The Institute for Innovation Development interview series invites innovation experts, innovative business leaders and emerging FinTech companies to talk to our readers about their latest innovation activities. The series seeks to learn from innovative business creators, uncover innovation best practices, and apply these insights into a financial services business model.

We recently sat down with Hitendra Patel, managing director of IXL Center - a global innovation consulting and capabilities building company - to share with us his 30 years of experience and knowledge in helping major corporations, universities, and NGOs grow through innovation. They have developed a relatively simple but effective formula to help any firm, in any industry, develop breakthrough new ideas and directions for future growth and leadership of their companies.

Hortz: You have unequivocally stated that never before in history has it been more important to innovate and to innovate faster. Why is that?

Patel: Innovation is the key for companies to sustain themselves in the marketplace. Great companies still fail if they don’t innovate. They must make sure that they are staying ahead in order to sustain profitable growth since new and emerging players are using lesser time to disrupt industries than ever before. You can see this quickening rate of disruption already happening. Amazon took eight years to get rid of the traditional players in the book industry; Priceline 5 years for travel agents; Nextflix 5 years for physical video stores; Airbnb 3 years to disrupt hospitality; Apple took Motorola, Samsung and Nokia out in 3 years, and Uber in 2 years basically started taking on every taxi system in every city around the world. The speed at which everything is happening is scary. There is evidence, not speculations, on the importance of doing faster and quicker innovation in each company within every industry. 

We still have a hard time in predicting “where these new players come from and how quickly they are going to change the game.” But keep in mind that today we are living in a connected world where a lot more smart people are collaborating and problems are getting solved faster together, but you have to be in those conversations. In a collaborative world, change is going to go faster. This is not a world you want to sit still in. You want to be looking around all the time, proactively talking and collaborating and asking what’s next? and what if? If you are not doing that, then you are going to be disrupted.

Hortz: From your innovation consulting work across industries and around the world, what have you uncovered as the formula for innovating better and faster?

Patel: The key formula for innovating better and faster is the idea of gathering (1) more and better dots (more idea fragments) and (2) connecting the dots in new and different ways.  To get more and better dots, you have to go beyond your individual brain and get relevant dots from (a) others across the company and up-and-down the value chain,  (b) players adjacent to your company like competitors, substitutes, partners and other industries and (c) the future or the past.   It requires sharing your dots by collaborating with others.   Those with more dots and different dots will be able to connect them to create new pictures or new concepts.  This collaboration with different people to get more and different dots helps the company to innovate faster and better because there are new perspectives flowing in.

Second insight on innovation we learned is most people given the same set of dots, connect the “dots” in very similar ways resulting in me-too ideas, while those generating breakthroughs connect them in new and different ways.  These individuals work hard to connect them in novel ways but also are open to disconnecting and reconnecting the dots repeatedly until they come with a combination that “wows” customers and blocks competitors.  They have the patience and persistence to get better and more interesting connections.   They don’t fall in love with their first connections and know that they have to disconnect and reconnect the dots to form better and bigger ideas.

That is an innovation mindset: you need to get more and better “dots” and connect them in new and different ways. This is a very simple philosophy and proven process for how to think differently and innovate.

Hortz: Can you explain how you apply this learning through your rather unique Innovation Olympics program?

Patel: Innovation Olympics helps corporations identify their next major business growth opportunity.  It is the successful application of the “Dots theory” in practice and has delivered new breakthrough growth concepts in over 300 companies in virtually every industry worldwide over the last 10 years of the program.

The Innovation Olympics offers a platform for corporate leaders to access not one but five diverse MBA student teams from across the globe, who compete with each other to identify the next best growth opportunity for your company. They work together over an 8 week program to get more dots and connect the dots in new ways.  What’s interesting here is that the business clients get new “dots” because individuals on teams come from across the globe and they often represent schools from across the world like Harvard, Kellogg, Stanford, Insead, ESAD, Cape Town, CESA, Haskayne, SMU, HKU, IIT, and many others.  Now you get insight and different perspectives on your business from all over the world on what they see going on in your industry, like wealth management for instance.  These students also connect dots in new and different ways providing fresh and unique perspectives.  The competition refines the output and is very important.  If you run alone you only run so fast. You run with 5 people or teams, you run faster.

