From Empty Rhetoric to Meaningful Impact

Mission-Driven Innovation / Fall 2017 Report

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81 Executives say that purpose-driven firms deliver higher quality products/services, but only 46 percent said a purpose informs their strategic and operational decision-making.(a)


1,500+ We’ve used machine learning to analyze 1,500+ press releases from major public and private organizations, and to reveal what is driving their innovation.


The same heuristics could be applied to any private, public, and nonprofit organization. We believe that mission-driven innovation could foster creativity and encourage new types of partnerships.


In this report:


Apple, Google, Tesla, Microsoft, Amazon, Netflix, Samsung, Toyota, Facebook, IBM, Wikimedia, the University of Cambridge, the UK government, the European Commission.




(a) Reading, writing, and research in the digital age (Pew Research Center, Nov. 2013).

The Overall Issue: Lack of Purpose

“We live in a world where there is more and more information, and less and less meaning. […] No relief, no perspective, no vanishing point where the gaze might risk losing itself, but a total  screen where, in their uninterrupted display, the billboards and the products themselves act as equivalent and successive signs.” Jean Baudrillard, Simulacra and Simulation, 1981

With these words, the French philosopher Jean Baudrillard describes the empty rhetoric often at play in consumerism, in which consumers, business owners and employees are constantly pressurized to create, produce and consume new products, without necessarily believing they will make any difference.

On a less philosophical level, although 81 percent of executives say that purpose-driven firms deliver higher quality products/services, only 46 percent said a purpose informs their strategic and operational decision-making, according to a global Harvard Business Review survey.

Without purpose, choice becomes a very relative concept. New technologies, solutions, and services might create the illusion of choice, but actually all follow a same paradigm. This lack of distinctiveness, either due to  a lack of  purpose or a badly executed purpose, leads ultimately to disengagement, as consumers, producers, citizens and, ultimately, human beings.

A Cause to Address: All-Purpose Innovation

It has become commonplace for businesses and public institutions to include innovation as part of their values. While the use of the word indicates a willingness to break the status quo, nowadays it is used in every possible context and does not provide much information about the culture and mission of a given organization.

Organizational values are meant to guide strategic decisions, and most decisions include a certain level of novelty. So innovation on its own cannot really provide much guidance.

Social innovation was meant to address this issue by explicitly connecting innovation with a social purpose. It is defined on the Stanford Graduate School of Business website as “the process of developing and deploying effective solutions to challenging and often systemic social and environmental issues in support of social progress”. However, social innovation has quickly become just another buzz word, since most business decisions have a social impact and this impact could always be presented as having a certain implicit purpose.

One way to promote purposeness and distinctiveness in decision-making processes is to engage in a real conversation about innovation. We believe that vagueness and non-commitment is harming innovation, inhibiting creativeness and new partnerships. And that corporations, nonprofit organizations and public institutions can only benefit in spending more effort in elaborating more clearly, and explaining more publically, what drives their innovation efforts.

More than 1,500 press releases from top innovative companies analyzed

We’ve used machine learning to analyze 1,500+ press releases from major public and private organizations, and to reveal what is driving their innovation. We have chosen for our study the ten most innovative companies according to Boston Consulting Group (2016), along with a small sample of four organizations from the nonprofit and public sector: Wikimedia, the University of Cambridge, the European Commission (Digital Economy and Society section), and the UK government (press releases related to innovation).

For each organization, we have extracted the most important terms used in their 100+ press releases using IBM Watson. We have then mapped these words using GloVe pre-trained word vectors (Stanford University): a model based on Wikipedia (2014) and Gigaword 5 (2011) in which the more often two words appear together, the more they will be closely located in a multidimensional space. We have then visualized the results using TensorBoard, an open-source software library developed by Google. All the code used to obtain our results is publicly available on our Github page.

The result is a series of semantic word clouds based on the data extracted in the 1,500+ press releases and information available on Wikipedia and Gigaword.

