Sunday, May 14, 2006


So, exactly what is innovation?

Technically, "innovation" is defined merely as "introducing something new;" there are no qualifiers of how ground-breaking or world-shattering that something needs to be—only that it needs to be better than what was there before. And that's where the trouble starts when an organization requests "innovation services" from a consulting firm. Exactly what are they really requesting? The fact is, innovation means different things to different people.

I suspect that many folks in the blogosphere have over time heard on multiple occasions stories of consulting companies taking a project and running with it, only to come back with fantastic, ground-breaking ideas that the hiring organization could do absolutely nothing with. Insultants of course, never acknowledge their idiocy especially if they are from agile insulting firms and of course prefer to shift blame to enterprisey folks which misses the point.

At the end, the research, documents and prototypes become shelved, and everyone leaves the situation resentful. The hiring organization feels like they didn't get the value that they deserved for the price tag they paid; the consulting firm feels as though their efforts were undervalued, and that the client wasn't nearly as progressive as they had hoped (or promised).

I suspect there are several best practices here. What would happen if enterprises started to be open and transparent about how decisions get made within their organization, about the past attempts to solve the problem (both failures and successes, and everyone's respective understanding of why), and—here's the laundry part—about any individuals within the company that will likely try to sabotage the effort.

Likewise, what would happen if a consulting firm not only acknowledged productivity aspects of non-mainstream tools (Ruby comes to mind) but also publicly stated that it provides them competitive advantage and a form of lock-in at least in the short-term).

Both parties are now armed with the knowledge they need to make informed decisions. Agile insulting firms provide a benefit in failing fast but do not provide enough transparency such that past problems can easily be discovered and avoided shifting this task at the last minute to the enterprise. Enterprises can make decisions based on more than "comfort" relationship, price, golf or other factors that should be secondary.

The real key to innovation is that large enterprises are not only understanding the value of being open and transparent, they are doing so at a faster pace than the smaller consulting firms that serve them...

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