This week I was privileged to be in some fascinating discussions on innovative growth paths, practiced by organisations. Let me explain:
We were in the midst of conversation about digitization and how it is influencing organizations’ ability to respond to new challenges and, in doing so, how digitization can help catalyze an organisation’s culture – making it younger, more agile, hungry for growth. What was fascinating to watch was not only what were these innovation paths (that would be the subject of an upcoming post…), but at what level they are taking shape – specifically at the Capability level.
For many years, change initiatives often came from the top. We have become so accustomed to it that we expect ‘the next wave’ to follow a change in leadership or a major organisational announcement. However, some of the most compelling (and successful) transitions have been taking place as organisations realise the limits of an organisation’s centre and have gone about creating spaces for new capabilities to form – much closer to the customer, in partnership with others, and yes – fuelled by a re-invigorated culture.
Whether we were looking at a manufacturer’s ability to customize vitamin supplements to customer behaviour (at record speed), a financial institution contributing to regulatory innovations or a property portal bringing industry players together which were ‘invisible’ to each other so far, in the property acquisition cycle – they all chose to ‘Atomize’ the organisation – to see themselves at a more granular level, as a dynamic set of capabilities, which could be re-arranged and to test whether they have a ‘winning molecule’ in their hands.
In a recent post, we looked at the story of Moderna and how developing a winning molecule was not so much about the molecule they were targeting (they currently have nine mRNA vaccines in their development pipeline) but rather their ‘molecule’ factory – the process which draws on automation, distributed access to date and accelerated learning to generate now candidate molecules at record speed and significant cost advantage when compared to others. Digitization has played a big role in their transition but so has adopting a new perspective, of the value of capability sets and how they form in ‘the factory’. In short, they’ve designed their factory for growth and innovation.
Here are three lessons we have learned in the shift from ‘discovering the next big product’ to ‘atomizing the organisation’ for new and enhanced capabilities, resulting in growth:
- Ask bold ‘What If’ questions – questions are a great way to pierce our organisational conventions – the role of Head office, the business processes which generate customer value, the needed (and not so needed) interactions between functions. These are more easily challenged when the question forces us to look at the board rather than ask whether we can move one piece at a time (if you don’t mind me using a Chess analogy – Mikhail Tal, known as the “Magician from Riga”, used his bold imagination and explosive playing style to test complicated situations, which many grandmasters of the time could not find a conventional answer to – he chose the board, not the individual pieces, to focus his thinking on).
- Be curious of what capabilities can new technologies (or management innovations) trigger inside your organisation – could they trigger data-driven conversation between teams, beyond conventional interactions? Could they provide new solutions for customers to pilot? Could they generate feedback that pierces our conventions? And would that feedback survive the backlash from the organisation? Remember, Moderna’s work in mRNA was considered futile, a distraction by many in Healthcare – they chose to see the proteins of the time, not the factory….
- Architect for uncomfortable and surprising conversations – Being thoughtful and deliberate can often invite such conversations, making it psychologically safe for people to participate and (importantly!) taking action following these. All are key ingredients into putting new capabilities to work. And as these become the norm in the organisation, the factory of new ideas, business ventures and innovative offerings come into operation.
All of this came close to home for me this week, as we held our inaugural Advisory Board meeting – the culmination of a design process for some time now. It was such an insightful conversation, as we shape our vision for Ascent Growth Partners, over the coming five years (and beyond). It was great not because it was a comfortable conversation (though learning from such experienced thought leaders brought in some sense of comfort), it wasn’t all expected (as we ventured beyond the usual ‘stepping stones’ for growth). What was most enduring was seeing how it triggered a new conversation amongst our team, with new and exciting options we’re intent of exercising, some in the coming 12 months, in fact. It was uncomfortable and surprising by design.
I hope that speaking of atoms and molecules, what is nearly infinitely small, rather than what is large and visible (though not necessarily enduring) was helpful. I am reminded of my conversation with an executive recently, who is developing a ‘new molecule’ that may change the face of retail. He said “If we don’t embrace this new capability, we won’t be around in 20 years’ time”. That said from an iconic organisation…it made me think of the beauty of thinking in molecules…
Have a good weekend everyone!
Saar Ben-Attar (A Connector Beyond Limits)
"We decided to do something very atypical because most biotech companies are one drug company at a time. And so we said, “Let’s build a portfolio of drugs”. If you really believe you have a goose that’s going to be making thousands and thousands and thousands of eggs, you don’t want to kill the goose on the first or second egg."