What Does 2013 Hold For Financial Services IT?


Several people asked me recently about how 2013 would look like for IT professionals in the financial industry. Here are my thoughts, inspired by the 2012 Innotribe events and network.

If you’re a CIO/CTO in financial services, you probably have something like the following in your objectives -

  • flat budget
  • long list of regulation related “must do’s”
  • drive innovation to deliver tangible new value to internal and external customers
  • continue delivering operational excellence

In other words, 2013 budgets reflect on one hand a continuing focus on fiscal caution, and on the other hand the necessity to invest for the future.

I’ve gathered from my talks with CIOs in various financial companies – and indeed my own (SWIFT) – the ratio of maintenance vs investment has changed. What used to be a 90/10 budget (90% for maintenance and operations, 10% for new projects) has now shifted towards 80/20 or even 70/30. That means serious money for innovation.

The first area of innovation will be related to regulation. How to cope with the inevitable and increasing requirements, while keeping the budget equation balanced? I think cloud computing will probably emerge as a best adapted tool. Regulation lends itself to be, by nature, a shared effort – everyone must comply to the same rule. Therefore, why implement this over and over in every financial institution – why not use a shared resource? A good example of this is the recently launched Sanctions Screening service from SWIFT (http://www.swift.com/products/sanctions_screening). This service checks payments against public sanctions lists for the banks who subscribe to it. I think there is a major opportunity for more services such as this one, and a large number of potential suppliers out there.

The other areas of innovation will be driven by technology change in mobile computing, social media and “big data” analytics.

Most financial institutions are playing catchup right now with respect to mobile computing – I expect frantic investment in 2013 to go into easy to use, mobile based front end to replace the more traditional web based home banking systems. It’s a “no-brainer”, and this gameplan will essentially be about choosing the right partner (outsourcing or ad-hoc) to deliver – delivering this in-house is seldom an option.

The challenge for 2013 will be about formulating the gameplan for a truly innovative customer experience. This is not only about technology, it is really about a mindset change. Going from “captured consumers” into “empowered consumers”. The clever use of social media and “big data” analytics (analyzing massive amounts of customer related data to gather new insights) will be key in differentiating the offerings and gaining traction with the “digitally native” generation (people under 30 today).  I’ve seen some pioneering examples of this at Fidor bank (www.fidor.de), who rely heavily on social media for new customer acquisition, and Movenbank (www.movenbank.com) who use big data analytics to compute financial health scores.

Finally, it is going to be important in 2013 to map the future. Where does the “empowered consumer” road ultimately lead? One interesting idea I saw in the context of Innotribe is the “Digital Asset Grid” (http://innotribe.com/digital-assets/) – a new internet where consumers own their digital assets (valuable data such as a person’s eBay reputation), and where digital assets can be shared safely and securely. The banks may have a major role to play. It will be important to incubate this – and other – ideas related to the digital banking of the future.

(also posted on ComputerWeekly.com)

Innovation + Tribe = Innotribe! The Perfect DJ Mix


This is a guest post by Peter Vander Auwera, one of the co-founders, with me, of Innotribe. The post was first published on the Management Innovation eXchange  as a submission for M-Prize. I reproduce it here as I think it’s a great summary of what Innotribe is all about.

Giving the floor to Peter-

SUMMARY

Launched in 2009, Innotribe www.innotribe.com is SWIFT’s initiative to enable collaborative innovation in financial services. Innotribe fosters creative thinking in financial services, through debating the options (at Innotribe events) and supporting the creation of innovative new solutions (through the Incubator, Startup Challenge and Proof of Concepts).

CONTEXT

SWIFT www.swift.com is a member-owned cooperative that provides the communications platform, products and services to connect more than 10,000 banking organisations, securities institutions and corporate customers in 212 countries and territories. SWIFT enables its users to exchange automated, standardised financial information securely and reliably, thereby lowering costs, reducing operational risk and eliminating operational inefficiencies. SWIFT also brings the financial community together to work collaboratively to shape market practice, define standards and debate issues of mutual interest.

TRIGGERS

The initial triggers for having a specific innovation focus and creating a dedicated tem was driven by both product and culture requirements.

Product: A good example of a product requirement was the need for a product for low volume customers. Typically, existing products targeted the top and medium segment of our customers, but we did not really have a product for low volume customers. A black-belt team was formed and delivered a brand new product in one-year time. The team not only revamped the product functionality, but also revised fundamentally the buying experience, on-boarding, pricing model, and business UI experience.

