Thinking outside the box at Management World Americas

I recently attended TM Forum’s Management World Americas in Orlando, the largest BSS/OSS event in the industry. The key theme of this year’s event was about how to unlock new monetization opportunities as carriers look to recoup network investments. One approach discussed was to leverage existing networks and service enablers. The other approach to monetization discussed was to create of new services—cloud services were probably the most talked about development at the event. I thought this poster I saw at the event was a poignant reminder of the vast untapped potential that many see in existing services.

Several of the keynotes and debates were around enabling the two-sided business model suggested by the Telco 2.0 initiative.

I agree that these are indeed great opportunities, yet the orthodoxies of the industry are clearly holding us all back from exploiting these and other opportunities.

Innovation Workshop – What happens when we let go of our preconceptions?

I always present, moderate a session track, or lead some other activity at Management World events that I attend. This time, the forum added a new format on the third day: “intensive debate”. Within this framework, I led an interactive workshop on “Digital Service Innovation – the new era of service provider innovation”. Here are a few pictures from the workshop as well as a short video. As you can see, it was very interactive.

httpvh://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g4WjLdMq3z4

Orthodoxies that hold us back

We began the workshop by prodding and realizing what are the most “deeply held beliefs”, assumptions, or “orthodoxies” in our industry or companies. Because we believe so strongly in them, we hardly stray to defy them – and that’s how these orthodoxies hold us back. Here are a few of those orthodoxies participants came up with that represent deeply-held beliefs across the telecom industry:

  • We are trusted dinosaurs that do networks
  • We will always be there
  • We have to do it all ourselves
  • We do not tolerate failure
  • The customer must buy from us
  • We’re network-centric, not service-centric
  • The old business model is good enough
  • We’re afraid to get away from our core
  • Whatever we install must last 10 years
  • We must focus on what we know best, look at ARPU
  • We are large, process-driven à slow delivery
  • What worked last year will work next year
  • We provide an indispensible utility
  • We are not innovative

One can only imagine how many opportunities have been missed, and continue to be missed, by our industry due to these and other orthodoxies. However, by recognizing them, and deliberately breaking them, we can think outside the box.

Later in the workshop we used a method called “break an assumption” in order to generate ideas. For example, by breaking the assumption “we cannot tolerate failure”, a participant came up with the idea of “identifying two niche services to develop, targeting teens or seniors, and bring them to market regardless of the risk of failure”. Breaking the assumption “whatever we install, it must last 10 years”, someone came up with the alternative assumption that “stuff changes FAST” which inspired him to raise the idea “partner, partner, and partner with innovators… focus on how to partner NOW”.

Tossing ideas in the air, literally!

Once we understood the orthodoxies holding us back, we posed our challenge, which was “What are key new services that communication service providers can launch to create their next wave of innovation?” and began our “brainwriting” exercise. In this exercise, each participant wrote ideas on paper and threw them to the middle, picked up other ideas, added to them – and in each round I offered different inspiration and instruction on adding ideas, to keep the creativity flowing. While doing so, we deliberately broke many of the orthodoxies and assumptions we hold.

Some interesting ideas

Here are a few interesting and raw (copied from the notes) ideas that came up (among the hundreds of ideas):

  • Every time you turn on your mobile device it provides a NEW set of music, movies, news, shopping, and other items based on personal preferences. The service improves its suggestions ability over time by learning from your past behavior.
  • Use mobile triangulation to stop drug dealing: service providers provide surveillance cameras in public areas and combine with profiles and data to predict and track criminal activity. Meet with law enforcement to create a win-win solution.
  • MyTV: deliver ability to upload video and pictures to an IPTV service provider who renders it out to granny’s MyTV VOD stream. Granny can see videos and pictures without a PC. Include other content, voice command, 3D, touch screen TV. Partner with Facebook to deliver personal content on TV – MyFacebook Channel.
  • No subsidies, no contracts, come and go as you please service offerings.
  • New employee to become CTO assistant for a week – to come at problems with a fresh perspective.

