Kickstart corporate innovation by building a Minimum Viable Ecosystem

Esther Gons

Esther Gons

Managing Partner NEXT Amsterdam

In our book, we describe what an innovation ecosystem is and how you can build an innovation ecosystem within your company. An ecosystem is needed to foster innovation company-wide, with the right governance in the right places, and multiple ways to do innovation. Where everyone knows how to do innovation, how to manage innovation and how to look at innovation strategically. Asking the right questions at the right time.

We also describe the twelve building blocks of innovation that are needed to develop an ideal ecosystem for innovation. Implementing these one by one, however, is not necessarily a proven path to a successful ecosystem. I have seen many organisations trying to implement the blocks step by step only to see it fail half way through. Transformation and innovation is not something that can be build with a roadmap. it needs exploring, testing and iterations. It is a process that will keep changing, just as the world around us is changing all the time.

So, what is a good way to start? That is where we introduce the MVE. A Minimal Viable Ecosystem from where you can start iterating and building out a thriving ecosystem for innovation. 
This sounds easy, but in practice, it is hard to see or understand what is needed in an MVE. I have seen companies building out a process and a set of KPI’s and criteria for innovation accounting before having any teams or ideas going through it. There are companies that start with fully capable teams but no board members to ask them the right questions. Both routes are hard to pursue, how do you build out on one block when the other is dependant on it?

Working with so many companies and talking to even more, has made it clear that for an MVE to really work, it needs to be compromised of elements of the twelve building blocks. But those elements need to be evenly distributed across the three pillars of the ecosystem; Innovation Practice, Innovation Management and Innovation Strategy. As soon as there are enough elements to form the Build-Measure-Learn loop and start interacting, is when the first version of your Ecosystem is ready to start iterating and growing.

If you want to start out with internal innovation teams with enough capabilities to run lean teams to show some early successes, you could start with teams that have help from outside coaches. Make sure, however, that they all work according to the first draft of an innovation framework and some initial key metrics to start testing the loop. From there, you can build out on an innovation model, and a framework that is suited for your organisation. You can start improving the metrics and build out on portfolio management. And you can start educating on the right way of working and methodologies.

It is important to make sure that after every ‘learning’ you look at the bigger picture and evaluate what needs attention the most at that point. You cannot do innovation accounting if there is no teams running. You cannot test your process if nobody is really doing it. The board cannot develop an innovation thesis if there is no understanding of what that entails for the company and its strategy. Only a combination of the elements that interact with each other across the organization, is a good way to start testing. Get all the wheels turning to give you results to build on.

A combination of top-down and bottom-up hands-on innovation is where you should start. No matter how you organized innovation, you need the cogs to interact to be able to start the learning loop going.

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