Culture: Given the nature of its business, SWIFT has a strong company culture of “Failure-Is-Not-An-Option” (FNAO). Although this culture was inspired on the Apollo 13 mission, where the NASA team would do “whatever it takes” to get the three astronauts back from space, and learning from mistakes, over the years the FNAO mantra was at times misinterpreted as a culture of no-risk taking, not coming up with ideas challenging the status quo, not daring to step forward. We wanted to create a culture where “failing smart” was accepted. To that end, we created a number of tools and techniques to enable collaborative innovation. One example is our own “sandbox”. The concept is introduced on Kosta Peric’s Forbes blog here. Kosta is SWIFT’s Head of Innovation, and has documented the history and activities of Innotribe in a recently published book “The Castle and the Sandbox” available here.

The sandbox is an “incubator” – a protected place where people with ideas can “play”, or to try out their ideas, without impacting the castle. The “castle” is the metaphor for the mothership, the core of the company. The incubator is the place where you can try, experiment, fail, try again, fail again, and eventually learn and succeed.

We also offer tools to the SWIFT employees like Idea Challenges, Brown Bags, Hackatons, and internal TEDx-like events to encourage team members to learn from the edges, to step forward and to reward initiative.

KEY INNOVATIONS & TIMELINE

Innovation team started in 2007 when the new CEO came on board

  • Prototyping was introduced when one of the innovators challenged an executive on a proposed new product line. The executive agreed in funding 2 competing prototype teams, one for his own idea and one for the idea of the innovator. Each team had to pitch their idea and prototype head to head in front of the full executive team. To the surprise of many, the prototype of the innovator won.
  • Initially, the innovation team was seen as a fast product development shop where the end deliverables were software products. Black-Belt teams were formed per product, and end-to-end delivery cycles were reduced from 3-5 year to 1 year.
  • End 2008, based on an in-depth internal customer review, the scope of the team was re-defined as an unit within the company for enabling collaborative innovation
  • The Innotribe brand was launched in 2009 during SWIFT’s flagship event “Sibos” in Hong-Kong.
  • Initial focus of the revamped Innotribe was on idea generation and creating serendipities

By end 2010, we had in place:

  • An innovation framework based on open innovation;
  • A portfolio of tools and techniques for internal (SWIFT as a company and ecosystem) and external (the financial industry at large) innovation. Most of these tools and techniques were used to create the initial tribe and ideation for the open innovation pipeline;
  • A group of internal ambassadors, called “megaphones”;
  • A successful event and facilitation practice
  • In 2011, the Incubator and the worldwide start-up challenge were added to the mix and we further scaled and perfected our existing tools and techniques. The incubation phase was particularly important as for the first time we had a multi-million dollar fund for investing in promising innovations.
  • By end 2011, our Innotribe “brand” was considered the most important brand SWIFT launched in the last 30 years.
  • In 2012, we explored the Acceleration phase to progress the most promising incubation ideas through different forms of co-investment.
  • In 2013, we will continue and further increase our innovation efforts, with a greater focus on the core activities of the company for internal innovation, and exploring novel funding models for our external innovation.
  • In 2013, we will also experiment with “Innovation Journeys”, a model for enabling business units to win though co-ideation, co-creation, co-delivering. We also plan to complement our existing toolset with scenario planning and story-telling.
CHALLENGES & SOLUTIONS

Here are some of the key implementation challenges that had to be overcome:

CEO as sponsor is instrumental:

  • When a new CEO came on board in 2007, he made it crystal clear that innovation was one of his big bets.
  • A CEO can make or break the innovation agenda, and set the direction and ambition for disruptive innovation or not.
  • A CEO “protects” the innovators from anti-bodies who try to fight change.
  • A CEO can “force” certain innovation projects to go ahead.
  • A CEO can open the door for skip-level meetings to have a direct contact with what’s happening in the field

Executive alignment. Having the CEO as sponsor is one thing, having the whole Executive Team (and the subsequent hierarchies) aligned is another thing.

  • In 2008, the company engaged in a company wide “Lean” efficiency exercise. Part of the methodology includes an internal customer satisfaction survey: it became clear that the executive team was not aligned on the mission of the innovation team. Expectations ranged from a pure R&D shop to a facilitating unit.
  • The Lean methodology facilitated clarity on the direction of the innovation team: it was collectively agreed that the mission was to enable collaborative innovation.
  • Any company wide program with executive attention is a great opportunity for getting executive alignment on innovation.

