Elizabeth J. Altman and Frank Nagle
A United Nations agency with a sweeping mission and sprawling global presence may not seem a likely model for new techniques for accelerating innovation, but the authors’ research belies that assumption. They found that the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) — an organization of 17,000 employees spanning 170 countries that focuses on solving complex global problems — is building an exceptionally progressive innovation playbook.
It’s doing so by assembling one of the world’s largest networks of accelerator labs. Each of UNDP’s 60 labs generates its own ecosystem, building connections with local partners while also coordinating with one another. UNDP is essentially solving the acceleration problem with a portfolio mindset, employing the power of the collective at an unprecedented scale.
Business leaders can learn from UNDP by taking a similar approach to innovation challenges. One example is Syngenta, a Swiss agribusiness company. Syngenta developed a network of innovation labs in the U.S., the U.K., India, and Singapore to tap into regional efforts to digitally transform agriculture. A mobile app that came out of one of its labs can now use photos taken by farmers to identify an insect or disease and then provide potential solutions, including Syngenta products.
Mohan Subramaniam and Mikolaj Jan Piskorski
The term platform is commonly associated with digital natives such as Uber, Airbnb, and Facebook — companies that have created vibrant ecosystems by connecting various sets of users. But more-traditional businesses are beginning to participate in the so-called sharing economy too, using sensor data from the internet of things.
Consider Ford vehicles. Equipped with voice-activated technology that can order coffee through Amazon’s Alexa, and using data on weather, traffic, and the vehicle’s location, the car can request a coffee to be ready when the driver arrives at the nearest Starbucks. This integration highlights two shifts from traditional practices: First, the established company (Ford) activates a new ecosystem consisting of consumers and third parties outside its value chain (Starbucks, Amazon, banks, and app developers). And second, the established company manages exchanges within that ecosystem — in Ford’s case, between drivers and third-party providers to offer a service. In so doing, Ford goes beyond its produce-and-sell role to become a platform creator and orchestrator.