A New Approach to Designing Innovation into Bogota’s Corporate Culture
By Manuel José Moreno Brociner, Director Bogotå Innova
Issue 11 Winter 2012
Businesses currently operating in Bogota make up 35% of all Colombian companies and account for over 25% of Colombia’s GDP1. Unfortunately most of these companies have not invested in innovation strategies for their own organizations, as they perceive this type of investment to be both costly and risky.
Common in Colombian culture is the attitude that failure is a sign of weakness. This attitude goes hand-in-hand with the resistance from Colombian business owners to recognize the potential of change, especially in circumstances where results cannot be guaranteed. As a response, the Bogota Chamber of Commerce launched Bogotá Innova®, an innovation training program that uses design methods to propel innovation training among CEOs and entrepreneurs of Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs). A high success rate has been reported among its first group of participating CEOs, and Bogotá Innova® has helped SMEs to encourage and to thrive innovation. Manuel José Moreno Brociner, the Director of Bogotá Innova provides insight from the challenges he has faced in the development and implementation of this training program.
We launched Bogotá Innova®: Training for Innovation® in 2011 as an innovation program catered to Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs). The intent of our program was, and still is, to guide participating companies through the planning, designing and development of innovation strategies. This is mostly accomplished through workshops on Design Thinking, Trends, Rapid Prototyping and Business Model Generation. For me, thus far this has been an extraordinary endeavor, but it has not been an easy one. Studies from our organization have shown that culturally Colombians are exceptionally resistant to change and extremely risk averse. In Colombia, failure is seen as a sign of weakness, unlike other cultures where it is often considered to be an opportunity to learn and create change. When we first started recruiting participants for the program, many companies were skeptical.
Upper management was cautious about the idea of investing six months of their time and $5,000 USD in a program that offered no guarantee for success. Of the companies that were initially invited, only 5% decided to enroll, and half of those participants left early on, disappointed in the lack of results they were seeing. However, the first batch of CEOs who stayed with the program recently completed the final phase and have since reached impressive goals. Not only have they created change and instilled a culture in their organizations that fosters enthusiasm for innovation, their success has also inspired other companies to join.
THE FACTS OF BOGOTA’S COMPANIES
Businesses currently operating in Bogota make up 35% of all Colombian companies and account for over 25% of Colombia’s GDP1. In the region, investment in new businesses reached $6.2 billion USD in 20081. Despite the strong numbers, few companies have obtained patents. Generally when looking to increase profits and remain competitive, organizations focus on developments aimed at financial efficiency through low cost labor and improvements in products and services for local markets.
So, what are the barriers preventing companies in Bogota from innovating in systemic and sustainable ways? From 2007 to 2009, the Bogota Chamber of Commerce identified several factors that may have deterred companies from pursuing this path. One such factor is the misconception that innovation requires large financial investments in technology upgrades. As a result, many companies who “lack financial resources”1 do not invest in what they consider to be innovation strategies. Companies also indicated that a lack of human resources trained in innovation management makes it harder for them to promote these ideas internally. Other barriers include the perception of an “inadequate market size” to support these types of changes or that “consumers do not value or do not require new products and services.”1
In Colombia, failure is seen as a sign of weakness, unlike other cultures where it is often considered to be an opportunity to learn and to create change.”
Another barrier intrinsic to Colombia’s business culture is the belief that innovation is not profitable and therefore considered unnecessary to their success. To minimize risk and the uncertainty of market response, rather than engage in efforts to innovate, companies adopt and adapt features of competitors’ products, services, and business processes.
Many organizations also fail to recognize design as a strategic asset. According to the Colombian Design Observatory, only 10% of the companies in Bogota that have design departments actually consult with them during conversations regarding business development or high-level decision-making. This fact was further validated when Bogotá Innova® conducted an Innovation Diagnostic Survey. The results of this survey indicated that more then 80% of business managers who make design decisions do so with little or no design experience. And, without a corporate structure conducive to creative strategy, strategic design is not valued as an activity that can promote innovation at all business levels.
THE CHALLENGE AND THE OPPORTUNITY
Enlightened by this new information, we had a much better understanding of the root causes preventing business from evolving, and we set out to find a method to address these barriers. We asked ourselves, “what could be done to promote a corporate culture that values innovation?” The ‘what’ was easy to define, but the ‘how,’ was harder to identify. Our goal was to show stakeholders at the Chamber of Commerce of Bogotá the potential value of a small program for innovation. We needed to communicate to them that even though it was small in size it could begin to make important contributions that in the long run would address challenges and drive change in companies. We needed to shift the current perception of the “value” of innovation, and even more so, create confidence in the process of innovation among SME managers.