The concept of “enablers”.

  • The incubation projects are funded by the Incubation Fund, a 100% SWIFT Fund.
  • To help us deciding where we put our funds, a group of “enablers” was created. This is a group of senior leaders from our industry ànd from outside our industry. They have been selected for their authority and influence as persons, not necessarily because of the organization they represent.
  • The role of the “enablers” is to “enable” incubation projects. This is NOT a killing committee or gating process to say “no”. It’s a group of wise people saying “yes” to projects and bringing enabling assets to the table such as contacts, experiences, trend validation, etc

Megaphones iterations.

  • Very early on we started with the idea of “Megaphones”, some sort of internal innovation ambassadors in different departments of the company.
  • In the initial version, megaphones were “volunteered”, their mandate was unclear and their management was not motivated or incentivized.
  • In version 3.0 we got it more or less “right”: we have a novel and very transparent megaphones recruitment campaign, megaphones now have a clear mandate, spend 15% of their time on innovation related activities, and this is part of their objectives, and signed-off at the begin of the year by their managers.

The importance of communication.

  • If there is one big recommendation it is “communicate like hell”. If “they” don’t know what you do, they can’t support it, they can’t leverage it, and they can’t sponsor it.
  • Although we were doing a lot of the right things, not many people in the company really knew what we were doing. When we were dumping at the end of the year the list of our activities, many people were surprised of all the things that went on.
  • For external communication we struggled for finding the appropriate bandwidth from our own communications department. The good intentions were there, not the bandwidth. In the end we mutually agreed with our communications department to hire our own external communications agency. For internal communication, we gave one person in the team that responsibility, and we leverage as much existing communication channels like our corporate intranet, Yammer and Chatter.

Being creative with funding.

  • When coming up with new ideas, we heard several times an enthusiastic “yes, you should do that, but you have to stay in your existing budget”. So we explored alternative ways of funding such as sponsorship. 
  • A good example here is our Start-Up Challenge that has become fully self-sustainable through sponsoring. This Start-Up Challenge is probably one of the most visible initiatives now of Innotribe. In 2012 more than 600 start-up companies were screened during 3 regional competitions (one for the Americas, one for EMEA and one for APAC), and the two winners get away with a 50K$ cash price. The basic objective of this initiative is to bridge the gap between the start-up community and the heads of innovation of the financial industry. Success story: Mastercard acquired the winner of the 2011 edition in 2012 for 40M $.

Financial: own P/L

  • Our best motivation is when third parties pro-actively approach the Innotribe team and ask whether they can buy our services.
  • In 2012, we had our first innovation consulting and facilitation contracts.
  • Some of the challenges we had were related to accounting of these new revenue and cost streams. In a bigger corporation, it is not so self-evident to create a different P/L and decide what revenues and costs have to be allocated to that new P/L. To be continued…

Legal/Governance: by-laws of the company

  • SWIFT is a non-profit co-operative. Certain innovation ideas that are for profit and/or for the benefit of only a subset of the community would require a change in the by-laws of the company.
  • The governance of the company is based on a long tradition of customer consultation and consensus making. For example, our 10,000+ members are represented through 160+ National Member Groups. Consultation takes time, and sometime we want to move faster. We have learned to live with some of these constraints, to choose our battles, and remain passionate, perseverant and patient.
BENEFITS & METRICS

The benefits of Innotribe can be clustered in to three “Impact” vectors: brand, revenue, and people

