Last Monday evening, around 40 fantastic members of Auckland's product development ecosystem came together at GridAKL for the second ever Auckland Innovation Skills event. A big thanks goes to ATEED for sponsoring our use of the space for the night.

innovation skills auckland

It is widely known that this country is full of bright sparks, and we have a deeply ingrained history of invention. However innovative, our problems are often more deeply connected than our responses. For those new to the Innovation Skills initiative, it was started around five months ago, when together with Callaghan Innovation we discussed this problem and what we wanted to do about it. 

We decided to team up as founding partners, together with PDMA-NZ, to trial an open, loosely coupled think-tank designed to bring together the nation's top product development CEO's, engineers, entrepreneurs, managers and domain experts to collaborate and share knowledge about product commercialisation barriers. Held as ongoing events, we would roll these out throughout the country. We have now held four events total (Auckland, Dunedin, Christchurch, and again in Auckland). Someone needs to drive this from the start, but it's our goal that this initiative will eventually be community driven, with these think-tanks happening in every region of New Zealand. 

The Monday night session was a good opportunity to test our theory that the product innovation community in New Zealand could benefit from something like this.

A series of insights ensued, as well as numerous improvement suggestions as we continue to build a common facility to help innovation practitioners across New Zealand. 

PROTOTYPE QUESTION: "What is one innovation challenge your company faces?"

When registering for this event, we asked each person to answer this question, in order to form the discussion topics for the event. The most popular innovation theme submitted was speed (in various forms). We chose to focus on Speed to Market. 

In framing the fishbowl discussion we asked the audience to come up with five tips for improving speed to market. After a lively discussion group surfaced three main themes; leadership, tactics and other miscellaneous suggestions.

During final conclusions we were able to isolate five recommendations (or tips) that innovators could use to speed up the time to market. 

TIP 1: Differentiate Between Speed & Velocity

  • You can go very fast, however it could be in the wrong direction. The ultimate outcome would be to achieve real progress as fast as possible (here's a good article explaining the difference between Speed and Velocity).

  • Teams can often become busy as opposed to productive.  A busy team is often one where much of the energy invested lacks direction.

TIP 2: Maintain Focus & Prototype Fast

  • Adopting methodologies like Agile will help to accelerate the learning curve and ensure you are on the right path

  • Work on the things you are certain of, AND the things you are uncertain of...  magic tends to happen outside of your comfort zone

TIP 3: Leadership

  • Product success is heavily dependant on good leadership.  

  • "Leaders don't create followers, they create more leaders."  -Tom Peters

  • One example is a racing car driver - he may have the most capable team of engineers behind him, but can still crash the machine with one wrong move

  • Bad leaders, due to their fear of failure, often won't stop a bad project, instead adding stuff on in the hope it will improve

  • Good leaders work through the fear of failure, and focus on removing product development roadblocks. They work to make the team comfortable about risk, velocity and uncertainty

  • If a leader did nothing else than foster collaboration, many companies would operate more like a neural network than an outdated dinosaur

  • Who holds senior management accountable?

  • Too many leaders make decisions in business they would be embarrassed to tell in detail to their mother

  • Great leaders put time into growing more leaders

TIP 4: Slow Down To Speed Up

  • Interact with target adopters early on in the product development process who are engaged, willing to test the product, and give market validation

  • It's hard to back out of a product if it's been built, but the customer no longer cares about it

  • Build strong relationships with early adopters, and really look after them

  • Example tactic: Split test two wildly different solutions to measure market affinity

TIP 5: Separate Innovation From The Core Business, And Be Collaborative

  • Recognise that the status quo won't always yield the best result, especially with business processes

  • To move on from this, consider creating a separate innovation stream that has less dependancy on the core and can move fast to discover a new way of operating. These learnings can eventually be bought back into the core business

  • This separate innovation stream should be a safe environment where people have the freedom to build

  • If you are missing capability in your team, one option is to build strategic partnerships with other companies that have that capability. A collaborative approach can be very effective

Event Summary & Attendees

In conclusion, our discussions yielded a number of great insights. A fantastic bunch of people came together for the  event, and attendees included CEO's, engineering and product managers, industrial designers, innovation analysts, and IP specialists to name a few, all from a broad range of sectors. 

Check out couple of snaps we took of the Innovation Skills session in action.

So, where to from here? Can participants take these insights and turn them into actionable items? Feedback from participants on the night suggests while the event was great for networking, participants want to work to solve specialised problems.

We sent out a very quick survey for feedback in Net Promotor Score format. Check out the next blog, where I've published the feedback we received, including details about where we are taking the initiative from here.