CONCEPTS & METHODOLOGY
My experience as an industrial designer has played a large role in the development of the Bogotá Innova® program, and with that, we use design methodology to teach business leaders how to infuse a culture of innovation within their own organizations. The scope of our training program includes seven stages: observe, ideate, conceptualize, design, prototype, develop and implement. The first step in our methodology is to identify the big problems and then divide them into smaller ones. Breaking problems down creates far more manageable challenges. We address the barriers preventing company-wide change in simple and practical terms. We focus on components that already exist within a company and explore different ways that can be used to increase their value and better serve the company’s needs. However no two companies are the same, so for each client we develop a specific guiding theme, linking the different parts of the program together to promote unity and cohesion between them. Finally we always take a step back to look at the bigger picture. It is imperative that we fully understand how each company measures up in comparison to their competitors. We seek to create competition and ‘coopetition’2 between participant companies through the training in a risk-free environment while fostering innovation and refining design processes along the way.
It is imperative for CEOs to shift their focus away from “day-to-day”
tactical matters and focus instead on strategic issues that will ultimately determine the viability of their business.”
Before we can design real change, providing the proper scenario is a key factor in the task at hand; innovation will not happen from the desk. It is imperative for CEOs to shift their focus away from “day-to-day” tactical matters and focus instead on strategic issues that will ultimately determine the viability of their business. In order to make this happen we have to take them out of their normal working environments so they can gain perspective and hone their skills of observation. However, observation alone does not necessarily lead to innovation. Our process allows time to address the following questions, what do these CEOs need to observe so they can start innovating within their own organization? And how do these observations trigger innovative ideas? In order to help them answer these questions for themselves we first focus on the idea of innovation in the context of their own company and industry.
The second phase of our process addresses strategic planning. By revising the state of their strategy deployment we are able to identify what is not working. This is also when we introduce to management and their team what we refer to as, Systematic Inventive Thinking®, a structured way of thinking of new concepts that are inherently aligned to their company’s strategy and objectives and prioritized accordingly.
Next we focus on identifying consumer and industry trends to better understand potential changes in consumption habits and behaviors. We also look at Digital Innovation by examining the company’s use of technology, both in their internal practices and in relation to their customers. We guide Bogotá Innova® participants in learning about client demographics, behaviors, and preferences in Design Thinking’s Ethnography.
Finally, we train participants how to effectively communicate their findings to their staff and partners. In our program CEO’s learn how to build a business model that will generate more value for stakeholders and lower financial risks by designing and prototyping their ideas. We also provide clients with access to government funding so they are actually able to implement their concepts.
THE SERVICE DESIGN FOR: “Bogotá Innova®: Training for Innovation®”
Training CEOs in the process of innovation is no easy task. Providing the conceptual tools they need to replicate and manage this process within their own companies is even harder. Faced with this challenge, it occurred to us that design methodology could be more than just a teaching tool, but it could also provide a frame of reference for the work itself. The key to solving a problem is to find the best design solution for each situation, whether it is in product design, architecture, services or technology. Design stresses the use of different methods to encourage innovative ideas and collaborative thinking to work through each problem and arrive at the best solution. The process of innovation is unique among business functions; it has its own rhythm and characteristics. It is unpredictable to its core. Using design thinking can help CEOs manage the unpredictable and innovate for advantage.
In order to remain competitive, organizations must learn to assess the state of their business strategies, foresee the direction of the industry, and design innovation strategies that accommodate the prospects of both reward and risk.
STRATEGIES IN ACTION:
Use strategic design methods to encourage innovation through organizations.
Implement use an integrative approach to innovate and grow the economy
Communicate give freedom for the voice of the community to inform innovation
About the Author:
Manuel José Moreno Brociner
Manuel José Moreno Brociner is the director and one of the founders of Bogotá Innova. His responsibilities include creating the product portfolio of the program itself, as well as developing the methodologies to be used by the participant organizations. Prior to this role, Manuel served as the Development manager for Artesanías de Colombia (Crafts of Colombia), planning and managing projects targeted to ensure the sustainability of the crafts industry in the country. Formally trained in product design, Manuel has undergone extensive training in both traditional and innovative management practices. He regularly shares his holistic approach to business with a large number of established Colombian organizations through Bogota Innova program serving as a mentor.
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