  • Brand
    • The Innotribe-brand has a strong positive effect on the overall SWIFT-brand. During our 2011 Innotribe at Sibos event in Toronto, our CEO referred to the Innotribe brand as the “strongest brand SWIFT has produced in the last 30 years”
      • The Innotribe-brand is omni-present at internal and external SWIFT events
      • Our design and facilitation techniques create an immersive learning experience
      • Our curation expertise brings the finest speakers, igniters and subject matter experts to our staff and to our community
      • Customers declare it is “their” Innotribe
      • All our activities are appreciated for their freshness, deep design philosophy, and accessibility.
      • The brand reflects innovation, collaboration, youth, dynamism, and novelty.
    • The Innotribe brand is now strong enough to attract dedicated sponsoring, and initial explorations with an own P&L. We are humble enough in knowing that our brand is and will get a substantial part of its value from the connection with the “mothership” SWIFT.
  • Revenue
    • From very early on in the Innotribe history, we are getting challenged on the tangibility of our deliverables, how much they contribute to the company strategy and how much they contribute to the revenue objectives.
    • It is not always easy to find a fine balance between seeing innovation as a means for supporting short-term sales objectives, and innovation as a means to re-define the agenda.
    • A great success story is one of the incubation projects “MyStandards”. As one of the first true incubation ”sandbox” projects, a dedicated team with its own scrum master delivered a new product in one year time, with first paying customers and revenue contribution 3 months after production launch.
  • People
    • Our internal innovation activities touched more than 50% of the company during face-to-face meetings, workshops, events, and facilitation assignments.
    • More than 10% of the staff participated in our innovation challenges
    • Several ideas from the challenge have been implemented
    • But we feel we have to communicate better, at all levels: senior management, middle management, and the workforce at large.

Metrics used

  • Most of our metrics are quantitative and in essence about influence: we measure people reached, number of events, number of facilitations, number of ideas, velocity of ideas from ideation phase to incubation phase, etc
  • We regularly perform NPS (Net Promoter Scorecard) surveys. Participants to our events are very satisfied; non-participants (those who never attended) are skeptical and give us lower scores. Another reason why communication is so important
  • We are not (yet) measured on revenue contribution, but we start feeling the heat in the general crisis-climate of the financial industry, with a tendency to proving short team bottom-line results.

We have also seen some unintended side-effects

  • Tribe behavior. Our events are really special: we architect serendipities and immersive learning experiences. We create connections at people/human level. Our customers love it. We see tribe behavior – like fans for life, groupies – and return customers, who come back only for the Innotribe vibe and connections.
  • We did not plan for it, but in 2012 we are seeing the first customers – both from inside and outside our industry – soliciting us for paid facilitation, consultation and event services.
  • We are also very much in demand by our internal departments. This creates capacity challenges. The biggest challenge is to remain focused and dare to say no. We also have decided to do certain internal/external engagements only against a fee and covered T&E.
LESSONS

Here are some of the most important lessons that other organizations should learn from our Innotribe experience.

Communicate like hell: it’s extremely important to communicate what you do.

  • Hire a PR agency fully dedicated to your external communication. Design with them a communications plan, plan press events, plan regular press interviews, invite press to your events. Use social media tools like Blogs, Twitter, Facebook, Yammer, Chatter, etc
  • It may sound obvious, but have a website explaining what you do, what your methods and tools are, what your deliverables are: this should be the landing page for press and other communication contacts.
  • Appoint at least one person responsible for internal communication. Communicate everything: success stories and lessons learned. Celebrate experimentation, celebrate success. Have small ceremonies for winners of internal challenges. Organise brownbags, hackatons, special staff events

Think in terms of an “Innovation Portfolio”

  • We recommend you start thinking in terms of an “innovation portfolio”, highlighting how many projects and/or how many budget you will allocate to different areas of innovation: innovation in the core, adjacencies, new functionalities, new territories aka disruptive innovation. 
  • Make sure you have some quick wins in core and adjacencies; it will help you getting credibility for doing more disruptive stuff later.
  • Keep fighting for disruptive, don’t get complacent or discouraged, it is your mission to challenge the status quo relentlessly.

Accept craziness, stealth work, but capitalize on what works

  • Innovators do things differently: withhold some ideas that initially sound crazy or impossible.
  • Stealth work. Sometimes you have to walk on thin ice and do actions behind the scenes that are not fully in line with the script or standard procedures. This does not need to be done in secrecy: you can do stealth work in full transparency with your Head of Innovation and your CEO.

