Building Collective Agility for Innovation

Collective Agility PostAgility is important to me. For me, agility and innovation have needed to always go together. I named my company Agility Innovation Specialists and at its core, we state that the value of this focus can offer a real “intensity in innovation” that we believe reflects today’s world of need.

We encourage you to disrupt the accepted, to constantly challenge the current ways and push into uncomfortable territory. We suggest you seek out customer’s unmet needs, unexplored opportunities to give a new diversity to any thinking, and then we set about accelerating these ideas to fruition. Those all need abundant and constant agility.

Many of our business organizations continue to struggle with innovation and how to make it repeatable, sustaining and transformational. Often, it seems, the more large organizations attempt to become ‘agile’ the more they seem to achieve the very opposite, of rigidity.

Finding solutions to building agility is part of the necessary answer to achieving greater innovation solutions.

Our aim is to strengthen the core by building in increasing ‘waves’ of agility within your business and enable a stronger set of sustaining innovation outcomes. This comes over time, from this need to have agility, flexibility, an open enquiring mind that looks to experiment and explore, making for an agile innovator and this needs diffusion across the entire organization and that does take time. I’m always looking to explore agility and recently came across the concept of “collective agility”

Then we have collective agility

I have been reading a good academic paper recently, one that I came across in my Big Data and Cloud research I have been undertaking. The paper is called “Collective Agility, Paradox and Organisational Improvisation” by Yingqin Zheng, Will Venters and Tony Cornford, found on the London School of Economics site, under the department of Management.

Their point gained from studying GridPP and its part in the Large Hadron Collider Computing Grid (LHC) where they observed a collective, agile and distributed performance rather than seeing ‘agility’ as small-group and deliberate systems development practices often associated with ‘agile’.

It got me curious. Here is my summary of their paper. It certainly offers some pointers to managing in more agile ways in complex and often disparate organization.

Collective agility is focused on the same objective: shared.

In terms of business, it means the mission is shared by all and this mobilizes each person in ways that I feel are tying agility to innovation in new ways, well for me anyway.

It is providing an environment where “unintended consequences” emerge, many positive, others less so, where random thoughts and ideas collide and through these exchanges within the community they form a “collective mindfulness” to solve these complex challenges.

Collective agility seems to require loose coupling, not heavy structures or rules, encouraging a culture of improvisation and constant ‘tinkering’ that comes from not just intelligence, trust and pragmatism but by the knowledge that lies within the community.

Collective agility needs to have minimal structure, flexible planning, extensive communication and social bonding, all working towards this coherent, facilitated and growing feeling of making good sense (sense-making) through this coordinated but distributed network.

It is totally reliant on the interactions and attention to coordination to achieve this ‘collective mindfulness’

The big “ah-huh” for me

Collective agility is about accepting what is unpredictable and uncontrollable yet working within given boundaries, actively working upon seeking out an improving performance and capability, to still perform in this circumstances of uncertainty.

Now for me, many organizations are grappling with uncertainty, volatility and unpredictable situations and resort to trying to master them in rigorous, highly disciplined ways.

This ‘collective agility’ is suggesting we go the other way, we let go, hang loose but stay collectively focused by just reacting in agile ways. Does that raise some different thinking for you, it does for me.

We are seeking out improved performance but in really agile ways across a distributed community or network. Large organizations today are regretfully still tackling thorny problems in ‘given silo’s’ and this ‘collective agility’ thinking might open up our ideas about collaborating and co-creating in different ways.

It is in the combining of performances, that tackle issues in improvised ways but within a trusted and pragmatic way. It creative productive tensions, dynamics and motivating challenges and the group feel that ‘capacity for action’, motivated to combine, share and explore together to solve the problem.

Rules, structures and organized events often inhibit and feel contrived, the idea behind ‘collective agility’ is it is more natural even within organization with established routines and strong cultures as they can bind, provide collective strength, as well as inhibit. It is seeking out the minimal structures, releasing the flexibility and bonding that can come from these routines and stronger cultures.

