Innovation in action

29 04 2013
Kylemore Abbey nestled under Pollacappul

Kylemore Abbey nestled under Pollacappul

Continuing with my recent theme of articles on innovation, I was very struck by a real example of innovation in action recently.

While taking a weekend break on Connemara I visited Kylemore Abbey. Kylemore is generally known as a girls boarding school run by the Benedictine nuns. What is fascinating about this story is how the nuns have reinvented the abbey to ensure its continuing survival.

They faced two major challenges:

  1. a decline in the number of boarders and
  2. falling numbers of vocations making it increasingly difficult to run the school.

They had to adapt and they did.

Firstly, they took the decision to close the school completely. Then they set about completely innovating their business model. They looked to their strengths and came up with a strategy for survival and growth.

  1. Tourism
    With Connermara being a major area for tourists they redeveloped the wall gardens, started tours of the Abbey and created a restaurant and coffee shop.
  2. Education
    With their strong background in education they have moved into the area of retreats and training programmes with residential accommodation in the former boarding school.
  3. Local enterprise
    The nuns converted the home economics room into a kitchen where they now produce a variety of artisan foods which are sold in the shop.
  4. Spiritualism
    The monastic chapel is open to visitors who want to spend time in silence and prayer.

To me, this is real innovation. Rather than give up as their traditional way of life declined, the Benedictine nuns have filled Kylemore with renewed vigour. This ability to a find a different way of using what you have and thinking differently is a case study in the making.

The location and the nuns chocolate are both absolutely beautiful which of course helps also.

The beautiful gothic style mini cathedral on the grounds of Kylemore Abbey

The beautiful gothic style mini cathedral on the grounds of Kylemore Abbey

A view from Connemara National Park

A view from Connemara National Park


A great use of Twitter

8 04 2013

What is a good use of Twitter? This question is asked by many people every day. At the moment I am endeavouring to put together a Twitter strategy for a professional services firm. What I find very frustrating is that people who do not want to engage find it very easy to provide examples of how pointless Twitter is. However, there is one bright shining example of how to use Twitter really well that can beat back all those arguments against Twitter and social media in general.

Much of what runs over Twitter is tripe, pointless comment made over the minutia of life, but Hadfield is able to transcend this, turning the ordinary into insight.

 Dick Ahlstrom, The Irish Times

That example is Commander Chris Hadfield, a Canadian astronaut currently based in the International Space Station. He combines a beautiful eye for photography with a real ability to engage with ordinary people. He also has a rare ability to include a really meaningful comment that seems to go beyond the simple interpretation of the actual words. Follow @cmdr_hadfield now.

Design Thinking

5 04 2013

As part of my studies at the Ryan Academy we discussed the concept of Design Thinking. This is a concept pioneered by David Kelley, founder of IDEO and the Stanford Design School. According to David, Design Thinking:

  • Incorporate human behaviour into design
  • Is based on an empathy for the consumer
  • Is a collaborative process that allows you to “get to a place that you can’t get to with one mind”.

What is really interesting about Design Thinking and the associated Stanford D process is the way that a well defined process is used to harness what could potentially be a chaotic process. The process is a structured approach to generating and developing ideas.

Phase 1: Understand

Develop your understanding of the dynamics of the market, the key players, geographic and demographic opportunities and any recent innovation.

Phase 2: Observe

Understand how your customers and consumers think and act.

Phase 3: Point of View

Look closely at a possible opportunity in the market or at a new perspective of the marketing based on the outcomes of phases 1 and 2.

Phase 4: Ideate

Encourage you team to creatively assess the market and the suggested opportunity. There are specific techniques that help this process and the outcome should be two new and useful ideas

Phase 5: Prototype

Convert the ideas into research ready concepts that can be tested for feasibility

Phase 6: Test and Iterate

Test the prototype and make and changes based on the feedback

What is innovation, creativity and design?

3 04 2013

Having previously discussed why companies need to innovate I thought it might be appropriate to actually define innovation. Innovation is often seen as a something vague and woolly. The image of the mad scientist comes to mind and this results in confusion between innovation and invention.

Innovation = Creativity + Implementation

Creativity is process of coming up with new ideas, suggestions, improvements, products or services. This is not about a flash of inspiration. It actually relates to a body of knowledge. You need to have a detailed knowledge of your product/service/market in order to be genuinely creative. Everyone can be creative if the environment is right but creativity cannot be ordered or demanded. People have to be inspired.

Implementation is the process of taking an idea and making it happen. If creativity is a little intangible then implementation is the very tangible. It requires an organised, systematic approach to getting things done. There are three key steps in the implementation process:

  1. Idea selection: this is where you take all the ideas that have been suggested from the “creativity” phase and decided which ones to progress. This should be based on which ones are the best fit with the strategic goals of the organisation.
  2. Development: this step is about taking an idea and moving it to a stage where is can be tested and fully assessed. To borrow a term from product development you create a prototype though this can apply in the service sector also eg a chain of restaurants may test a new menu in one restaurant before rolling it out fully.
  3. Commercialisation: this step is about bringing the idea to marketing successfully.