Passion, Perseverance, Patience

  • Innovation is challenging the status quo. Many people in your organization don’t like change. They will challenge you. They will fight you. Just accept this as part of the job. Don’t get too frustrated too much by it. And if it gets too much, get yourself a trusted friend with whom you can share your frustration, and get on with it.
  • Your passion is infectious and viral. Talk to as many as possible people in your organization and keep the conversation going. When they see the passion in your eyes and your irresistible enthusiasm, they will follow.
  • Don’t “force” innovation but do “coach” and enable innovation. The metaphor is that of a parent learning a child to bicycle: at a certain moment, you have to release, let the child experiment and fail until it can bike on its own. 
  • Be patient. Sometimes you have to live with the constraints of your organization, and accept it will take time to get where you want to be
  • Innovation is human business

Stay fresh, fun and accessible

  • Almost forgotten, but have fun ;-) Whatever you do, it must have certain lightness, freshness in it.
  • Design surprises/disruptions in the flow of your brainstorms, events, and facilitations. Make people experiment with their hands and build physical things, metaphors: they will love it and smile.
  • We design our events on purpose with some “un-polishedness”: we have learned that if what you do is too polished, too finished, you create distance and you don’t leave much room for input and creativity.
CREDITS

This post/submission is only possible because we have a fantastic team building Innotribe into what it is today. Petervan – the submitter of this story – is just one of the team members. Kosta Peric, Head of Innovation SWIFT, heads the team. Key team members are: Mela Atanassova, Martine Deweirdt, Muriel Dewingaerden, Greet Michiels, Karen Declerck, Matteo Rizzi, Nektarios Liolios, Dominik Debuyser.

We would not be where we are without the support of Lazaro Campos (the CEO who put the innovation team in place in 2007) and his successor Gottfried Leibbrandt who has been a sponsor since day one.

We also would like to extend credits to “the tribe”. We feel honored and humbled they consider us as “their” Innotribe.

TAGS
Innovation, Open Innovation, Tribe, Events, Start-Up Challenge, Incubator, Facilitation, Architects of Serendipity
HELPFUL MATERIALS

More information about Innotribe can be found in following resources:

Innovation shows results – the 3 babies from the Innotribe incubator


As you are reading this blog, you probably know about Innotribe.

Just in case, here a link for a quick overview. In a nutshell, Innotribe is SWIFT’s initiative to enable collaborative innovation in the financial community, and within SWIFT itself.

Since the three and a half years of its inception, the visible part of Innotribe has been on the front-end of the innovation process: the community and the network, the ideation events such as Innotribe@Sibos and Innotribe@Mumbai, the experimental approach.

With our fresh, open, friendly and neutral approach, we have moved the needle in the financial industry and Innotribe has become a brand enabling the financial industry and SWIFT to “have a seat at the innovators table” (an expression I like to use occasionally). There are nice success stories of how we have gathered innovators and generated lots of ideas.

Yet, people sometimes say: after all the dust has settled, where are the new initiatives, products and services that are coming from Innotribe?

It is a very significant and valid question – what is the value of innovation? What is the value of the brand? What is the value of my 10 strong Innotribe team at SWIFT? What’s in it for the financial industry?

I’d like to share three success stories to answer these questions and illustrate the value of Innotribe.

Before I share the stories, let me quickly explain (or remind you, dear frequent reader ;-)) how Innotribe works.

I call it “the castle and the sandbox”.

If you want innovation, it is necessary to make “space” for it. Compared to your core business – the “castle” – you need to create a space for experimentation (and yes, failure) – the “sandbox”. More on this in my previous post here.

With Innotribe, we have established the Innotribe incubator as the “sandbox”. The incubator is a physical place, a fund, a process, a governance framework, and a legal framework.   And – last but not least – the people engaging in innovation.

The Innotribe incubator is the financial industry sandbox.

Right now there are 6 projects in the Innotribe incubator. But what is most interesting is that, since it creation in January 2011, the incubator has produced 3 successful concepts which have been adopted and, for some, put in production and right now generating new revenue!

Now we’re talking business. New products, New clients, New revenues.

The 3 concepts are: MyStandards, the Startup Challenges and the EBAM Central Utility.

Innotribe MyStandards

MyStandards is collaborative web-based platform that allows for efficient management of standards and market practices across the industry.

The innovation lies in the radical change in how SWIFTs standards releases are designed and distributed. The basic idea is to apply social media tools and techniques, resulting in faster and more collaborative processes.

Another innovation is the business model of this product – a “freemium” model where the basic functions are free, and value-added components are priced when used.

Yet another innovation was also the way the project team was formed – through a SWIFT internal recruitment fair, where the opportunity was given to all developers at SWIFT to participate.

MyStandards is now a new SWIFT product, to be launched officially early May in New York and London. It has already generated several sales even before the formal launch.

Here is a link to a more detailed project profile.

Innotribe Start-Up Challenges

This is a program that aims to bridge the gap between large financial institutions and early stage (or first round) financial industry related start-ups.

