Guest AuthorPavan Soni

Best of Innovation in 2015

By | Dr Pavan Soni | IIM-B Innovation Evangelist 

Every year, for quite some time now, I have been compiling and sharing some interesting and informative stories and insights on innovation, creativity and strategic management. For one, it helps me remain connected to the reality of the world while I am grappling with my research work, and more importantly, it serves as a good means to remain meaningfully connected with people whom I treasure. So here is the pick from the years gone by.


You are also encouraged to have a look at the past years’ compilations- Best of 2014, Best of 2013Best of 2012Best of 2011Best of 2010Best of 2009.
 I have attempted to cluster the stories into key sections to enable an easy read.
It is only befitting that I dedicate this edition to our former President and the Missile Man of India- APJ Abdul Kalam. 
Innovation Rankings
One of the oldest and most sought after publications on innovation rankings comes from BCG. Started in 2005, the assessment has become more rigorous and insightful over the years. The top ten companies for 2015 are: Apple, Google, Tesla Motors, Microsoft Corp., Samsung Group, Toyota, BMW, Gilead Sciences, Amazon, and Daimler. More available at BCG Innovations in 2015. Even Forbes has a respectable take on The World’s Most Innovative Companies, and the 2015 ranking features India’s Hindustan Unilever, TCS and Sun Pharma. A a country level, the equivalent is the Global Innovation Index for 2015
Another comprehensive study on R&D is by PwC’s Strategy& (formerly Booz & Co.). Since 2005, the company has been publishing the list of world’s top R&D spenders, and offering interesting patterns. The top ten R&D spenders for 2015 were Volkswagen, Samsung, Intel, Microsoft, Roche, Google, Amazon, Toyota, Novartis and Johnson & Johnson. Do read the 2015 Global Innovation 1000.  A similar list is the MIT’s 50 Smartest Companies of 2015 ranking. This is a rather fresh take as several names here would be new to you.  
Since leadership and innovation are inextricably linked, a related ranking is that of the Best Performing CEOs in the World, published by Harvard Business Review in November 2015. Lars Rebien Sorensen of Novo Nordisk tops the list, followed by John Chambers and Pablo Isla (Inditex). 
Another important compilation is the MIT Tech Review’s list of 10 Breakthrough Technologies of 2015.  The list includes nano architecture, car-to-car communication, liquid biopsy, brain organoids and Internet of DNA. Talking about inventors, you have the MIT’s 35 Innovators Under 35 2015 ranking. Beyond technology, The FastCompany shares the list of World’s Most Creative People 2015. Some serious inspiration here. 
On a related area, check out the 14 smart inventions inspired by nature: Biomimicry
Innovation Management Practices
Based upon the assessment of the world’s most innovative companies, BCG offers a host of insights. However, one that is perhaps most important is- Strong Innovators are Lean Innovators. The Sloan Management Review recently published an article drawing insights from unrelated areas on how to fund risky bets. The article is titled Lessons From Hollywood: A New Approach To Funding R&D– and here one such insight it to have project-centered governance. 
In an HBR article, Clayton M. Christensen, Michael E. Raynor, and Rory McDonald offer a primer on Disruptive Innovation with several classic and contemporary examples. In a related article, Andrew A. King and Ballgirl Baatartogtokh question the utility of the theory of disruptive innovations. Even The Economist has a take on Disrupting Mr Disrupter
Another important concept around innovation management is open innovation and collaboration. In an insightful research paper published in Sloan Management Review, David Michael, David J. Kappos and John Villasenor offer practices on developing effective IP partnerships.  Exequiel Hernandez and Sarath Balachandran of Wharton talk about how choosing the right partner is the first step to successful innovations. Talking on a related concept, Amos Winter and Vijay Govindarajan give a primer on Reverse Innovation in their HBR article- Engineering Reverse Innovations
Organizational design
One of the concepts in vogue is -Business Models. McKinsey & Co. offers a nice take on how established firms can alter their business models to remain relevant.  In another article, the consulting outfit presents the eight essentials of innovation, based on a survey of 2,500 executives in 300 companies. These are: Aspire, Choose, Discover, Evolve, Accelerate, Scale, Extend and Mobilize. Gauge where your firm stands. On the business models, Marco Bertini and Nader Tavassoli answer the question- can one business unit have two revenue models?
Of late, McKinsey & Co. has been publishing some serious work on agility and enterprise design. Apart from several interviews with practitioners, there are few very nice articles, say Agility: It rhymes with stability, and Why agility pays?. Suggest you have a look.  
On Design Thinking, another very temporal topic, Jon Kolko shares a perspective on Design Thinking Coming of Ages. In the same edition of HBR, Youngjin Yoo and Kyungmook Kim narrate the inside story on How Samsung became a design powerhouse? The BusinessWeek share a case on Creativity at Nintendo, the maker of Mario. 
On fostering an innovation culture, Nicole Torres reveals that financial rewards make people suggest fewer but better ideas. Now that’s interesting, knowing that quality comes from quantity. 
Strategy and leadership insights
Check out Jeff Immelt, the CEO of General Electric, talking about taking GE digital and what it takes to bring about the transformation.  He says- “industrial companies are in the information business, whether they want it or not!” In another interview, Indra Nooyi, the CEO of PepsiCo talks about Design Thinking.  Also hear Twitter co-founder Biz Stone talk about creating opportunities in the connected world. Further, John Chambers, CEO of Cisco, talks about staying ahead of technology shifts.  On Design Thinking again, Brad Smith, Intuit’s CEO reveals insights about building a design-driven company
