Semantics of "innovation"

“Culture eats strategy for breakfast”. © Peter Drucker.

In this post I am analyzing why traditional telecommunication industry still has issues with innovation in the current cloud solutions era.

And why even when telecommunication operators are trying to hire engineers, developers with innovative thinking and cloud experience, they still fail to deliver innovations continuously.

The problem with innovations in telecom industry

In my previous article called «Telecom industry needs refactoring» I wrote about telecom operators searching for the next miracle solution, the next technological leap forward.

The interesting phenomenon inside telecom operators is that there are a lot of internal talks about “virtualization”, “cloud native” and “innovations”. I cannot say that telecommunication operators are not trying to be innovative. Their management always talks about innovations, they try to form new organization structures, try to follow path of Spotify, Netflix, Google and other companies. Operators try to launch different innovative projects, PoC (Proof of Concept), pilot projects…

But then strange things happen:

  • New organization structure is created.
  • Managers and leaders are nominated.
  • Engineering resources are re-distributed.
  • New talented and skillful developers with “virtualization” and “cloud native” experience are hired.
  • Then top management waits for the break through and… nothing happens or almost nothing.
    • Moreover, fresh and ambitious developers got disappointed and leave.
    • Innovative projects fail to deliver or fail to go in production.

Why has it continuing to happen? Why ambitious, creative people cannot stay long in the current telecom operators? There is clearly some conflict, some misunderstanding.

Semantics is the key or “innovation” ≠ “innovation”

Wardley map: Innovation ≠ Innovation

Wardley map: Innovation ≠ Innovation

Book about Wardley maps.1

Management understanding of “innovation”

In the process of creation of the new organizational structure telecom operator puts experienced, proved telecom industry managers in charge of new teams and departments. Those people come from the old world, where telecom operators buy innovative solutions from the suppliers (vendors and/or integrators). Telecom operators only operate solutions built for them by others.

Old school management see «innovation» as a ready to use product or platform they only operate/use. In this case «innovation» is understood similar to buying new model of the iPhone or Tesla car. This «innovation» is not developed by the operator, the product development cycle responsibility lays on the supplier’s shoulders. Managers tend to shift responsibility to suppliers.

Developers of cloud native applications view on “innovation”

“Fresh blood” people eager to innovate and build innovations. And for them «innovation» means things they build themselves, create. This means product ownership - being in charge of the product development cycle, its features, quality. They do not want to shift responsibility, they want to be responsible. Ambitions of building and owning new solutions is not supported by management, because semantics of the word «innovation» are not the same between them.

Is there way out from this conflict?

I see following steps:

  • Step 1: organization/company must define what word «innovation» means for it. Is it a home grown, new, unique thing or new product/platform from the market? Is it about own development of a new or buying and operating of a new?
  • Step 2: create organizational structure which fits definition above.
  • Step 3: hire people with appropriate aptitude.

There is no need to pretend being innovative in the meaning of create own products if your company culture is not ready for it. And it is very hard (or even impossible) to change culture of the large organization. If there is a real aim for true innovation and ownership of innovative products, then making of independent daughter company with the appropriate culture from the scratch can be a better option.