“Innovation is not for us”, they say

If I had a dollar for every time that someone said that to me, I wouldn’t need to work another day in my life. As someone who is trying to get corporations in Pakistan to understand the value of innovation, this declaration is extremely frustrating. The commonly stated reasons for shunning change and innovation I hear are:

  1. Our product/service is standardized and does not require innovation.
  2. Our industry (generally financial markets) is heavily regulated and does not allow innovation.
  3. We are in a sellers’ market and can sell all our production without fuss. Why bother changing anything?

There are partial truths in these statements that lull the protagonists into a false sense of security, and hence portend a dark future for their business. Take the famous case of Blockbuster. At the top of its game it had 9,000 stores, renting out physical DVD’s, videos and games in the US and overseas. In one particular year, it made $800 million in late fees alone. Along came Netflix and first started up a “DVD by mail” business, then morphed into streaming, has close to 100 million subscribers and is now producing its own shows, such as House of Cards. It spends over $5 billion a year on production costs alone.

Blockbuster, meanwhile, declared bankruptcy and recently closed its last store. Interestingly, Blockbuster had an option to buy Netflix for $50 million in 2000, but showed it the door. Meanwhile, Netflix was valued at $55 billion in Dec 2015 ! If you had asked Blockbuster in 2000 whether they needed to innovate and in what direction, they would probably have kicked you out.

There are quite a few other examples of companies being blindsided by new products, new technologies and apps. The problem is that it is not a stealth attack that sends them under, but rather, an inability to accept and foresee change and the need to constantly innovate. Like a frog that is put into a cauldron of cold water and then unsuspectingly boiled over a slow flame, by the time these companies realize that the water is too hot, it is too late.

This got me thinking about how to present innovation to companies, to help them see it as a daily function of their job rather than the workings of a mad scientist locked up in a high tower, dreaming of, and delivering, the next life altering gizmo. That thinking resulted in the birth of my Daily Innovation Model, as follows:

                       Innovation Quadrant for Corporate Innovation

Curious? Let’s see it in closer detail next.

Getting started with the Daily Innovation Model
Putting the Daily Innovation Model together
How to conquer your Daily Innovation Zone
Creativity, creative leadership and the value of innovation management

By Rumman Ahmad. An MSc in Creativity and Change Leadership from Buffalo State University, Rumman trains, teaches and facilitates groups of people to learn and apply the creative process to solve problems, energizing and motivating them to do their best. He is also the organizer of an annual conference on innovation in Pakistan. An Exago partner since 2016 in this key geography, Rumman has developed a Model for Daily Innovation which can be complemented by Exago’s innovation management software.

Five key dimensions for building your innovation challenges

In the process of setting objectives for your business goals, you should always think SMART – as management guru Peter Drucker applies this expression. To make your objectives easy to understand and monitor, they need to be Specific, Measurable, Assignable, Realistic and Time-related. This mnemonic can be useful when establishing innovation challenges.

Challenge definition functions as the central pillar to your innovation initiatives, so you need to allocate time to consider this. Defining these elements is that first fundamental step that will help you create new paths.

Still, innovation challenges are not only pure objectives but also a means to achieve something in the process – people’s engagement, business alignment or a corporate culture of innovation, for instance. Inspired by Drucker’s criteria, we find it more pragmatic to structure challenges around the agents involved.

To do this, we have developed a hands-on toolkit to help define and identify vital challenges, ask the right questions and know how to ask them correctly, by considering the following when shaping your challenges:

If you are asking that extra mile from your employees, you surely want to channel their awareness towards a real priority and to tackle an explicit, solvable problem, engaging your people’s collective intelligence and concentrating on what really matters. You need to also remember to leave some space for more disruptive ideation, low-hanging fruit and other demands that can, in their own time, become equally important.

As we’ve seen, every company identifies with the more typical macro themes, including operational efficiency issues, better customer experience, sales and marketing strategy and sustainability goals. Some related challenges will more naturally address groups or departments and require specific skills, while other challenges will address your entire company.

This balance is fundamental, as you may need more expertise, but you don’t want to totally exclude anyone from this collaboration process. Your people’s cumulative know-how and experience are, in fact, your most valuable assets. For this reason, every cycle should include challenges to which everyone can relate, to which they connect intellectually and emotionally.

The ‘having the right processes in place’ is key to guaranteeing that ideation and discussion are open to everyone and that you can easily activate and harness your people’s collective intelligence. Different types of valued participation need to be incentivised and rewarded, to get the best out of each of your employees, individually and as a crowd.

Finally, you need to turn top ideas into real projects to assure your initiative’s credibility and keep people engaged through into the following challenges’ cycles. These new ideas coming out of your innovation pipeline will work together to make your business evolve every day.

You never know from where the next great idea will come. But you do know that you have to embrace incremental innovation, motivating your teams to take part in the ultimate challenge of continuously growing together, professionally and as a company.

Do you want to have a look at our complete Idea System Launch Toolkit? Reach us at:

Diana Neves de Carvalho, Exago’s CEO/ dnc@exago.com
Francisco Bernardes, Exago’s head of Innovation Services/ fmb@exago.com

Your ultimate innovation challenge – what works and what doesn’t

How to mobilise the right audiences for innovation challenges

When putting your innovation challenges together, make sure you have a complete plan with clearly defined, targeted audiences, across cultures and business units, as well as key messages, frequency expectations and a communication and incentives strategy. The overall point is to know and hit your targets:

• Target your skills and expertise first: Within your organisation, you almost certainly have people with different types of expertise, from several areas of knowledge, studies and work fields and with different conceptual and practical know-how. It’s this diversity and richness that you want to connect to, and focus on, real business problem-solving. Still, according to your challenge’s specificities – more or less technical and more or less field-related – you may have to engage more restricted groups within your organisation, such as engineers, lab technicians, machine operators and analysts. You may also need to look outside your company’s walls to include suppliers, external experts and other stakeholders. Your innovation tools should allow you to do just that.