An Overview of Social Innovation

“Innovation”



Innovation


Facebook: technology, development, engineering, computing, diversity

Google: technology, technologies, enterprise, leveraging, expertise

Microsoft: technology, development, creative, intellectual, productivity

Samsung: technology, technologies, innovations, design, enterprise

Toyota: technology ,development, design, research, product

Apple(*): technology, technologies, design, ways, affordable

Amazon(*): flex, willingness, marketplace, startups, integrate

Europe: technology, technologies, innovations, innovate, creative

UK: technology, technologies, innovative, innovate, intellectual

Cambridge(*): design, creative, ambitious, interdisciplinary, cutting-edge


Source and methodology on http://plural.world

Order not relevant; in color are words that appear for at least 3 companies; (*) search for “innovative” instead of “innovation”.

From all the press releases that we have gathered, IBM Watson has identified innovation and innovative as keywords in 10 out of the 14 organizations studied. For each organization , we looked at the five terms closest to innovation, based on a GloVe vector model trained using Wikipedia (2014) and Gigaword 5 (2011) .

Technology, development, creative, and design are words used by many organizations along with innovation, and thus do not convey much information about their mission or culture.

Our results have displayed less prominent but more revealing innovation-related terms, such as leveraging (Google), productivity (Microsoft), marketplace (Amazon) and interdisciplinary (University of Cambridge).

“Products”


Products

Amazon: consumer, sales, foods, electronics,sold

Apple: product, technology, technologies, stores, sold

Google: customers, industry, technologies, quality, hardware

Microsoft: companies, sales, stores, supplier, marketing

Samsung: consumer, product, processed, appliances, electronics

Tesla: product, stores, company, equipment, software

Netflix(*): customer, company, quality, production, content

Toyota(*): customer, sales, marketing, manufacturing, production

Europe: consumer, sales, industry, technologies, companies

UK: consumer, industries, industry, food, manufacturing


Source and methodology on http://plural.world

Order not relevant; in color are words that appear for at least 3 companies; (*) search for “product” instead of “products”.

Products was another term used in many of the press releases and we thought it could provide interesting information about the kind of innovation pursued by each organization. Using the same method as for innovation, we have identified the following widespread terms used in conjunction with products: consumer/customer, sales, technology, industry, company, and stores. Only less frequent terms such as foods, electronics, appliances, content or manufacturing provided the first clues to each company’s sector of activity.

“Social”



Social

Amazon: health, economic, education, benefits, organizations

Facebook: health, development, policy, topics, life

Google: health, society, policy, ideas, programs

Toyota: development, environmental, financial, community, sense

Cambridge: health, economic, issues, conservative, context

Europe: health, economic, education, society, cultural

UK: health, economic, education, liberal, intellectual


Source and methodology on http://plural.world

Order not relevant; in color are words that appear for at least 3 companies.

Health, economic, and education all appear in at least three of the organizations we studied. While they certainly add meaning, we found that their widespread and consensual use in innovation was not particularly helpful at identifying the mission and values of the organizations we analyzed. We found terms such as cultural, intellectual, liberal, and conservative more informative, even though the appearance of the latter two in our results for the University of Cambridge and the UK government should be questioned.

“Community”



Community


Facebook: support, communities, development, public, campus

IBM: support, school, education, public, organizations

Microsoft: support, local, school, development, education

Toyota: support, development, students, efforts, social

Cambridge: communities, local, population, council, residents

Europe: support, culture, cultural, society, citizens

UK: support, local, schools, council, campus

Wikimedia: communities, local, organizations, organization, non-profit


Source and methodology on http://plural.world

Order not relevant; in color are words that appear for at least 3 companies.

Community was a word identified by IBM Watson in 8 organizations. Its ambivalence makes it an interesting term to study. Support, local, and schools are words often related to communities, and thus don’t provide much information. We found the terms culture, citizens, and non-profit much more telling. Community was the only of our four terms in which a clear distinction could be made between the public and private sector.

See results organization-by-organization

Our recommendation

Our A.I.-based methodology was very simple but can nevertheless provide insights on what innovation means for each organization.

  • It could be easily extended to more businesses and organizations.
  • More formal conclusions could be obtained by extracting all press releases from a given organization.
  • Results could also be more accurate by using context-dependant vector space models. This would avoid glitches such as confusing words related to Amazon the company with the forest, or Apple the company and the fruit.

