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scaling value


How to navigate the long winding road to high impact innovation





What do you get when you’ve successfully developed and launched your great idea, managed to turn it from a value proposition into a solution which people actually value?


The answer to this is very often — stuck.


Because successful innovation — creating value from ideas — isn’t just a matter of creating a viable and valuable solution. It’s having impact with that solution by scaling across markets and geographies. Scaling matters — but it’s often an afterthought, we’re so busy with the start-up effort.


Scaling isn’t easy. And it involves more than just throwing money at the problem. Many promising innovations, proven solutions, fail to make it to the next stage. As a recent McKinsey report, pointed out, ‘…..even companies that develop successful products have a greater than 80 percent chance of failure’.


Experience doesn’t always help either. Take the case of Toshiba — certainly not a new kid on the block but a respected innovator over nearly 150 years. Not just a one hit wonder either — its success pedigree includes lightbulbs, memory chips, video recorders, TV sets and DVD equipment. They certainly understand the challenges of bringing innovations to scale — for example, they’re credited with bringing the notebook computer to a mass market with their 1100 series. Yet they lost out big time with their attempt to put HD DVD into play, losing the standards battle to Sony and its Blu-Ray system (and around $1bn in the process).


Scaling innovation is even more of a challenge in the world of social innovation — if we want to change the world we need to focus on creating impact at scale. The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals certainly qualify as audaciously big targets which we need to hit at global scale if we want to save the planet. And, as Secretary General Antonio Guterres highlights, this is going to need a major innovation effort.


But the world of social innovation is plagued by what could be called ‘pilot-itis’; plenty of great ideas which get as far as pilot launch but then fail to scale. ‘Too tough to scale’ is the title of a helpful research report which explores the roadblocks on the journey and reminds us that changing the world requires a lot more than (just) a great solution.


And it’s the same story in the public sector. There’s no shortage of wonderful experiments which improve quality, efficiency, service levels — but too often they remain local islands of change. What’s needed, once again is the ability to take these to scale.


Even when innovations do manage to scale we have to recognise that it takes time — it’s a long journey through uncertain territory. As Ray Croc, the mastermind behind McDonalds scaling up of a successful innovation in the food industry, famously commented I was an overnight success all right, but thirty years is a long, long night. Reverse engineer any successful innovation which has diffused at scale and the chances are you’ll find a long and bumpy journey stretching back to its origins.


So scaling is hard. But it matters.


The good news is that we know quite a bit about scaling value — creating impact at scale. We’ve tried to capture some of in our new book which draws together practical experience and suitable tools and frameworks to help think about scaling strategically and manage the key elements along the way.


In particular we should pay attention to three key questions:


· Have we got a solution which is ‘scale ready’? Is our innovation stress-tested to make sure it is replicable, adoptable, ‘rights ready’ and otherwise configured to be scaled in different contexts?


· Have we got an organization in place which can build on our strong innovation team but also grow to meet the very different demands of scaling? Do we have the right structures to help us retain fast, flexible and inclusive decision-making? Have we got cash flow models which support us on the journey, balancing new sources of revenue and reducing our costs?


· Have we got a value network of ‘complementary assets’ — the ‘who else?’ and ‘what else?’ that we need to bring our innovation to scale? Can we find relevant partners, form them into an ecosystem and then align their varying interests to get that whole to perform, delivering more than the sum of its parts?


We’ll explore each of these in outline in forthcoming blog posts. But if you’d like to learn more about the book, check out our website here…

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