Patterns & Insights

Innovation: Core & Context

by | Nov 15, 2018 | innovation, leadership, resources

Innovation, much like ‘strategy’ requires a lot of discipline around continuously assessing and measuring resource allocation (time, money, people, energy, etc.) to assure you have it calibrated for optimal results.  I have had the opportunity to work with some very interesting groups of startup leaders and change leaders during my career.  An exercise that always yields a few “Ah hah” moments is one relating to digging into core and context as part of exploring opportunities for innovation.

Over a decade ago, I was reading Geoffrey Moore’s Dealing with Darwin when it first came out.  It was the time in which I first became intrigued with power of the core and context model for resource allocation.  He focused on how the market will reward your investment in core and context during the different stages of the lifecycle of a companies’ evolution.  And in today’s environment, over a decade later, the understanding of what is core and what is context is even more relevant and important than ever.  Today, the concepts of outsourcing and out-tasking to strategic go-to-market partners are joined by considerations and possibilities for outsourcing more and more to machines with machine learning and AI.  Considering the role that new technology plays, including machine learning, AI, and robotics can have a profound impact on what is core and what is context and the search for differentiating value for the marketplace.  Examples of how machine learning is being applied to businesses across a range of industries can be read in this article.  There are a variety of applications, some of which could be categorized as more efficient or cost effective context and others that are in fact at the core of the business model and value proposition that differentiates the company. 

There are many different ways in which a leadership team can utilize core and context thinking to innovate and continuously improve to achieve success.  In early growth stages of a company, this is critical.  A team or founders come together, they are passionate about what they want to bring to the world and they go about building it.  They surround themselves with the resources to get everything done, sometimes bringing folks in, sometimes contracting work out, sometimes burning the midnight oil themselves, but mostly focused on just GETTING IT DONE!  As the company (or product line or offer) moves beyond introduction to growth stage – where acquiring new customers, keeping the offer fresh and differentiated, and assuring customers are delighted – it is often very worthwhile to step back and view the current state from the perspective of core and context.  What was core in the early days may have shifted as the company or product offer matured.  Often, however, what has not shifted is how it was all getting done.

Take some time to assess your current go-to-market strategies and how resources (whether people, tools and technology, or partnerships) are allocated.  Here is a good list of actions you can take yourself or as a leadership team:

Reaffirm what makes you special in the marketplace as a team.

  • As a leadership team, get together and restate what you believe to be the secret sauce of what makes you (or will be making you in earlier phases) unique and differentiated and valuable to the markets/customers you seek to attract.

Take an inventory of where your resources are focused.

  • Where is the key high potential talent or key leadership inside the company spending their time
  • What processes or capabilities are expending the most personnel or financial resources?
  • Should some of these processes be automated or out-tasked?
  • Have you over-invested in one type of skill because it is closer to your comfort zone as a leader?
  • Even more critically, have you under-invested in a skill because as a leader you discount the value of that skill – even though it may be the most critical for early market traction?

Map out which activities or processes by percentages of time or money expended in  either core or context.

  • Activities and resource in support of your special sauce are CORE – the activities that support what makes you unique in the market and uniquely valuable to the customers you serve or wish to serve;
  • All other activities fall in the area of CONTEXT.  Note, however, this does not mean that context is not important.  It is table stakes – you do not get a lot of credit in the marketplace from your clients/prospects because you have it, but you would or could be dismissed if you did not or if you executed it poorly;

Precision is not required here.  Something as simple as taking a quick look at your calendar for the last month and identifying where your time was spent as a leader and coming up with the percentage of time spent in Core vs Context can be telling.

If this example to the left is the core high potential talent team or the leadership team of GreatNew Company, there may be an excellent opportunity for innovation or change in the operational or business model.

Maybe it’s time to check out staffing up Jimmy’s group so that he is not personally so engaged in context?

Maybe most of what Susan was doing can now be outsourced with her oversight since it is increasing in volume but not changing from a process standpoint?

Make sense?  How often do you believe this type of exercise is most useful in your environment?  If you need more structure for accomplishing this, give us a call.  We have conducted simple and short or longer more in depth workshops for client teams around this very context.  It opens up lots of interesting options for innovations, but more importantly keeps your company and leaders freshly focused on what makes you special and what is believed to be most important to achieve your big audacious goals for growth!

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