Contextual Innovation: New technology delivering real value in the real world.
Innovation is a fascinating and often overused word meaning anything from implementing new processes to completely re-inventing a business. Hence the issue, what does innovation mean to you or your organization?
In fairness to those people running a business today, it is imperative that these process driven businesses continue to hum along and pay the bills. Without those running the Business As Usual (BAU) functions in midsize to large organizations there would be no innovation as the funds for innovation would dry up. Many business leaders like to preach that “innovation is everyone’s job”, I completely disagree. Excellence is everyone’s job, ethics is everyone’s job, being a good teammate is everyone’s job but innovation is not. I don’t want accountants to be super innovative, but there are ways to apply innovation to accounting.
Of course we have all seen and/or suffered technology for technology’s sake disguised as innovation. My favorite example is the Segway. The Segway is brilliant technology that no one wants or needs. (except Mall Cops) The engineers that designed the Segway are nothing short of geniuses. However, that genius was not applied to any issue that needed solving. It was technology applied out of context. I will note here that I love technology when applied well like the accelerometer in the iPhone. Just think of all the things the iPhone can do because of this rather arcane technology because it was applied in context to users. I recently forgot to wear my Fitbit on a hike and was bummed that I didn’t know how far I had gone, a friend said look at your iPhone’s Health app and voila, there it was I had hiked 4 miles.
I recently had a position where I was able to present an Innovation Agenda to a range of executives in Financial Services and I realized after a few months this amounted to “Innovation Theatre.” Yes, the term is derisive because my presentation was like theatre: interesting, fun to watch and even engaging but ultimately not-actionable. After asking the question at the end; “What are you going to do different next Monday as a result of what you just heard?” The answer was sadly, nothing different, but I really enjoyed hearing about this, that and the other startup or trend.
How to fix this disconnect between the obvious need for innovation and the corporate anti-bodies fighting innovation at every step?
This is what I call Contextual Innovation
I believe that technology innovations are exciting but they need to be put into CONTEXT for true value creation. Technology that delights customers in their day to day lives is the goal. Touchscreens were fascinating but until applied on an iPhone and iPad were not very useful. Touchscreens changed how we interact with devices by accounting for who we are and what we wanted to do as well as how. Now toddlers try to turn the pages of books by swiping their fingers on the paper.
Context accounts for the physical environment as well as our position in life, our attitudes, our lifestyles as much as possible who we are at the moment of interaction.
What does this mean in the world of financial services?
- My bank should know who I am
- My bank should know what I want
- My bank should be aware of my position in life
- My bank should communicate with me in context
Ultimately my bank should understand me. As the Myers-Briggs (MBTI) personality test showed at our core we all want to be understood, leading to a book from 1984 called “Please Understand Me.” This could be the mantra of every bank customer, including commercial bank users. Context is the understanding of a customer and their current situation.
What technologies allow a bank to understand, truly understand their customers? Understanding begins with Data. Analyzing data, contextualizing data, gaining insights from data all while respecting the privacy of MY data.
Of course no discussion of data is complete without using (or likely misusing) the term AI / Machine Learning. Gaining deeper insights from larger and larger datasets is a key to truly understanding a bank’s customer. Actual AI is likely in our future whereas today’s “AI” is merely clever use of data and correlations between data points.
The net of what I call Contextual Innovation is: Use the best set of technologies and tools to truly understand your customer. As a Litmus test of every innovation project or idea, ask “ How does this get us closer to understanding our customer?” This simple test should allow your organization to focus their limited innovation budget and resources on the most important innovation projects and avoid the innovation theatre or worse the innovation graveyard.