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Looking for the clever idea that changes everthing? It doesn’t have to be big, or new – just different.   

We talked with Adrian Furner, CEO of Kommercialize, to discover top lessons in commercial innovation that contract management professionals can learn today. 

Which is more important - commercial or technical innovation? “Arguably you can’t have one without the other,” says Adrian Furner in this IACCM interview. “We can learn a lot from business giants such as Starbucks who have been innovative since their inception with things like free wi-fi, linking store music to iTunes, and the ‘My Starbucks Idea’ site, to name a few1. Relationships, business models and partnered approaches can make all the difference.”

IACCM Conference a rare opportunity to share

“Innovation is seen as business critical in most organizations, but we don’t often create time to share what we are doing. An exception to that was IACCM’s European conference in (May 8-10, 2017), when almost 100 participants turned up early on the first morning and shared more than 70 ideas on innovation.”

“The Innovation Workshop I am leading at IACCM’s upcoming Americas Conference October 11-13, 2017 will provide a further opportunity and all signs point to a repeat of the enthusiasm we saw at the European event.”

“We use a simple model to identify and categorize the innovative things people are doing, From this we are typically able to identify four areas where IACCM members are contributing to successful innovation:

  • Moving beyond transactional improvements to demonstrating strategic value-add and breaking down preconceptions;
  • Thinking and acting like business people, creating new business models, leveraging relationships, and thinking like users and customers.
  • Undertaking activities that address challenges in relation to people, sharing and interfaces. Also, usability and simplification, to drive enhanced business outcomes. 
  • Really focusing on the ‘how’ as well as the ‘what’ to create value, by blending people, processes, and tools.

“What impressed me was not only the number of participants at the workshop, but their willingness to share what they are doing. We ran out of time rather than lacking people willing to share in that open forum. IACCM’s upcoming Americas conference will give us more insights – we’ll be looking at how we can maximize time for this workshop!

How would you describe the difference between invention and innovation?

Invention is about creating something new, whereas innovation introduces the concept of the use of an idea, not just its creation. The definition that I keep coming back to is also the simplest, five words created by Scott Anthony: that innovation is “something different that has impact.” It doesn’t always have to be new, just different.

Commercial innovation is anything that isn’t classified as scientific or technical, so this includes innovations around things like contracting, business models, operations and customer experience. 

What three things increase the chances of succeeding with innovation initiatives? 

“That’s an interesting challenge. In the recently published Professional Services Leadership Handbook2, which I co-authored, we look at the challenges of innovating and leading innovation. It is a practical book based on our research and experience, along with that of the many role models we interviewed. We highlight nine lessons of innovation, but if I had to distil them down to three these would be: 

  • Think about the skills you need
    What are the skills you need in the team? Think about including people from outside your team and also from outside your organization. It’s been said that 90% of good ideas are killed in the first 10 seconds, so think about the leadership environment you need to create. 
  • Think about the end to end process
    It’s not just about new ideas, it’s about create impact. If you don’t have an end to end process the first bump in the road can kill the innovation. Really innovative organizations accept that often they have to loop back, regroup and re-invent, and above all be resilient. A robust phased process that includes piloting can help give people confidence, even with the most radical of innovations.
  • It’s a portfolio game
    Make sure you’re mapping your innovation projects, and actively managing and balancing your portfolio. In a world of continuous change we need not only to find our 10% innovations, we also need to identify our 10x innovations if we want to thrive. 

Editor’s Note: A detailed summary of Adrian’s European workshop results can be found in the post-workshop report, and are also discussed in a webinar on this topic. Both are available to members in the IACCM library:


Adrian Furner is Managing Director of Kommercialize, the practitioner-led advisory firm focused on commercial excellence. Adrian has held senior corporate leadership positions in which he was responsible for commercial, procurement, and operations, acting as both a customer and a supplier of a diverse range of professional services.

Adrian has an engineering and business background with a degree in Production Engineering and Management, spanning a wide range of topics from design to production techniques; applied mathematics to accounting; and strategy to operations research, skills he has used in a variety of commercial, contracting, and procurement roles. He maintains a strong interest in technology and engineering, is a member of the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) and takes an active role as a leader within the IACCM community.


  1. Business giant Starbucks has proved the value of impactful innovation consistently over more than four decades of successful trading, maintaining its competitive edge.


  • 2 Professional Services Leadership Handbook by Nigel Clark, Ben Kent, Alastair Beddow and Adrian Furner: How to Lead a Professional Services Firm in a New Age of Competitive Disruption, available at

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