Innovation in 2021: KILN fast-forwards
GLOBAL INNOVATION DAY 2021: KILN looks back on the last ten years
For the past decade or so, companies have become increasingly responsive to cultural shifts and trends. The result has been the successful introduction of a raft of products and services to support people coping with 21st-century challenges…like a 24/7 digital culture, globalization and silicon technology that is now literally under our skin…along with the eternal needs reshaped but unresolved by culture change: hunger, desire for love and acceptance, aversion and fear of pain.
Underpinning this sea-change in the ability of companies to innovate “in time” is a set of in-company cultural practices that for a great many people working in enterprise and industry have become the “new normal”. Strange to think but they were almost unheard of in the first decade of our millennium. We’ve been privileged to be part of the sea change, and welcome this opportunity of Global Innovation Day 2021 to look back on what’s happened in these last 10 years and why it matters.
ABC Corporation is a great example. Fifteen years ago, ABC was a market leader in fast-moving consumer goods in North America and Europe, and had been for decades. Only by 2005, ABC was able to grow only by acquisitions and unable (except in rare occasions) to introduce game- changing ideas ahead of local market competitors. Since the 1990s, wins from new products came only from “me-too” lines that imitated novel features invented by other players and gained share thanks to ABC’s strong hold over important distribution channels. As e-commerce weakened the role of bricks-and-mortar sales channels, ABC’s long-standing advantage began to erode. Being on shelves was no longer enough. ABC lacked the brand magnetism to keep consumers interested and loyal. It was also weak and slow in re-specifying so-called “global” products for specific markets even when there was clear evidence that the products under-performed in those less familiar settings. Twelve years ago, a new CEO named Jayna Tahl was appointed. An engineer by training, Tahl had worked in research before moving from marketing into finance. Within her first six months, Tahl issued a mandate to the organization: we must establish a robust innovation pipeline that is attuned to cultural shifts (both local and global). It must work in an accountable manner to conceive and create goods that respond to and respect people’s realities in ways that will generate sustainable pro!ts for our company. This came to be known as Tahl’s Order.
In 2010, ABC’s Innovation Vice-President Amit Hayes (who reported directly to Tahl) found Kiln. After a single meeting, Hayes authorised a multi-site IdeaKeg subscription, and the Kiln System was embedded in five sites around the globe. Every six weeks, each site ran a 4-week cycle of idea generation and development fuelled by trend intelligence and stimuli Kiln supplied, using a framework Kiln had developed called FuseTrail. Hayes loved the fact that the stimuli and cultural intelligence were uniform across all five sites: using the same starting points, the five hubs regularly generated completely different seed ideas and concepts which embodied (more and more often) their specific perspective on local and global culture. Hayes took this as a demonstration that the right central platform could generate better, more appropriate local solutions. In other words, innovation efforts didn’t need to be fragmented to work well locally. Global Branding head Shay Sterling saw Hayes’s success using Kiln, and re-drew brand guidelines to support this “glocal” approach to product marketing. The improvements Sterling introduced have made it easier to launch new products and, where necessary, spin off new divisions without creating brand confusion. Overall, executing on novel concepts just became easier.
ABC’s track record in the ‘tweens speaks for itself: blockbuster after blockbuster, whether measured on sales revenues, market share, usability or advertising effectiveness – and not just in the mature geographies where ABC was an established incumbent, but also in India, in China, in Brazil, Argentina and southern Africa. Speaking at Davos last year on a panel on NGO-big business collaborations in health and well-being, Hayes was heard to admit that even he was surprised at ABC’s sustained success. Afterwards, a journalist from the Financial Times cornered Hayes, and this is what she recorded:
“There’s a roomful of PhDs written about innovation culture but Jayna Tahl didn’t give us time to read them. Standing in my shoes at that point, a great many innovation heads would have turned to McKinsey. Maybe inviting the suits in would have helped us strike out in some new directions, but there’s no way outsiders could have walked with us the whole way. Instead, we turned to Kiln. For us, as for many other companies, adopting The Kiln System allowed us to build for ourselves what we needed: a formal, flexible, measurable system for the front end of innovation. TrendTrail and IdeaKeg changed how we got a handle on trends, cultural shifts and diversity. FuseTrail changed the way we used research, the basis we used for making investment decisions and eventually triggered a new company mission statement. These days our innovation capabilities are far more mature, yet we’re still doing FuseTrail twice a quarter, now in twelve sites. We’ll continue using it because we work best when we do.”
So Tahl’s order is achievable using the Kiln System. And what Hayes hasn’t mentioned is that FuseTrail is fun. That’s why major media companies use FuseTrail to storyboard new shows. That’s also why the national secondary school curricula in 27 countries use FuseTrail as the basis for teaching social studies and advanced literacy. Attuned, effective, joyful are the three words we hear most often.
It’s been an honour to develop something people around the world have found so useful. We hope that in the years to come, more and more people will have the opportunity to adopt the Kiln System to improve their own responsiveness to change. It’s been an honour, and an obligation. The world is beset by challenges — the struggle for peace, the struggle over waning resources being two enormous ones. A framework like Kiln that frees people to imagine new things or ways of doing using whole- brain thinking may be our only hope. Make of the future what you will.
What future do you want to look back on in 10 years time? If it includes fruitful organic innovation including breakthrough, please call KILN. Before it’s too late.