 

The heuristics we have used to identify words that characterise top innovative companies could be applied to any private, public, or nonprofit organization. These words, once identified, could help shape a more distinct and mission-driven innovation strategy.

For instance, identifying “culture” as a distinct component of innovation from the European Commission’s perspective could guide some of their future initiatives, especially given the related words culture, heritage, social, intellectual, and society. Interdisciplinarity could, if not already the case, serve as a compass for innovation as practised by the University of Cambridge, with humanities, cutting-edge, biomedical, academic, and biology as related concepts. If implemented correctly, directions such as these could help public institutions regain a central role in domains that have been monopolized by businesses, and lead to what we call multi-competition: a state of competition between corporations as well as organizations with varied structures and non-economic goals. Such directions could also offer more guarantees for these institutions to retain their difference and not fall into the “business innovation” catch-all paradigm.

In the private sector, Amazon could focus more on its social annotation on marketplaces, and Facebook on communities (with a focus on diversity as their press releases already suggest). The concept of leveraging would seem to be worth exploring by Google, with interesting connections to cloud-based, expertise, googler, apis and innovation. Tesla, finally, could ensure it keep a forward-looking approach to any social project it is involved with.

These different ways to qualify what each organization’s innovation is about could help explore new partnerships. If, for the sake of our example, the organizations above were going to use the suggested term to focus their innovation, they could imagine what cultural leverage means (European Commision + Google), what a cultural marketplace could be (European Commission + Amazon), or where a forward-looking and interdisciplinary spirit could lead (Tesla + University of Cambridge).

By being more specific, and not being afraid to pursue different goals and have distinct values, public and private organizations could create a dynamic that fosters innovation. The terms identified in our report are based on existing press releases, and might not yet be far-reaching enough to create a truly pluralistic culture of innovation, but they could certainly constitute a first step, injecting some meaning and real choices in the discipline.

Keywords

innovation, public relations, corporate culture, mission statement, values, press releases, machine learning, NLP, vector space models, tensorflow, watson, social innovation

Organization-by-Organization analysis (For Profit)

Top 10 most innovative companies according to Boston Consulting Group (2016).

1. Apple



Apple



Words most closely related to “apple”:



  • Featured in Apple’s own press releases(1) : iphone, ipad, imac, software, ios, app, macbook, chip, (orchard), product.

  • Featured in other (1,400+) press releases(2) : iphone, software, smartphone, app, laptop.

  • Companies closest to Apple, based on all press releases(3) : microsoft, ibm, google, android, hewlett


Our word pick for Apple’s innovation:


Design

Words most closely related to design in Apple’s press releases(4) : innovative, models, original, engine, technology


Source and methodology on http://plural.world

Notes:

  • Samsung doesn’t appear as one of Apple’s closest competitors, possibly because terms such as smartphone and android are prefered in press releases.
  • The reason why orchard is one of the most closely related terms to Apple is because of its connection with the apple fruit (word similarities are based on the wikipedia corpus), and of a press release about Apple opening a new store on Orchard road in Singapore.

2. Google



Google



Words most closely related to “Google”:



  • Featured in Google’s own press releases(1) : android, search, app, content, website, google.org, phones, mobile, maps, customers

  • Featured in other (1,400+) press releases(2) : internet, web, online, browser, users

  • Companies closest to Google, based on all press releases(3) : microsoft, facebook, amazon, apple, twitter


Our word pick for Google’s innovation:


Leveraging


Words most closely related to leveraging in Google’s press releases(4) : cloud-based, expertise, googler, apis, innovation


Source and methodology on http://plural.world

Notes:

  • There is a discrepancy between google-related words detected in all press releases, in which Google is very strongly associated with the internet as a whole, and the ones used by Google, which are more specific.

