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AAR on Innovating on Demand

Recently did a contract on innovation and there were several lessons learnt. This post is an After Action Review on that. AAR is a powerful tool for reflection developed within the US army a long time ago and has taken many forms in KM across industries.

If you are intending to do AAR 4 questions to ask are
1. What did you expect to happen
2. What actually happened
3. Why was there a difference
4. What have you learned
Here it goes

1. Don’t be too quick to sign the contract, I call this ‘allowing the wine to breathe’. We expected clarity from customer side as well as the consultant side about the terms. But in reality it was not all that clear and we happened to commit what was never intended to be delivered. This phase is important because lack of clarity in contractual terms inherently leads to dissatisfied customers. Specifically getting sign off terms right for innovation engagements is tricky.
2. Timing the project and Time in the project, just like any market getting both timing and time right together is almost impossible. Generic advice here is get in early and be in for the long haul. Face time with end users was very minimal against our expectation. So if you do not do this right you would be doing unwanted things for people who don’t have even the time to look at the outputs. Also getting in early ensures you get the right intractable problem to work on and increasing face time as well.
3. Open and closed, when I say ‘open’ I mean innovating without constraints which I feel is really pointless given the environment of most industries. If you are asked to innovate without constraints look around it may actually be a joke. It is important to let constraints shape an idea, while not influence the way we think (converging early). My feeling is constraints have to be thought of like limits in calculus, most business contexts are constrained and articulating these are best done by users.
When I say ‘closed’ I mean the boundary of innovation is really fixed, i.e. innovating on a box that already exists. Contractually designing sign off criteria on closed type innovations are much easier and constraints are easily articulated.
4. Delivery versus Facilitation, is another argument that is popular, my feeling is unless immersion in context is complete, innovation is impossible. I agree being a methods guru and floating complex facilitation techniques to make people come out with their own ideas is advantageous because 1. you do not have to make a case for the ideas 2. acceptance within groups on their own ideas is higher than externally provided ideas 3. to really immerse in context of the customer takes a very long time. But selling this sort of a thing is bound to be slippery as outcomes emerge and there is no possibility to predict the outcomes.

Another scar and medal to wear I guess, life moves on…

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