The Value of Innovation Workshops to Business: Interview with Jo Reid


8 minute read
Jo Reid

Jo Reid

Chief Executive Officer

Aerospace & Engineering

Digital Insights

Calvium’s innovation workshops are designed to be a structured and creative approach to ideation. The intent is to help businesses come up with new, concrete and viable concepts – underpinned by digital technologies – that can advance their organisations. Key to success is recognising those concepts which can be successfully turned into tangible outputs and fully integrated into an organisation’s current context.

Our claims are based on our success in working with Rolls-Royce on a series of ground-breaking projects such as the NAVAIR project, which emanated from an innovation workshop we ran with them. 

In this interview, Managing Director Jo Reid walks us through the process of running an innovation workshop the Calvium way.

How does Calvium approach an innovation workshop?

I see our innovation workshops as a way of helping our clients better understand the practical capabilities of digital technologies and how these technologies might support them and enhance their businesses. It’s a way to help them differentiate what’s hype from what’s practical and actionable and really gives them an edge.

Having said that, we don’t take a tech-first perspective. We encourage the workshop participants to look at their businesses holistically and in an open way. The workshops provide a space and time for people to think openly, creatively and practically about how we might change, or positively disrupt, aspects of their business. They are designed to uncover real-world insights and valuable surprises in ways that can lead to practical application. For industry leaders interested in digital transformation our innovation workshops can be a practical catalyst for change.   

By working as we do, we can really centre-in on the problem areas or specific challenges that an organisation might have. Plus, once an idea or ideas have been identified as having promise we will always make sure that they are underpinned by the right technology. It’s important to note that it’s not necessarily the technology itself that’s the innovation, often the innovative aspect lies in how the technology is being used in a particular context, for example it gives some sort of new capability within the sector.

How has your work in aerospace become integral to your innovation workshop process?

In aerospace, we usually tailor our workshops to focus on a client’s particular problems and work at a practical level. We then encourage the participants to think creatively about the specific issues so as to really push them along and identify a number of potential solutions. We’ve learnt that this type of format and style reaps results for our clients in aerospace, such as Rolls-Royce. 

An innovation workshop that really worked well in the early days of our partnership with Rolls-Royce, and is a model we try to replicate, was successful because the right team was present. It was also commissioned by the head of services and transformation—someone within the organisation responsible for leading change and – crucially – could sign-off budget. With this kind of authority, he was able to bring in the right team and ensure that people from different areas within his business participated.

Critically, two of the ideas that came up during that session with Rolls-Royce have gone forward. That’s the outcome we aim to repeat.

Image of an airport runway to highlight how innovation workshops have helped digital transformation in the aerospace sector

What were the lessons you learned from working with Rolls-Royce?

We achieved a practical way of really understanding how certain areas in aerospace work. We’ve gotten really good at that, with pockets of understanding about lots of different parts of the company. Calvium’s workshops allow us to achieve that with other companies as well, whether that be in the manufacturing or services sector.

We have learnt how to work in partnership with the internal IT teams to address needs of security and data integration. This trusted partnership means that we can take an early concept into full production and help make internal teams successful. We believe this approach can work for other large enterprises in the Aerospace sector who can benefit from a winning formula.

How is a typical innovation workshop structured?

The length of time can be varied and tuned, depending on the client’s needs, which team it is, and so forth. What do they want to get out of it? We recommend a minimum of two hours, though some people might want to take four hours, depending on how much they want to explore the space.

In terms of the structure, we’ll always start with practical examples and demonstrations. Set a little bit of familiarisation and shared reference — showing people in a practical way what the different things we’re talking about are. People at the workshop may or may not be less or more familiar with these ideas and examples. 

The idea is to have a common reference, a common framework, a common understanding of the kinds of things that we are talking about. This sets up the workshop really well.

For a few minutes, you’re asked to open out and look at things, think about things, and be in a creative dream-like state. And then, we get them to think: ‘From that inspiration, think about what you’re working on, what you know the problems are. Anything you see that might spark an idea, jot those down.’

Then they’re shared around the team and then we might introduce a voting process where people agree which are the interesting ideas that they might want to take further. We may develop these ideas a little bit further during the workshop or, if it’s a shorter session, Calvium might take them away and develop them ourselves. That’s an idea of a workshop structure, but they are designed specifically for each client and so attuned to each client’s needs and context.

What makes for a successful innovation workshop?

Ideally, irrespective of the sector, there would be a client champion. And then, we would like to include somebody who is a key decision-maker. I think the most valuable thing is if somebody is thinking of this as an active area and wants to take it seriously and take it further. And that’s the same for our aerospace clients as for digital placemaking, arts and cultural heritage and so forth.

That’s the ideal, because in any business the biggest blocker to actual change is not having the authority or the know-how or the right sign-off to get buy-in from people. You need to have that. That’s another reason for involving the right people in the workshop, because if it’s a joint idea that came out of that process, hopefully you’ve got buy-in from everybody who was there. That’s always a good starting point. It’s very rare that things can be solved in isolation. 

The insights that were gathered in the workshop, the thinking, and the value of the team being together, hopefully, is something that clients can see as a valuable end in itself. It is helpful to have that kind of expert assessment of whether or not there’s an easy short-term win or a recommendation of where to go.

It’s important to remember that any implementation of an innovation will always impact other parts of the organisation. What a business wants is for all parts of the business to be aware of the potential changes and be involved in designing them, being involved as a team – rather than being told what to do without being given the chance to be part of the process and provide their own critical insights.

How do innovation workshops fit into the kind of work Calvium wants to do going forward?

It’s really identifying those areas where a bespoke solution is worth developing, and that’s where the business of it is at as well. An innovation workshop is a good framework to open out with, so that you’re not locking in on the solution straight away. It gives us a chance to think across the client’s business about which areas would benefit most. Having that holistic view is also very useful for both the businesses and for us.

You can cascade that all down depending on the size of the organisation. If you are a factory manager, maybe you want all of your senior staff to attend and just think about your context—that’s a perfectly valid structure that still works.

At a larger scale, if you’re a big company or organisation, you might want to bring in all your functional managers together and do a cross-functional kind of workshop, so you get all those benefits. 

It depends on who resonates with it. Who has the mandate of driving improvements and has a thirst for trying to rectify things. If that’s part of your scope, then this is the right thing to do for you. 

Calvium’s innovation workshops are designed to help businesses to expand their thinking and to create practical solutions that can be applied to enhance, or radically transform, the company.

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