“Use-centered innovation” will, by necessity, celebrate not only advances in hardware, but also advances in utilization practices, and as our recent experiences with personal computers, smart phones, and tablets have so vividly illustrated, it is often well-after the “platform” is launched that the real innovation begins. What follows is an illustration of how changing learning requirements and changing technology platforms came together to create a real example of use-centering of innovation and in the process taught us about the evolving needs of innovation educators and our students.
Recently, IMD was invited to assist a partner company in rethinking the world of Marketing, and particularly the essence of what we came to refer to as Wow! brands. We were captivated by this possibility in part because of a growing feeling that a generation of managers has been lost to the core skills of marketing, in part due to the ease of marketing in the peak years prior to recession and in part because the fundamentals of marketing have changed and have become more social, though the opportunity to learn those social processes have not generally been available. IMD had an opportunity to change that.
The firm, a well-known, large, global, fast moving consumer goods company, was interested in what lessons that it could learn from a variety of “hot” brands that seemed to spread virally, energize consumers, and sustain themselves in the face of fierce competitive challenges. There was also a recognition in the organization that perhaps its own high-potentials, mid-thirties in average age, might already be too “old” to be conversant with the new social media that has emerged in such a short period of time.
The program, as a result, was designed to not only learn at the cutting-edge, but to adopt cutting-edge learning practices so as to shorten internally the time between innovation inception and adoption.
The program, as a result, was designed to not only learn at the cutting-edge, but to adopt cutting-edge learning practices so as to shorten internally the time between innovation inception and adoption. Accordingly, we decided that given the global spread of participants and their experiences we not only wanted to identify Wow! brands around the world, but to examine them using the most current practices we could assemble; in this case: iPads and social media for learning platforms.
An IMD team including Research Fellow Willem Smit, Learning Lab Manager Carlos Cordero, Marketing Professor John Walsh, Director of Partnership Programs Tania Dussey-Cavassini, and myself (Professor of Innovation & Technology Management) was given the opportunity to really be experimental in our pursuit of the program objectives.
The program began by insisting that every participant become an “auto-anthropologist” and go out into the streets of their hometown, no matter where that might be, and video-record interviews with consumers regarding the brands that excited them. From these snippets of consumer reality, each of which was posted onto the participant’s personal blogsites, we formed teams of similar brand-orientations and then, using Facebook, had these teams work virtually to begin to build a mosaic from the individual “tiles” they had created. What we were looking for was a “story” that would come out of each team’s experiences, and which could be shared with senior executives in their firm.
Such is the power of social media that once they physically assembled at the Corporate Learning Center, the participants were already acting as “teams”, even though most of them had never met before. At the same time, we realized that the whole of our group was much more powerful than any few parts of it, and we turned from a traditional faculty-broadcasting role to real co-creation of the program’s content and delivery.
The bulk of our program time was devoted to group work – recognizing, distilling and generalizing the lessons to be learned from their team’s Wow! brand; the participants contributed the vibrancy of real-observation, while the faculty offered the distilling catalyst of frameworks, which also provided a common vocabulary for sharing insights and learnings. Together, we created stories that were sharable, generalizable and which offered rich insights into the new world of Brand Marketing.
The substitution of iPads for binders of paper material, made it possible to change everyone’s conversational habits so that we could take advantage of information on demand, at our fingertips, 24/7, and create: fact-based conversations as the norm rather than the exception; simulations, scenario comparisons and prototyping as common ways of testing new ideas; and instantaneous contact with much larger virtual communities via social-networking sites to bring co-creation into our everyday lives.
We think that it is no exaggeration to suggest that this program was fundamentally different in form and content from anything that we had ever participated in, in our long history of program delivery.
Best of all, from our perspective, was that we were big-time “net learners”, and among the biggest lessons that were learned were:
Our biggest personal takeaway from the Wow! brand experience was that, as always, getting more minds engaged in sharing the burden of creating new ideas both made it easier to find those new ideas and also produced much more interesting ideas than if we had tried to do it ourselves or even with a small team.
The lessons that we took away from this program:
By Bill Fischer
 In particular, the firm was alarmed by the image of a “lost generation” of marketers, as portrayed by a former Unilever marketing executive in Tim Bradshaw, “Warning Over a ‘Lost Generation’ of Marketeers,” Financial Times, April 5, 2010.