Related to this, the goal is also to build an eco-system where venture capitalists, entrepreneurs, banks and start-up can explore new opportunities.

As you can see, this is not about a new SWIFT or banking product, but about an innovation to save costs by providing to financial institutions a quality selection of startups. Some institutions don’t do such searches at all – this program does it for them.  Some institutions do search the startup eco-system, at great cost  – this program reduces that cost.

Outside of these benefits, we have enabled the forming of this eco-system with the gracious help of our sponsors, so the challenges  pay for themselves.

After a successful pilot in Sibos Toronto,  we feature in 2012 three regional events (NYC – already behind us and highly successful, Singapore in April and Belfast in June) and a global final event at Innotribe@Sibos Osaka. See innotribe.com for more info.

Here is a link to a more detailed project profile.

Innotribe EBAM Hub

The Electronic Bank Account Management Central Utility (EBAM-CU) aims to provide an automated, multi-bank and multi-region solution to corporates managing multiple accounts in multiple banks.

The first innovation features a central utility operated by SWIFT, in a space where SWIFT does not traditionally operate.  The second innovation is in the way the product was built, in a tight co-operation with an existing player. And the third innovation, at least in this space, is the co-creation development model with tight integration with the potential users. It is expected that the operating model will be some form of co-investment with these users.

The product is in the final stages of approval by the SWIFT board.

Here is a link to a more detailed project profile.

—-

There you go, our 3 babies! We in the team love them. But certainly not as much as the people that made them happen, at SWIFT and in the community.

Many thanks to these innovators.

And there’s a lot more in the incubator now, stay tuned. As soon as I gather some breath, i’ll blog about these as well!

Kosta

(cross posted on the Innotribe blog at innotribe.wordpress.com)

The Innovation Sandbox – the place where “heads of innovation” meet


It’s been a while that I have on my to do list to network with my peers – the people who have the same job as I have.

The job I have (and love!) is “Head of Innovation” at SWIFT (www.swift.com), and co-founder of Innotribe (www.innotribe.com) – SWIFT’s innovation arm. In my particular case, I lead a small (10 people) team – or should I say squad ;-) – of incredibly talented people whose overall mission is to “enable collaborative innovation” in the company and also in the financial industry surrounding SWIFT.

I’ve in the job long enough now (3 and a half years) to know that every “head of innovation” out there has a different mission and objectives. Some are like me (enabling), some are about new product development (R&D), some are about skunkwork “under-the-cover” projects, some are about people and culture.

Of course, I do meet them at our Innotribe events and other occasions such as conferences. What I meant by networking in the introduction of this post is something different. A forum where a quality discussion started at an event can continue and a place where we can share experiences and help each other. Where we keep in touch.

I remember when I started my job. Lazaro Campos, my CEO, told me:

“I want the company to be more innovative and creative”

And right after he told me -

“Go away and do it”

He is like that ;-). I remember going into a period of deep research. What does it mean, to be innovative? Who is who in innovation? What conferences should I go to? Who should I talk to? I remember I would have paid top dollar to have some enlightened advice and yes, sometimes I wished for a fellow “shoulder to cry on”.

So here we go – I have created a Yammer community called “The Innovation Sandbox”.  This should be the place where “young” heads of innovation can find coaches, where “experienced” heads of innovation can find inspiration. And also, where heads of innovation of any kind can find a partner for a beer when visiting a city where they don’t know anybody, and get some ideas as a bonus.

DM, tweet, email me to get access. And you will be able to invite other fellow heads of innovation. Let’s see where this takes us.

Why this name – the sandbox? It comes from this post, where I explain my own “recipe” of how to innovate in established companies.

Just a final word on why I’m doing this now.

This idea was simmering in my (long) list of to-dos somewhere far down from the top. You know what happens with these, don’t you? ;-)

Well, I mentioned coaches earlier in the post. There’s one person out there who very kindly and periodically provides some advice to me.

Tony Fish, of AMF Ventures and also the author of the “My Digital Footprint” book, is one of our Innotribe Enablers. For those of you who don’t know what this means, suffice it to say he is on a team of very experienced people who advise the Innotribe team on the projects we do. As such, Tony observes my team and me periodically. And he is kind enough to provide to us and me, on top of his business advice, some coaching about how to do things. Very simple advice, straight to the point.