Another important task of a leader increasingly is to manage uncertainty. Bain & Co. offers a prescription on thriving in uncertainty, drawing insights from investments under risk. In an HBR piece, Alison Beard gather leadership insights from highly successful people, including Garry Kasparov, Andre Agassi and Salman Rushdie, to propose Leadership Lessons. In a similar vein, Claudio Fernández-Aráoz, Sonny Iqbal and Jörg Ritter offer four leadership lessons from great family businesses
Personal creativity
In an article published at MIT Sloan Management Review, Paul Schoemaker and Steven Krupp argue why asking pivotal questions is more important than ever, both in business and personal life. In an HBR piece, Youngme Moon, a professor and Senior Associate Dean for strategy and innovation at Harvard Business School, offers an Anti-Creativity Checklist for 2015. In another article, titled- Find innovation where you lease expect it, Tony McCaffrey and Jim Pearson offer ways of overcoming functional fixedness in order to enhance personal creativity. On common day practices, Annie Sneed claims that nostalgia fuels creativity, and Sarah Lawson demonstrates the power of routines in sustaining creativity
Talking of the science behind creativity, Eric Barker shares six insights on how to be more creative. These are: being open to new experiences, going for a walk, taking a shower, taking out ‘me time’, taking the ‘outsiders’ mind’, and keep trying. In an article published in Scientific American, Jessica Schmerler reveals how less is more when it comes to creativity, as several primitive regions in the brain kick in for performing creative tasks. Taking it further, Robert Safian, offers 20 lessons on creativity for 2015, based upon survey of world’s most creative people. 
Looking at creativity at a group level, Kimberly D. Elsbach, Brooke Brown-Saracino and Francis J. Flynn offer advise on collaborating with creative peers. In another related text, Gretchen Spreitzer, Peter Bacevice and Lyndon Garrett shows why people thrive in coworking spaces. In a Time Magazine article, Alexa Clay and Kyra Maya Phillips share insights on what criminals can teach us about creativity?
In a related work, Ethan Mollick speaks with Knowledge @ Wharton on why there are more male entrepreneurs than female ones?. And if patents have an influence on innovation, which they do, The Economist argues to fix up the patent system
For some ongoing inspiration, here’s what Steve Jobs said about creativity. Interesting quotes indeed. 
China and India
Innovation in China is a much talked about, but scantly understood phenomenon. A country mostly associated with low-cost innovations is indeed moving up the value chain. Check out this article by McKinsey Global Institute on Gauging the strength of Chinese innovation. From an economic assessment, BCG offers a cross-country comparison and growth perspectives of China in its article titled The New China Playbook, which focuses on affluent middle-class and  e-savvy customers. How about Calibrating Chinese Creativity, as The Economist does it.   
Here is a very interesting report by MIT Tech Review on India’s Energy Crisis. Taking a broader perspective, Bain & Co. offers an infographic on Asia’s Emerging Digital Consumers. In the BRIC bracket, China leads and India is a laggard! 
Technology disruptions
We start with Scientific American’s list of Top 10 Emerging Technologies of 2015 and the 10 World Changing Ideas of 2015
One the major technology phenomenon of the recent past is -Digital. BCG presents a Borges’ Map of major digital disruptions and how managers can navigate those. The report talks about Hyper-scaling, with very interesting cases and implications. Also watch Natarajan Chandrasekaran, the CEO of TCS, talk about five digital forces that are changing the technology industry. These are mobility, big data, social media, cloud computing and robotics. To put things in perspective, do read the thought provoking article by David Rotman titled – Who will own the Robots?. In fact, the Bank of England Chief Economist- Andy Haldane is confident that robots can’t replace IT workers, doctors and dentists.
Taking the conversation further- what if you realize the it is the strategy and not technology that determines the success of digital transformation? That’s what Sloan Management Review and Deloitte has to offer on the subject- Driving Digital Transformation. On the application of digital technology in business, Salvatore Parise, Eoin Whelan and Steve Todd share interesting perspectives on how Twitter users can generate better ideas. To understand human- technology interaction up close and personal, read this article titled Inside Amazon published in MIT Tech Review in July 2015. 
Talking on how Internet of Things (IoT) is impacting the rules of business and competitiveness, Michael E. Porter and James E. Heppelmann offer an informative take in this HBR piece titled- How smart, connected products are transforming companies. In a similar vein, Richard D’Aveni offer a primer on 3-D Printing Revolution and its disruptive potential. Some of these devices also feature in the 2015 Innovation by Design Awards
Yet another trend of interest it MOOCs (Massive Open Online Course). On the utility of this mechanisms, Justin Pope answers the question- What are MOOCs good for?
Finally,  Antonio Regalado lists six biggest technology failures of 2015. These are Hoverboards, Theranos’s nanotainers, Coal power, Gene-edited human embryos, Yahoo!, and Bulk collection of phone records. 
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