3. Tesla



Tesla



Words most closely related to “Tesla”:



  • Featured in Tesla’s own press releases(1) : roadster, musk, motors, (edison), elon, lithium-ion, solarcity, electric, forward-looking, fremont

  • Featured in other (1,400+) press releases(2) : roadster, musk, motors, (edison), electric, lithium-ion

  • Companies closest to Tesla, based on all press releases(3) : (nvidia), (vodafone), toyota


Our word pick for Tesla’s innovation:


Forward-looking


Words most closely related to forward-looking in Tesla’s press releases(4) : powerpack, evanson, lithium-ion, lesnik, cto


Source and methodology on http://plural.world

Notes:

  • Edison probably appears in the words most closely related to Tesla because of a “Southern California Edison” utility in one of Tesla’s press releases, and the historic rivalry between Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison.
  • Nvidia wrongly appears in the top Tesla competitors list because of the NVIDIA® Tesla® GPU. Perhaps the connection between Vodafone and Tesla comes from the two companies’ interest in cars; this hypothesis would, however, require more investigation in the Wikipedia corpus.

4. Microsoft



Microsoft



Words most closely related to “Microsoft”:



  • Featured in Microsoft’s own press releases(1) : software, browser, windows, xbox, server, linux, powerpoint, adobe, web, sql

  • Featured in other (1400+) press releases(2) : software, browser, internet

  • Companies closest to Microsoft, based on all press releases(3) : google, ibm, apple, hewlett, amazon


Our word pick for Microsoft’s innovation:


Productivity


Words most closely related to productivity in Microsoft’s press releases(4) : growth, innovation, economy, productive, labor


Source and methodology on http://plural.world

5. Amazon



Amazon



Words most closely related to “Amazon”:



  • Featured in Amazon’s own press releases(1) : amazon.com, kindle, ec2, iphone, seller, ecosystem, aws, app, search, catalog

  • Featured in other (1,400+) press releases(2) : (brazil), (peru), download

  • Companies closest to Amazon, based on all press releases(3) : netflix, google, ipad (Apple), Rackspace


Our word pick for Amazon’s innovation:


Marketplace


Words most closely related to design in Amazon’s press releases(4) : marketplaces, market, innovate, sellers, shopping


Source and methodology on http://plural.world

Notes:

  • Brazil and Peru appearing in the words most closely related to Amazon shows the limitation of our machine-learning approach, where the context is not taken into account and it is impossible to distinguish between the Amazon forest and the company.

6. Netflix



Netflix



Words most closely related to “Netflix”:



  • Featured in Netflix’s own press releases(1) : isp, android, app, providers, tvs, internet, miso, users, hbo, browser

  • Featured in other (1,400+) press releases(2) : streaming, subscription, downloads, subscribers, on demand

  • Companies closest to Netflix, based on all press releases(3) : amazon.com, xbox, kindle


Our word pick for Netflix’s innovation:


Producer

Words most closely related to producer in Netflix’s press releases(4) : production, award-winning, writer, performer, showrunner


Source and methodology on http://plural.world

Notes:

  • What doesn’t show in our results is the focus in Netflix’s press releases on future film and series releases on its platform. This absence might be due to the very varied terms used to describe each series and film, or the relatively old reference corpus (Wikipedia in 2014).

7. Samsung



Samsung



Words most closely related to “Samsung”:



  • Featured in Samsung’s own press releases(1) : electronics, dram, smartphone, smartphones, chip, tvs, galaxy, mobile, automotive, unveils

  • Featured in other (1,400+) press releases(2) : electronics, smartphone, motors, corp, korea, chip

  • Companies closest to Samsung, based on all press releases(3) : sony, ibm


Our word pick for Samsung’s innovation:


Electronics

Words most closely related to design in Samsung’s press releases(4) : automotive, appliances, consumer, technology, tech


Source and methodology on http://plural.world


8. Toyota



Toyota



Words most closely related to “Toyota”:



  • Featured in Toyota’s own press releases(1) : camry, prius, lexus, motor, corrola, rav4, 4runner, dealerships, car, vehicles

  • Featured in other (1,400+) press releases(2) : motor, auto, cars, sedans, vehicle

  • Companies closest to Toyota, based on all press releases(3) : ford, (general) motors


Our word pick for Toyota’s innovation:


Production

Words most closely related to production in Toyota’s press releases(4) : manufacturing, factory, plant, product, sales


Source and methodology on http://plural.world

Notes:

  • Toyota’s press releases are very much focussed on their models, and the words most closely related to the company are thus not so interesting in terms of understanding its mission. What is maybe more useful are the words shared only by Tesla and Toyota: drivers, investigator, motor, factory, rally, and vehicle.