In about 20 minutes, we came up with nearly 200 ideas. Out of them, there are some real gems.

Prioritizing and selecting the ideas

When innovating, it’s important to come up with a lot of different ideas as it inspires additional breakthroughs. Once you have a lot of ideas, it’s important to evaluate them and focus on the ones that bring the most value per effort. So in order to narrow down the ideas, we used a priority matrix and dot voting. We considered both the ease of implementation as well as the payoff on a priority matrix and then copied all the ideas from the “quick wins” quadrant onto a mind map. We then used dot voting to choose the most compelling. The ideas selected “best” by the participants are here:

The innovation tools and techniques

In this short 75-minute session, we used a few creativity and innovation tools from the Amdocs Innovation Pack, which contains 30 techniques for thinking creatively, either as individuals or in groups, to yield powerful results and insights. In the workshop, the tools we used in rapid succession were: Orthodoxies, Challenge Statement, Break an Assumption, Brainwriting, Priority matrix, Mind Mapping, and Dot Voting.

At Amdocs, we have trained over 3,000 employees in use of these tools, and we use them often.

Feedback

Even though this was the last day of the conference, which typically suffers from sparse participation, we had about 50 participants in this energetic workshop. Participants experienced lots of “aha” moments as we innovated together on the future of the industry. Steve Cotton, who currently heads up the revenue management initiative within TMF, beat me to the punch and wrote a glowing blog post about his experience in this session, calling it “a session to remember”. Thx, Steve.

I’d love to hear more from participants in this workshop about their personal experience.

4 thoughts on “Thinking outside the box at Management World Americas”

  1. A very interesting post. The notion that companies must think beyond the orthodoxies to be remain competitive and survive has spread. I believe most of the thoughts listed would be already overlooked by companies that are growing.
    We also see in practice the ideas to generate more capital – most of the applications are now learning the user behavior and customizing all the offerings based on the user’s preferences, NFC for mobiles shall allow credit card replacements, voice translation was demoed earlier this year by Google.
    Nevertheless it is seen as growing trend for companies to be aiming for retaining clients and increasing profits by personalizing the user experience.
    What i would like to point out is that there has been a gap between the services offered to across the globe which now seems to be narrowing down with the services that are only made possible by latest technological advances being offered almost at the same time in the emerging markets. This however,at least in my opinion, is not in coherence with the increase in users for these services in the emerging markets. The growth in user base for such services might fall back and cannot compete with the explosive increase in the services that can be offered. At this point the service providers, who are racing to bag most of the data users, must also keep into consideration the larger percentage of population which is also a part of consumer community. Keeping these “voice or non data users” also as an integral part of the new business model would secure further the possibility of the growth.

  2. An interesting and challenging read.
    I took part in one of the innovation workshops and I have occasionally used some of the techniques. However to read about senior people in the industry using this stuff and coming up with all those challenges to their orthodoxies was really eye-opening.
    Great job Tal!!

  3. In our company we are regularly running innovation workshops, using the techniques described here and some others. As one of the facilitators of these workshops I encourage each of the readers of this post to look for such workshops and promote innovation thinking and activities within their organizations. Without regular innovative thinking and regular innovation activities, which “force” people to think out of the box, break orthodoxies and assumptions, companies will stagnate and disappear. This is true for every industry, but especially for our dynamic and unpredictable communication world.

  4. Tal,

    Cheers. Many fond memories of challenging sacred cows, overcoming the hives / rashes associated with them, and then sacrificing 1 or 2. This works particularly well when incorporated into the budgeting cycles for products. In forcing a move away from funding status-quo and comfort zones, even if people aren’t intentionally innovating, they are definitely forced to challenge their orthodoxies. Naturally, it helps if this isn’t simply used as a back-door to cut costs, and is sold as part of a broader approach to everyday innovation.

    Brian

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