He asked me recently:

“How do you keep in touch with your friends?”

Meaning my peers. And he sort of electrified me to dig this to-do from the long list and bring it to the top.

The other influencer here is Leo from zenhabits.net. I’m a long time follower of this blog, and the one lesson I have learned there is that all major changes start always with very small, easy steps.

So while I had (and still have) some big ideas in mind about networking the “heads of innovation” community, I figured I’ll start small.  A very easy step.

“The innovation sandbox”  yammer community. See you there.

The castle and the sandbox – how to innovate in established companies?


The recent SWIFT Operational Forum Europe (SOFE) ran an Innotribe stream on this – difficult – topic. Innovation in startup companies is a given, it is their nature. So how do we recreate this second nature in established companies?

The central idea that emerged is one we called the “Castle and the Sandbox”.

Consider the core business of your well established company as “the Castle”.

The castle is solid, with thick walls, long lived. As is your core business. But the castle is not very agile. The goal of the people in the castle is to make sure the castle serves its purpose – they are focused on optimizing, not innovating.

What do you think happens to this person when she talks to the people in the castle?

Usually, the castle people will not be very friendly to this person. IN fact – the more unfriendly the more her idea is disruptive. They might pour burning oil on her!!

“Large, well established companies face a number of inherent structural disadvantages when trying to pursue blue sky business ideas” – said Anthemis Group‘s Sean Park and Udayan Goyal. Anthemis Group is a specialist investment and holding company, focusing on joint ventures at the intersection of markets, finance and technology. One of the recent and notable investments of the group is Bank Simple (recently renamed to just Simple).

This is true of established companies, but also of larger communities such as financial services. Of course Innotribe knows that. The UK Government as well: Dr. Chris Sear, of the Financial Services Knowledge Transfer Network,  explained how this organization, sponsored by UK Government’s Technology Strategy Board,  uses the open innovation approach to foster innovation in the entire sector. We in Innotribe are ourselves absolute believers in open innovation as our key principle. But Chris also explained that when ideas are there, it is not granted that anybody will do anything with them! There’s a castle in the industry as well!

So: if the castle is not the most suitable place for innovation, where should it be? If you go back to when you where a child, where was it that you could play, experiment and do all sorts of crazy things?

The sandbox of course!

I introduced the idea of the “incubator” – a protected place where people with ideas can “play”, or to try out their ideas, without impacting the castle. Very much like the sandboxes of our childhoods. The incubator is the place where you can try, experiment, fail, try again, fail again, and eventually learn and succeed. The key ingredients for innovation.

Innotribe runs an incubator – for SWIFT and also for the financial community. I explained this program, which is funded, located in a particular place, supported by specialists and experimented people available to coach intra-preneurs from SWIFT and entrepreneurs from the financial industry. If you are interested by the Innotribe incubator or you think you have an idea that could be a candidate for incubation, please see this link.

Udi and Sean presented as well their approach to incubation, called “strategic venture acceleration” – the idea is to create a “Newco”, a venture between and established company and Anthemis Group, and drive this venture through a 3 step process extending over about a year, with a view of a clear “go/no go” outcome. They said this approach provides a way to incubate blue sky and disruptive ideas with a minimal financial risk to the investors.

As is usual in Innotribe sessions, something new emerged, when the panel was answering questions from the audience – the “3 Ps” of innovation. I’ve illustrated it below.

Preparing for this session, the Innotribe team was thinking on how to illustrate an incubator for the audience – how to make it real for them? That’s where I thought about the Innovation Warehouse in London (www.theiw.org). Our friend Tony Fish, a big supporter of Innotribe, invited me earlier this year to see this place, where young (and less young :-) ) entrepreneurs can come for office space, advice, fellow startup support. A no frills place with very little hierarchy and administration, and full of people with sparks in their eyes and passion. So we took some 45 of SOFE participants in a bus and went to the Innovation Warehouse. I could see some were kind of overwhelmed, some were impressed, and some were … getting down to business!

I’m a big admirer of Tony – a very very successful entrepreneur. But on top of that, he impressed me so much when he explained how being a co-founder of this place was his way of “giving back”. #respect

We also ran a number of workshops with SOFE participants, including the big finale one where we asked them to build their own incubator. Here is the result – and I can certainly say we learned a lot but also had fun!!!

(cross-posted on Innotribe blog. Drawings by @copernicc)

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