9. Facebook



Facebook



Words most closely related to “Facebook”:



  • Featured in Facebook’s own press releases(1) : Zuckerberg, blog, web, online, email, users, apps, app, chat, page

  • Featured in other (1,400+) press releases(2) : blog, website, networking, web, online

  • Companies closest to Facebook, based on all press releases(3) : twitter, linkedin, google


Our word pick for Facebook’s innovation:


Communities

Words most closely related to communities in Facebook’s press releases(4) : groups, diverse, people, live, diversity


Source and methodology on http://plural.world


10. IBM



IBM



Words most closely related to “IBM”:



  • Featured in IBM’s own press releases(1) : mainframe, dell, emc, software, computing, amonk, servers, linux, sony, db2

  • Featured in other (1400+) press releases *2: software, computing, servers, hardware

  • Companies closest to IBM, based on all press releases(3) : hewlett, microsoft, dell, apple, emc


Our word pick for IBM’s innovation:


Support



  • Words most closely related to support in IBM’s press releases(4) : provide, organizations, initiative, community, join


 


Source and methodology on http://plural.world

Organization-by-Organization Analysis (Non Profit)

Wikimedia



Wikimedia



Words most closely related to “Wikimedia”:



  • Featured in Wikimedia’s own press releases(1) : wikipedia, wiki, foundation, wikimania, gnu

  • Featured in other (1,400+) press releases(2) : sdk(?), foundation

  • Companies closest to Wikimedia, based on all press releases(3) : google.org, linkedin


Our word pick for Wikimedia’s innovation:


Knowledge

Words most closely related to knowledge in Wikimedia’s press releases(4) : information, access, source, faith, education


Source and methodology on http://plural.world


University of Cambridge



Cambridge



Keywords detected by IBM Watson, and only shared between the United Kingdom government (press releases using the word “innovation”) and the University of Cambridge: Stephen, sir, innes, medical, carbon, sussex, council, schools, early, humanities, sciences, noise, higher, prize, disease, matters, competition, role, oxford, biomedical. The overlap is the most significant among all the organizations we have studied.


Our word pick for the University of Cambridge’s innovation:


Interdisciplinary


Words most closely related to design in the University of Cambridge’s s press releases(4) : humanities, cutting-edge, biomedical, academic, biology


Source and methodology on http://plural.world

United Kingdom government (gov.uk)



United Kingdom



Keywords detected by IBM Watson, and only shared between the United Kingdom government (press releases using the word “innovation”) and the European Commission (Digital Economy and Society section) : founding, defence, commission, regulatory, sme, skills, coalition


Our word pick for the United Kingdom’s innovation:


Skills

Words most closely related to skills in the United Kingdom’s press releases(4) : expertise, tools, innovative, education, work


Source and methodology on http://plural.world


European Commission (europa.eu)



European Commission



Keywords detected by IBM Watson, and only shared between the University of Cambridge, the United Kingdom government (press releases using the word “innovation”), and the European Commission  (Digital Economy and Society section) : Authority, regional, programme, industrial


Our word pick for the European Commission’s innovation:


Cultural

Words most closely related to cultural in European Commission’s press releases(4) : culture, heritage, social, intellectual, society


Source and methodology on http://plural.world

Notes

(1) Top 10 closest keywords to the company name extracted from its press releases using IBM Watson NLP. Word closeness is based on GloVe word vectors trained on Wikipedia (2014) and Gigaword 5 (2011).

(2) Same as (1) but on all press releases analyzed as part of this project. Competitors and words identified only in the press releases of the company itself have been removed from this list.

(3) Competitors as identified in (2).

(4) Keywords that have been identified by IBM Watson NLP only for these organizations (and not for any others covered in this report).

 

Disclaimer – please use the following reference when using this report: Mission-Driven Innovation – from Empty Rhetoric to Meaningful Impact, Christophe Bruchansky, Plural think tank, Oct. 2017