An Action Plan for Rapid Innovation

How does a major global corporation go about creating a new innovation capability from scratch? At Orange, the mobile carrier of France Telecom, executives decided to create a separate entity to be their innovation engine. Nicolas Bry played a major role in the new initiative. Here he begins a two part, warts and all, account of the lessons learned.

Vijay Govindarajan tells us that Innovation cannot happen inside the performance engine, so it requires a dedicated innovation team. Every time you start a new innovation initiative — which the performance engine cannot do because of its limits of reach — you are essentially creating a start up company.

Setting an innovation entity acting as a start-up is what we experienced at Orange with the creation of Orange Vallée. Orange Vallée was created in 2007 to “identify, develop, and market innovative products and services within particularly short lead times. Orange Vallée’s offer would complement the Group’s portfolio on the world’s Internet, mobile telephony and convergence markets”.

The adventure has been going on for 3 years now, and one can draw the following lessons:

  • Orange Vallée has succeeded in identifying many “hot topics” like music on demand or smart TV that have further enriched the group portfolio: it has developed prototypes and products enabling us to perform market tests; its mission as a scout and a “house for ideas” has been completed.
  • In less than 2,5 years, Orange Vallée has developed and launched a diversified range of products and services like tactile tablet Tabbee, simplified and enhanced mobile address book ON, web service Memory Life to “shake your memories”, Transmedia Lab dedicated to storytelling across media, leveraging on technology transmedia apps.
  • What has been more difficult to achieve is a streamlined cooperation with the core company; a clear selection of links to develop collaboration has been missed, as well as living connections with innovation decision makers and the support of a sponsor for the dedicated entity.

What has been more difficult to achieve is a streamlined cooperation with the core company; a clear selection of links to develop collaboration has been missed.

  • We have not been very good either at building an effective innovation management & methodology:

- our innovation strategy and belief did not meet some concrete shared goals with our parent company;

- the innovation portfolio management has not been very balanced between disruptive projects and quick wins, not very focused on a selected number of projects, and it did not show a clear intent that everyone could use as a basis for individual and team decisions;

- no innovation process pairing open innovation with design thinking, user involvement, fast integration, prototyping and testing capabilities, and cross functional management, has been shared and implemented so as to define a relevant framework for all the innovation team.

Deriving from Orange Vallée, from our personal experience in innovation, and from an in-depth research through academic sources and 15 case studies we have since tried to optimize the architecture through designing a “Rapid innovation” model.

We suggested a framework with main 3 guidelines:

  1. creating a dedicated entity empowered for fast innovation: flexible, agile, open to new opportunities picked out from the “innovation market”; it will be half cast, both “inside and outside” the core company, so as to bring back the innovation value to the core co;
  2. instilling “creative tension“: creative tension is a framework for creativity which leverages an agile organization and accelerates creation and development of new products and associated leadership platform. Culture of diversity, focus, specific goals (“narrowing the scope actually helps the team”), and knowledge circulation in short cycles are some key components of a creative tension framework;
  3. aligning with innovation strategy, by developing ongoing coordination with the core company, forging persistent connections between innovators and mainstream operations, cultivating communication and collaboration skills (“your team won’t work well in active competition with the rest of the organization”). Endorse some core co strategic priorities, so as to engage more fluently core co in new co innovations, following “a line of least resistance“.

Yet this framework has to operate on a set-up entity.

Will this one be built in 7 days? We don’t think so and suggest a roadmap to implement the rapid innovation model. In the next episode, we’ll see how we would unfold the set-up in a 9 months timeline over three main stages: Create, Develop, Engage.

By Nicolas Bry

About the author:

Nicolas is a senior VP at Orange Vallée, an Orange entity dedicated to rapid innovation. He developed a strong experience in innovation management, creating and managing international digital BU, at executive committee level, with a focus on video and TV services design. Graduate from engineering school Supélec, he further completed at HEC Business School a professional thesis on “rapid innovation” in 2010 (