Corporate and Innovation in Africa, where we are getting it wrong.
I don't need to say this. Innovation is a buzzword, and everyone wants to look innovative but looking innovative is very different from being innovative — innovation distinguishes leaders and followers, according to the late Steve Jobs. In the innovation world, we have the three Is; Innovators, Imitators and Idiots. It is easy to imitate and look like an idiot compared to innovation. Innovating is not for the faint-hearted people. The first principal thinkers are those willing to take risks and leave with the consequences, whether the result is good or bad. Something that corporate Africa rarely understands. So, where are we getting it all wrong?
93% of organisations believe innovation is important to driving their growth agenda, and 70% still struggle to articulate a clearly defined innovation strategy. — 2015 Survey from EY and the Hunter Centre for Entrepreneurship and Innovation
Innovation is Not a Department
Innovation is not a department; innovation is how you handle your people, culture and processes. Making your API open and launching a sandbox is nothing if your people take years to respond to emails or establish a strategic partnership. Innovation strategy is not a document, it is a tool to make you agile and flexible to meet your client's needs. If you still need multiple clearance levels to decide on whether you should work with a startup or not, then something is wrong. You might also want to fire the CIO if you have one. Innovation needs to be embedded in your organization's DNA and at the core of your business model. Few intelligent people in the team won't make you innovative.
You don't need a foreign expert.
You don't need a foreign expert. It would help if you had someone who understands your clients' needs and can innovate solutions that make technical and business sense. Consult or hire Smart Creatives — people with technical knowledge, expertise and creativity. People who don't chase compensation; chase the ability to cause change and disrupt industries. Don't be obsessed with GPAs. It is good to see now corporates are increasing hiring from startup companies. Where we are missing the point is the fact that fishes don't swim on sands. They need a conducive environment to work and flourish. The first important step is to fix our process and culture. You don't need to wear an expensive suit or study from an ivy league university to be the most intelligent person in the room. Those days are gone, done and dusted.
Beyond Hackathons and Meetups
The days of running a hackathon and dishing out t-shirts to look innovative are gone. Innovation provides organizations with unique value propositions and a strategic edge against their competitors. It is not something you take for granted or a side project you do for fun. How is innovation integrated into your core organization's vision? It is good to see companies committing more resources to innovation ecosystems in Africa, running innovation challenges, launching startup accelerator programs, offering seed financing, etc.
We need to graduate from this phase and move one stage above adopting innovation as the core of our strategies; launching Corporate Venture Capital (CVC) programs, intrapreneurship programs, technology transfer offices, etc. These initiatives will make more sense in our strategic engagement with local innovation ecosystems. Corporate Africa needs to move towards Corporate Social Investment (CSI) beyond just CSR. We need to invest in our startups, adopt our technologies from local universities and complement the existing efforts of other ecosystem players. It is beyond looking innovative, and it is being resourceful.
It’s harder to grow big and still remain innovative’ — Bill Gross, Idealab co-founder,
If a corporation wishes to maintain and develop its place within this competitive landscape, they need to challenge what they constantly do. Disruption is like pregnancy. You can't have a bit of pregnancy, and you either have or not. It is the same scenario with innovation. You are either disrupting or getting disrupted. As a bank, you can't launch a startup fund and still asks for collateral, have debt as your primary instrument and asks for performance records of the past three years. You either remain to be a bank or create an investment fund that responds to the startup's needs. Many large companies adopt new organizational structures. Instead of having one hierarchical organization, companies are now adopting a more distributed system that resembles a portfolio of internal startups or projects specifically responding to specific industry needs.
Not Ignoring The Efforts
Not ignoring the efforts, it is good to see corporate Africa investing more in building a stable and strategic relationship with the local innovation ecosystem. We can't settle for less, and the next phase of the African innovation ecosystem needs corporate Africa more than ever. You can't just stand by and be a spectator. Always remember, you can either disrupt or get disrupted. If you don't want to be caught by surprise, ask Kodak and Nokia they have an exciting story to tell.