• Ask yourself what you are mostly looking for: The framework shown below may be of use to identify your challenge goals and target community.


• Remember innovation challenges do not capture all individuals’ interest in the same way: You have to create empathy, establish almost an emotional commitment. This is also of critical importance in geographically spread-out organisations. For example, inefficiency in a headquarter compound’s energy use in Switzerland is probably completely irrelevant to the same company’s Peruvian employees. Although corporate challenges need to intersect your entire organisation, remember to align them to local reality, also making room for more explicit priorities within specific industry and geographic focuses.

• Seek some balance: Use both specific geographic or know-how groups (i.e. targeted groups), if needed, but always launch more broadly-based innovation challenges, to increase the sense of community and improve transversal collaboration.

• Take into account again that, across geographies and cultures, people are different: Individuals can be more social or insightful, more creative or more logical and critical thinkers – skills that you also want to leverage. The most typical behaviours can be connected with four profiles used in the Bartle Test of Gamer Psychology:
Achievers participate the most with ideas and comments to gather as many points as possible. They become huge contributors.
Explorers, who love to look around, are great at helping the community discover other potential contributions. They submit insights and diversify overall participation by doing everything.
Socialisers stimulate others to enhance their contributions. They submit many suggestions for improvement and love to check out what is going on, as well as watch leaderboards.
Killers love to compete for the sake of competing, and they are very active in the selection and evaluation process of ideas. They are great at differentiating what is good from what is less good and even greater at clarifying those ideas that are no good at all.

Participating has to not only be attractive and entertaining but also inclusive of all these types of players. Idea management software can help you do this as long as it allows several types of participation, such as idea and insight submission, comments to improve ideas and individual and crowd evaluation. From the beginning of the initiative and over time, gamification techniques also will prove helpful to engage your audiences in the innovation challenges.

• Make sure also that you have an appropriate system of incentives and recognition in place: This meets your audience’s different aspirations and motivations, stirring idea generation and added-value contributions. Periodic cycles of incentives – connected to challenge cycles – will ensure people want to improve their participation and remain involved over time. Remember as well to align the incentives with your publicly communicated purpose.

• Communicate continuously, from the beginning and as the process evolves: Good communication will play a part in making the challenge attractive to those who are called to participate. The more individuals see the success of projects to which they have contributed, the more likely they are to remain mobilised. For this undertaking, involve your communication teams – on a country and business level as well – in developing more detailed and well-oriented plans.


‘The innovation challenges we launch for particular groups are typically more narrow because we are communicating to a target very familiar with a given topic or reality. We can then start from a more specific point and ask for answers that are more concrete. In more general challenges, we always chose more open questions, although we also guide these groups with insights to lead them and frame the challenge’s scope (explaining what exists, what is already being done and what has been tried without success).’

‘It’s important to match needs and competencies. Also, it’s very important to deliver feedback. Always.’


  • To whom is this innovation challenge useful, and who can benefit from meeting it? (This question supports you through alignment with country and department priorities.)
  • What incentives and messages should I use to engage my different teams?
  • Does it create empathy with the target?
  • Is the challenge being communicated in an attractive way?
  • Do I need specific skills or knowledge to meet this challenge?

Diana Neves de Carvalho, Exago’s CEO/ dnc@exago.com
Francisco Bernardes, Exago’s head of Innovation Services/ fmb@exago.com

Are you building your innovation challenges right?

Your ultimate innovation challenge – what works and what doesn’t

Why innovation drives engagement among Generations Y and Z

If given the choice, one in four Millennials would now leave their current employer to join a new organisation or do something different. In two years’ time, the number increases to 44 per cent, says a 2016 Deloitte survey. A Gallup report also shows that US companies are losing $350 billion in revenue every year due to employees’ disengagement.

As the Millennials/Generation Y, born in the early 1980s through to the early 1990s, take the place of Generation X at work, all this becomes even more challenging. And Generation Z (mid-1990s to early 2000s) is already following.

If you’re a manager these days, you know that this X, Y, Z mishmash means:
• Loyalty is gone
• There’s a new set of values and priorities
• Technology is everywhere
• Change and innovation become the way things are done.

Combining Human Resources and Innovation expertise, Aylin Olsun, managing partner of ASO Company, and Diana Neves de Carvalho, Exago’s CEO, share insights and recommendations on how to increase the engagement of these ever more demanding employees, while strengthening your company’s collaborative innovation culture. You can get the paper “Why innovation drives engagement among Generations Y and Z” here.

How to really use your organisation’s collective intelligence

Studies show a direct, consistent correlation between the level of engagement of a company’s workforce and business growth. Fight for differentiation also remains on top of CEO’s agendas. But how can each organisation’s collective intelligence be harnessed and focused to continuously find new ideas and deliver sustainable results?

Invited to participate in KLIC – Knowledge Leadership in Innovation and Creativity conference at Pakistan, Pedro do Carmo Costa, Exago’co-founder, tells us more on the subject.