What does this mean for an organisation? It means that to be innovative requires different skill sets that need to be combined effectively in order to be successful.

To be creative people have to think differently; to be innovative people have to behave differently.

Innovation? We’re fine, thanks.

1 04 2013

It is natural for people to fear change. It is also natural for people to fear the sort of radical change that innovation implies. The time I have spent recently in the Ryan Academy examining innovation has opened my eyes to the crucial role that innovation plays in every organisation. This is the first in a number of articles on innovation.

Why innovate?

Firstly, at a macro level, innovation is what drives economic growth. Even Marx agreed with this though he thought that the capitalist economic model would run out of innovation and therefore fail. He missed the point that innovation is not a once-off or finite activity. You could argue that the current recession is being prolonged not by the weakness in the financial system or austerity but by a lack of innovation.

Companies need to embrace innovation for four very good reasons:

  • To keep ahead of the competition
  • To find more efficient solutions
  • To increase revenues and profitability
  • To survive

Innovation is hard

According to the Innovation Value Chain published by the Harvard Business Review there are three key phases incorporating six critical tasks. These move through the innovation process from Idea Generation to Conversion to Diffusion. A company can fail at any one of these and it is important for a company to recognise where is failing and why.

What do successful innovators look like?

In my view, innovative organisations have four main characteristics:

  1. External and internal focus
  2. Well defined, flexible, funded system to convert ideas into reality (the conversion phase)
  3. Cross function teams
  4. Place a value on employees and reward / inspire them to be innovative

Innovative leaders are generally inspiring, tolerant of ambiguity and aware of the impact of their actions. They know that if they want their company to be truly innovative then they must create a culture and an environment that allows innovation to flourish and lead by example.

Is Graph Search a game changer?

18 02 2013

Niall Harbison, co-founder of Simply Zesty, will be a popular speaker, I suspect, at DMX Dublin 2013. The Simply Zesty story is fantastic and it’s great to see an Irish company doing so well. Niall recently spoke at a PM Forum event in the newly refurbished offices of Ernst & Young. He gave the following advice which I thought cut through the haze that often surrounds social media.

  1. Pick one channel and get it right
    The four dominant social media channels are Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and LinkedIn with Google+ coming in fifth. Niall’s advice was to ignore this months trend and get one of these channels right.
  2. Blog
    Simply Zesty owes its success to top quality blogging. If you blog then you own the content, it is always yours.
  3. Set goals
    It might be a bit of a cliché but how many so-called social media experts fail to set real, meaningful goals that make a difference to your business. Collecting ‘likes’ or followers is not a real goal.
  4. Avoid the “arms race” for Facebook likes
    The new Graph Search feature currently being rolled out by Facebook will make chasing vast numbers of ‘likes’ almost irrelevant. Facebook will allow users to search based on what their friends recommend rather than the quantity of likes.

I was very struck by how powerful Niall believes Facebook will become. He cited the example of Netflix using Facebook logins to illustrate how he believes that Facebook will soon be the real backbone of the Internet. Combined with the potential of Graph Search Niall sees a strong future for Facebook.

Turning Leinster Rugby into an elite organisation

6 02 2013

Mick Dawson, CEO of Leinster Rugby, addressed the January 2013 Marketing Breakfast. Mick took the audience through the journey that Leinster Rugby has taken from the amateur to the professional to the elite era. To give some perspective, when rugby union turned professional Leinster Rugby had no structures, no fan base, played three matches a season and was seen as a stepping stone to the national side. Today it has:

  1. 145 employees
  2. A turnover of €17 million
  3. 13,000 season ticket holders
  4. State of the Art facilities in UCD
  5. Plays 28 – 33 matches a season

We live in a moment where change is so speeded up that we begin to see the present only when is it already disappearing” RD Laing

From a marketing perspective a key message that I picked up from Mick was the importance of managing people and relationships. Mick and his team have to manage relationships with professional sporting bodies, players, sponsors, supporters, volunteers and the amateur side of rugby in the province. I was very interested in the emphasis Mick put on this. For example, the supports club is a separate entity to Leinster Rugby but they meet regularly to keep in touch with what the supporters are saying.

Leinster Rugby has also invested in trying to understand their audience and their brand. They carried out a brand study to see how they were perceived by a cross-section of stakeholders including season ticket holders, clubs, schools, staff, players and sponsors. Based on the result of this study they made three key decisions:

  1. the brand was Leinster rather than Dublin and they need to expand outside the traditional south Dublin stronghold
  2. a new logo was need to drive the brand forward
  3. the profile of match attendees needed to change from men in their 50’s to families

This clear understanding of the brand has helped position Leinster Rugby as the “12 county army” and a remarkable sporting and commercial success story. Mick’s full talk is available on the Marketing Institute’s YouTube channel or you can view my interview with Mick below.