What is The Innovation Factory?

In my last blog, I promised to share details about The Innovation Factory in a future blog.  A friend asked me to share details sooner rather than later. As the saying goes, the future is now. I had planned to publish “What is Principled in Principled Assessment Design” today. But all those PAD nerds (both of us) will have to wait another week or so.  Now for The Innovation Factory…

The Innovation Factory is a synthesis of the Drucker (1994) (https://hbr.org/1994/09/the-theory-of-the-business) and Seelos and Mair (2017) (https://www.amazon.com/Innovation-Scaling-Impact-Effective-Enterprises/dp/080479734X) models, tailored to apply to the education context and learning and assessment products, and expanded to encompass design science.

Knowledge Components

First, the Innovation Factory is composed of a set of five knowledge components. Each component represents knowledge in an area important to turning an invention into an innovation and an innovation into impact.

  • Organizations with a clear sense of Mission know who they want to be and what they want to achieve. This clarity of mission guides their actions with appropriate levels of focus, motivation, and commitment.
  • Expertise in Environment involves a deep understanding of the problems and needs of their customers and other stakeholders, their competitors and the social, economic, and political factors that define their world.
  • Design knowledge links the understanding of the customers’ problems and needs to creation of an invention in a manner that makes explicit the ways the invention is intended to satisfy those problems and needs and thus create value for the customer.  Design knowledge includes expertise in validity and efficacy because validity and efficacy arguments start with rationales for design decisions and design decisions continue to be driven by validity and efficacy throughout the product lifecycle.
  • Knowledge of Capabilities resides in resources (e.g., trained staff) and processes (i.e., the things that an organization does really well) and forms the ability for understanding customer problems, creating effective inventions, and communicating the value proposition to customer segments.  Capabilities also include the knowledge and will to scale invented products and services to serve more people better.
  • Awareness refers to three kinds of knowledge of business models: a) Awareness of the business model underlying the current offering of an organization, b) awareness of when there is a need for a new business model; and c) awareness of how to create a new business model. Awareness of a business model is a knowledge component in the Innovation Factory whereas creation of a business model is an artefact in the Innovation Factory. 

Critical Interaction

Second, all the action in the model comes from the interaction between areas of knowledge.  The effective interaction between areas of knowledge (e.g., Mission and Environment) creates an artefact and a kind of value. For example, the interaction between expertise in the five knowledge components creates an understanding of the important Job-to-be-Done (JTBD) that is meaningful to the organization (Mission), reflects important customer problems or pain points (Environment), can be addressed with a solution (Design) that can be developed using existing or acquirable resources (Capabilities), and will provide a respectable return on investment (Awareness).

Figure 1. The Innovation Factory.

Continuous Learning

Third, progress toward impact is not linear.  Progress is driven by learning that occurs during and after the creation of the artefacts. Learning happens in the areas of expertise represented by the knowledge components.  Learning results from testing what you think you know (e.g., the job the customer needs to get done) against the feedback you get from interacting with the intended product users and other stakeholders.  Across iterations, expertise accumulates. Of course, organizations do not iterate endlessly. At some point in the iterations, enough expertise accumulates to achieve the desired level of impact.  Alternatively, expertise may accumulate that convinces the organization to abandon a project. As learning is a continuous process, a starting point for the model is imaginary and only a convenience to aid explanation.

Functional Silos

            A prerequisite for successful Innovation Factory implementation is a culture that nourishes effective cross functional teams.  These teams consist of team members expert in areas important to turning an invention into an innovation and an innovation into impact. Trust, respect, communication, and lack of ego amongst team members are necessary ingredients for effective cross functional teams.

Innovation often dies because organizations are riddled with functional silos. Communication and collaboration are poor. Each functional area establishes its own goals, processes, and roadmaps.  Functional areas compete for influence and undermine the influence and performance of other areas. The ingredients for effective cross functional teams are missing. But jealousy, fear, and self-interest are present in abundance. Successful innovation is impossible within such a culture.

low angle photo of black tower
Photo by Todd Trapani on Pexels.com

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