today, organizations need to respond with new initiatives, projects and direction much more frequently – the pace of business has changed. And this response needs to occur within different groups, units and divisions of the organization, and often without much notice (in response to market events) and is not necessarily long lasting. Thinking of these at the process, activity or department level does not provide the nimbleness needed to meet the needs. When we think of them as engines we can see them as powered components that can be quickly deployed wherever needed.


The idea of breaking down the activities of Innovation into these four components came to me first about 10 years ago when I was the lead architect at EMC Corporation (now Dell EMC) for a product that was being developed to transform the management of EMC's multiple data-storage, information security, data virtualization and other products by proving a single interface that addressed needs of CIOs rather than those of individual and disparate departments. It was further refined over the years as I worked with organizations trying to do a variety of new things - build a city 100% sustainable in its energy, water and food needs; building solutions for continued learning; conceptualizing a retirement community for a particular ethnic segment. Each of these succeeded and failed in different ways, but each of them reinforced key lessons that I have incorporated in this framework. I have also benefited from the work of the many important thinkers in the field of innovation.

Next in the Series

Over the next few weeks I will present details of the framework covering its elements in detail. The first few articles will:

  1. Provide a high level overview of the four engines, focusing largely on Conceptualization and address the importance of establishing the Business Context - addressing the core issue of aligning innovation to mission and strategy (and we will see that to be effective it needs to be a two-way street),
  2. Introduce some examples and case studies of innovation success and failure that will be used to illustrate the framework, and
  3. Provide an overview of the different approaches for innovation from the mid-80s to the present times, and how they relate and compare to this framework.


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