Hortz:  How do you convince Fortune 500 CEOs and senior executives to pay for student teams that are predominantly not from their industry and consider new growth ideas from their efforts?

Patel: Getting companies to pay $30K -$50K for this program is not an issue.  Mckinsey or BCG or Deloitte charges 5 to 10 times for a similar output and will only put one team to work.  Who would not want five times the output for 1/5th the price?  These firms pay to get fresh perspectives especially those from outside the industry.  They pay to be allowed to think outside the box.  They pay to build a backlog of ideas for their future. 

Of course the disciplined and proven approach, the intellectual rigor demanded by the competition, the coaching by a world-class consultant, the steering team meetings and past happy clients provides confidence of a successful outcome for most companies.

As long as you are rigorous on following through the steps, the process will generate new and different ideas by generating and connecting the new “dots”. The amazing thing is that at the end of 8 weeks, all the executives at client firms have said that this was a great process. They never imagined doing something like this to generate new ideas and new directions for the firm and their future.

Hortz: What has been some of the results from your Innovation Olympics program?

Patel: Our program happens 4 times a year with six companies joining us every time and literally CEOs and senior executives have reported that this has been the most effective and lower cost way to get smart quickly about the future of their company. The ideas were really unique. It doesn’t matter what industry you are in, 5 MBA student teams from all over the world somehow can crack this problem to identify differentiated and actionable growth ideas for any company.  They crack it by being disciplined about getting more and different “dots” and connecting the in new ways.

Hortz: Can you give us a quick run down on your other innovation program, the 10X program, and expected outputs?

Patel: The biggest challenge of innovation is implementation and most companies do a terrible job doing that.  They apply traditional project management tools to implement the growth opportunity and end up de-risking the business opportunity and reducing the size of the impact or not experimenting enough to find a best path or just a path forward.
The goal of the 10X program helps companies commercialize their big growth idea.  The program is a 4-month process that consist of four workshops, four webinars and weekly mentor sessions to help the companies get results. The workshops are structured to not only help companies get business results but also build capabilities to help these companies do the same process again and again.  They learn about Dots, collaboration, diverse team formation, growth mindset and experimentation. We have helped over 200 companies commercialize their new business opportunity from concept to purchase order.

Hortz: Tell us more about your innovation certification program. What is it designed to do and how does that benefit individuals who are trying to be more innovative?

Patel:  We feel these innovation certification helps legitimize innovation and builds innovation capability within a company similar to the six-sigma and quality initiatives of the past.  We also feel that they give individuals permission and confidence to innovate within and across a company and also provide additional credentials for career moves within and outside the company.   These certificates are accredited by the Global Innovation Management Institute and we have trained and certified hundreds of individuals in major corporations like CIGNA, Johnson Controls, Natura, Roche, Ingredion, SABIC, Infineon and EmiratesNBD.  We have also trained thousands of MBA students at Haskayne in Calgary, Hult International Business School, Rotman School in Toronto, Singapore Management University, Thunderbird at Arizon State University, Washington University in St. Louis, and Yonsei University in Korea.

Hortz: What is the one main piece of advice you can give a financial advisor on how to be more innovative? How best can they jumpstart innovation in their business?

Patel: This advice is also a reflection question to all professionals who want to advance in their career or business: (1) Are you guys looking in new and different places/people for more dots?  (2) Are you more patient and persistent than others in connecting these dots and disconnecting and reconnecting them to find new connections that creates a wow for your customers? (3) Are you using artifacts (brochures and prototypes) to experiment and iterating with clients to develop a superior offering? 

If you are not doing these activities then you should start today.  If you are doing these activities, then use the above structure to do even more.  The world is full of opportunities for those who innovate and a scary and gloomy place for those stuck in the past. 

The Institute for Innovation Development is an educational and business development catalyst for growth-oriented financial advisors and financial services firms determined to lead their businesses in an operating environment of accelerating business and cultural change. We position our members with the necessary ongoing innovation resources and best practices to drive and facilitate their next-generation growth, differentiation and unique community engagement strategies. The institute was launched with the support and foresight of our founding sponsors - Pershing, Voya Financial, Ultimus Fund Solutions, Fidelity, and Charter Financial Publishing (publisher of Financial Advisor and Private Wealth magazines).