How to Create a Future Proof Innovation Strategy (and Successfully Implement it)

Innovation is one of the buzzwords of the last couple of years and for good reason. We are at the tipping point of technology and actual innovation is happening faster than ever. But, there’s more to innovation behind the buzz and that’s where many people get it wrong.

Before we dive deep into the subject of innovation, let’s make some clear distinctions, so we’re talking about the same thing:
* Creativity = thinking of something new and useful
* Innovation = the implementation of something new and useful

When we think of innovation, we want the cool stuff: blockchain, AI, or cloud computing. But those are just the end results. Real innovation happens before the end product, and that’s where 60 to 70% of transformations have failed throughout history.

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So how do you beat a 70% failure rate? By asking innovation experts Thomas van der Meer from Foryard and Bas Wit and Onno Bloemers from Univé how they do it.

Most teams can’t innovate – and it’s not their fault

Innovation is a complex process and has many parts that need to align perfectly. If you have the strategy, but not the culture, it won’t work. If you have the network, but not the skills, again, it won’t work. To make it work you have to tick the right boxes. Six to be exact:

  1. Strategy

  2. Culture

  3. Process

  4. Supervision

  5. Network

  6. Knowledge and skills

When you have these six pillars for successful innovation in place, you have the foundation of a well-oiled innovation machine. To make the machine run properly, you need a dedicated team that makes sure the process goes right.

But not just any team. Normal teams tend to be hard working, focused, process-minded, and inflexible.This is where the Innovation Lab enters the stage. Innovation teams push boundaries by being creative, dynamic, open-minded, and adaptable.

Forget about solutions, we need problems

Innovation teams know how to think about problems and processes to arrive at real solutions. They know how to fix problems at their core, and not just symptoms. And they know not to innovate based on a solution that doesn’t fix an actual problem: there’s no need to get the cool robot lawn mower when you don’t have any grass.

Thomas van der Meer

Thomas van der Meer during his Betty Blocks on Stage talk

 For this reason, innovation teams rely on strategy. Poor processes can be a barrier to successful innovation, so once you've got your problem, you need to strategize to make sure the solution is actually needed. An optimal process follows these steps:

  1. Define the problem;

  2. Understand the problem (very important!);

  3. Brainstorm 100 ideas - go out of the box, get crazy (retrain your brain);

  4. Create a prototype and test it;

  5. Process feedback and implement.

You can go from defining the problem to prototyping within a week. The investment for this is very low and the payoff is enormous. If it doesn’t work, you’ve only wasted a couple of days and a small amount of money. By removing the hurdles that make innovation a painstaking process, teams are actually eager to go through the full process.

How does this process look in action? Bas Wit and Onno Bloemers from Dutch insurance giant Univé show us.

How Univé mobilizes the entire organization towards digital transformation

Program Manager Services Onno Bloemers and Innovation Manager Bas Wit have quite a daunting task at hand with their Innovation Lab: accelerating change in a traditional insurance organization that has been around since 1741. With 2,600 employees and over 1.6 million members, they are one of the largest insurance companies in the Netherlands. In a time where customer expectations are higher than ever, there is no way around innovation. As Onno put it: “Insurance is at a crossroads and the main reason for this is technology.”

Technology is the catalyst for change in insurance. On one hand, data now makes it easier to create better risk profiles. On the other hand, repairs for a bumper with parking assist in it are way more expensive. And young people who are used to digital experiences in every part of their lives expect the same from their insurance.

Univé is forced to ask themselves what business they are really in. It used to be, ‘We manage insurance policies.’. But, that limits the conversation greatly. So they evolved. Now the focus is on offering their members an enhanced feeling of safety, by “preventing risk, limiting damage, and only insure when necessary.” This has been a complete paradigm shift in the way Univé operates and serves its members.

Making change happen through pilots

When we look at the process innovation goes through at Univé, we see that it perfectly aligns with what Thomas van der Meer pointed out earlier: an idea enters the concept phase, then goes through the validation phase, and moves on to the pilot phase. When the idea is validated and actually solves a problem, it goes into development and is introduced to the market.

Bas Wit en Onno Bloemers

Bas Wit and Onno Bloemers during at Betty Blocks on Stage

 On paper, this looks crystal clear and pretty linear, but in reality, things are much more difficult. The biggest challenge is the people - you need to create a new way of thinking in the organization, and you need ambassadors. Univé uses a three-step process to translate innovation into execution:

  1. Starting a conversation about risk in the organization;

  2. Provide a portfolio of relevant services;

  3. Set up a factory for scalable service propositions.

Experimenting with pilots is key. As Thomas van der Meer said, “you need to be absolutely positive that there actually is a viable problem your solution solves. Pilots save you from investing heavily in things that will fall flat on their face upon launch”.

Change or improvement?

The goal for Bas and his team is always to get from point A to point B. Ending up in a different form of A isn’t good enough. You need to ask: are we changing or improving? To make sure you actually end up where you want to, always tick these five boxes:

  1. Vision: do we know where and why we are going?

  2. Leadership: do we have committed support from the executives?

  3. Adaptability to change: is the organization as a whole adaptable for change, or are there too many hurdles?

  4. Power to execute: can we deliver and do we have the stamina to keep going?

  5. Grip and insight: do we know when we are successful?

When you miss one of these key factors there will be confusion, resistance, and even anarchy within the team. Bas and his team advise automating as much as possible. This way the human component, and its risks stay at an absolute low and it’s also cost-effective.

No-code: A fast lane for scaling innovative risk solutions

After the long process of innovation, we finally land at the fruits of our hard labor: what is the cool stuff they end up with? Two tangible examples for Univé and their members are:

  • Legal help on demand: whenever you need legal help of any kind, Univé legal help is just a phone call away.

  • Veilig Wonen: A subscription model in which you can opt in for different services like alarm, chimney cleaning, gutter cleaning, ventilation services, and more.

Univé fuels their Innovation Lab with the no-code application platform Betty Blocks. Having a flexible no-code platform is essential to quickly build, demonstrate, and bring new innovations to market. Speed is everything. If innovation would take one or two years, the Innovation Lab would lose trust within the company and with its members. By utilizing a no-code platform, they’ve reduced time-to-market from years to a quick 2.5 months.

Unive’s Innovation Lab has built a no-code foundation from which they can focus on even the most advanced solutions, like smart homes and electric cars. With Betty Blocks’ partner Ilionx, the Innovation Lab has already built:

  • A complex no-code system;

  • Front-end and order API;

  • Customer-, order-, and subscription administration;

  • Payment administration;

  • Advisor portal;

  • Supplier portal and API;

With this setup, the Innovation Lab can build exactly according to their requirements and specifications. They are also able to easily expand their business propositions. The Innovation Lab puts Univé in a position where they can respond to market demands extremely fast and exceed industry expectations.

Hear it from the masters first

To go more in-depth and hear it from the innovation masters first hand, sign up below to all the exclusive Betty Blocks on Stage content. You will get all video material, presentations, and more from the sold-out event.

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