The world looks to be underway towards a dramatic energy transition, as it shifts towards more renewables and a sophisticated digitized grid. It is tempting to think of the battle as already decided: Renewable deployments – driven primarily by solar and wind energy – are growing rapidly, albeit from a small base; costs are falling; policy is directionally favorable. However, new research based on big data analysis indicates a worrying trend – innovation interest in renewables is declining, after peaking about four years ago, as shown in the figure below. Without continued innovation momentum, long-term success driven by further clean energy technology improvements is thrown into question.
Jim Kirkwood, Chief Science & Technology Development Officer at General Mills, and VP of its “GTECH” organization, sat down to speak with Lux Research. Jim discusses the past and future of innovation at General Mills with Lux Research’s VP of Consulting, Kevin Pang.
Jim and Kevin discussed:
- How to deliver enough macronutrients like protein to feed a growing world
- Leveraging bioprocessing and life sciences and the future role of GMOs
- General Mills’ changing relationships with suppliers and how supplier business models will be different in the future
- Getting a deep understanding of customers’ problems, and the importance of “tip of the spear” consumers and customer segmentation
- How to create flexible talent to meet future challenges
To watch Jim Kirkwood’s Keynote Presentation from the Lux Executive Summit, click here.
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Lux Chief Research Officer Chris Hartshorn’s opening keynote at this year’s Lux Executive Summit pointed to military innovators from Frederick the Great to Napoleon to Stanley McChrystal, their gifts for “seeing the theater” to determine when a change in strategy was needed – and how their organizations needed to change along with it. General McChrystal’s quote from his book Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World, “We have moved from data-poor but fairly predictable settings to data-rich, uncertain ones,” demonstrates commonality between the military theater and the theater of emerging technologies. Within the theater of emerging technologies the Lux Research analysts cover, Chris pointed to “redistributed everything” as a critical cross-cutting trend, noting that fields from energy to automotive are seeing shifts between products and services, capex and opex, centralization and distribution, and more.
As one example, Chris highlighted the healthcare market, where the current model for delivering care has hospitals organized into silos focused on particular organs, system, and conditions, from cardiovascular disease to asthma to infertility. In contrast, emerging digital health and wellness technologies provide capabilities like monitoring, predictive analytics, and behavior augmentation that can establish unexpected connections between disparate conditions – identifying a common behavioral thread between diabetes and depression, for instance.
Not all emerging technology theater is the same, so some 300 corporate executives, start-up leaders, investors, and policymakers gathered around an agenda ranging from Energy & Infrastructure to Information Meets Matter to the Future of Resources and the Consumer of the Future (for those who weren’t able to attend, presenter slides and videos are available on the conference website).
The theme of this year’s Summit, Ideation to Integration, had participants exploring not just how to assess the theater in which they operate, but also how to respond to it with the right technical capabilities and strategic partnerships to create and grow new businesses. Many speakers returned to the theme that building a clear view of the overall theater was one of the most critical success factors, both for identifying the right ideas and for building the plan to execute on them.
Bill LaFontaine, GM of Intellectual Property and VP of Research Business at IBM, described how IBM sees the theater through, in part, its Global Technology Outlook. Its researchers nominate important trends or discoveries, and a thorough process of vetting, grouping, and prioritizing ideas leads to a document that helps guide the Research Business and company strategy. Bill described how IBM Research identified the rising importance of data and analytics, leading to the development of the Watson platform that famously mastered Jeopardy and became the foundation of the IBM cognitive computing business.
Jim Kirkwood, Chief Science & Technology Development Officer and VP of R&D at General Mills, spoke about the transformations his firm has gone through in its 150-year history – and how General Mills sees the theater by following consumers’ lead. Jim spoke about developing “deep consumer empathy” in a “three I’s” approach – immersion with consumers to understand the problem, interaction to experience the problem, and idea creation to solve the problem. Jim explained how consumer insight led General Mills to focus on inherent nutrition. It made sure all its “Big G” cereals had at least 10 grams of whole grains per serving, then this year committed to use no artificial colors, no artificial flavors, and no preservatives – necessitating a new toolbox based on bioprocessing rather than chemistry.
Throughout the Summit, Lux analysts and industry speakers alike explored changes to the landscape corporate executives are facing – from Lux’s Katrina Westerhof on the reinvention of the power sector, to Isaac Brown on the future of manufacturing, to Teradata’s Carl Howe and Oracle’s Paul Sonderegger on the digital transformation of industry. Seeing the theater will be critical for allowing companies to capitalize and generate continued growth.
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Innovation is hard – especially because it is one of those ineffable qualities that often can only be defined after it can be seen. But before we get to the subject of defining what “it” is, we should first consider the degrees of freedom and constraint necessary to even pursue innovation.
Your location in the value chain is the largest determinant of just how much innovation you should pursue and invest in. It is certainly true in the B2B space that if you are part of an extended value chain with multiple components serially working to create a final product, you are constrained not just by your nearest neighbor’s ability to absorb innovation, but the overall chain itself being able to successively incorporate a given innovation.
For example, an investment made to decrease cycle time will not create greater value for you if your component is not critical to the final product manufacture pace. Likewise, an investment in greater product quality will also likely fail to capture greater value if yours is not the key component that determines final assembled product quality.
So your value chain is your innovation plane; the trajectory of which determines the overall pace and direction of absorbable innovation. You cannot manufacture, nor can you invent, faster or more robustly than the rate at which the innovation plane itself rises as a unitary line.
What determines the rate and directionality of the innovation plane? I suggest two roles or positions within the value chain: the pacemaker and the bottleneck. The pacemaker determines how much and how fast a final product is to be assembled and distributed to market, and the bottleneck occupies the key limiting step in that delivery. Being either the pacemaker or the bottleneck (or both!) is a great place to be. The pacemaker drives value chain cadence by finding more buyers faster, and the bottleneck responds to that cadence by either finding ways to speed cycle time, and/or adding valued features and attributes that help the pacemaker capture more buyers. The two work together to establish and grow markets by defining the pace and direction of the value plane – everyone else is along for the ride.
So what do you do if you are neither the pacemaker nor bottleneck in your current markets? The best you can do is to stay close to your nearest neighbors and engage in the necessary incremental innovation required to keep pace with the innovation plane. However, if you would capture dynamically greater returns, you must seek to become either the pacemaker or the bottleneck by either finding more direct markets for your goods and services as a pacemaker, or as the bottleneck by entering new markets that place greater value on your know-how and ability to create new value. When unexpected, this is known as disruptive innovation.
Innovation, like all things deemed beautiful, is best defined through the eyes of the beholder. In the case of innovation, its general qualities of being novel, unexpected, and useful are also best defined by the end user.
For more on Lux Research’s Consulting or Life-science membership services, contact Kevin at email@example.com