The when, what, who, where and how collective agility is performed

According to the authors, agility can be learnt through ‘learned improvisation’ where some established tools are dropped or removed and some ‘surprise, risk and wonder’ are allowed into the exchanges.

The atmosphere of experimentation, trust, shared goals and emotional bonds provide for confidence to grow, in sharing and learning from made mistakes, as it contributes to the ‘higher’ cause of what the community is tackling within these tough problems.

The group grows in its ‘sense of pride’ in working and searching for a higher cause and even willing to undertake unpopular tasks to move exchanges along. The motivation grows by this ‘collective agility’.

We often recognize improvisation and agility is more easily performed in small groups, jazz improvisation is often used to relate to this agility. The key is often the ambience and this can equally come from building out bigger communities to perform and exchange (notes)

The final thought is agility requires a mental attitude “to let go of control” to interact, to improvise but to seek to keep that sense of cohesiveness of constantly wanting to work things out, working consciously to keep moving forward towards the higher task.

Art and science fuse.

The authors suggest science becomes more like an art- visionary, experiential, passionate, agile and emergent. I’ve written about art and science before, see here “Renaissance comes from combining art and science for innovation“, so I can relate to this need to bring these two often separate practices into one again.

As I was working through this paper, replaying the conceptualization of ‘collective agility’, I liked the comment within the paper “agility for us is an expression of what people do or achieve, rather than what they might do or capabilities they hold

Then another important part of this paper is managing the Paradoxes

They also bring out Paradoxes and provide a helpful table of these seemingly conflicting ideas or paradoxes to build ‘collective agility’ in understanding. These are based on:

1) The paradoxes of learning: “as we struggle between the comfort of the past and the uncertainty of the future which are fundamental to the process of innovation, transformation and sense making”. Learned improvisation and reflective spontaneity.
2) The paradoxes of organising: “reflecting tensions between control and flexibility, formal and informal, integrated and differentiation denoting an ongoing process of striving for equilibrium of often opposing forces”. Planned agility and structured chaos.
3) The paradoxes of belonging: “we strive for both self-expression and collective affiliation”…but also being “self-driven, intelligent and creative people, yet they also have an acute appreciation that success relies on collaborative effort”. Collective individuality and anxious confidence.

They finish within the paper offering a useful tables highlighting some key organizational practices that help to make this collective agility work through these paradoxes.

We are constantly searching for agility to perform innovation

Agility is linked to change. Change is constantly throwing obstacles in our way. We are urged to be nimble, to react quickly, and to tackle challenges in new ways. Developing agility allows us to be in a constant ‘state’ of recognizing nothing is seemingly staying the same.

If we are feeling those around us, are all working towards the same goals, then we feel less inhibited, we may not like change but we gradually accept it. If others are reinforcing the necessary change though this ‘collective agility’ it can become a source of new hope, new discoveries, and a place for opportunity, with real excitement, full of possibilities

Gaining that critical sense of collective identity missing from many in our organizations.

By knowing “we” are collectively all working towards the same purpose, constantly having the progress mutually reinforced, allowing for clear debate but being pushed and moving forward, being allowed to freely exchange within a common purpose in ‘collective’ ways, then we are certainly are moving towards a more fluid, organizational agility.

This ‘collective agility’ might alter the ways we can tackle tough problems and work in volatile environments, that then can yield in collaborative ways, solutions that are more radical and breakthrough in innovation, something we should all be striving to achieve.

Certainly this does offer some interesting thoughts to take collaboration and co-creation further through this collective agility concept of greater improvising.

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The growing need is to move innovation into the cloud.

Moving innovation into the cloudAs business organizations continue to struggle with the decision of ‘if and when’ and then ‘what’ within their systems and processes should go into the cloud, there is this gathering, if not overwhelming view, that the cloud will bring IT closer to the business needs of today.

Innovation is certainly one of those in need of concerted effort to bring up to date within organizations, to make it more inclusive and that can come through delivering it across the organization within the cloud. Highly visible, agile and core to the organizations future, seen by all and truly valued.

Let me outline my initial thoughts here, put the seat belt on for the ride please: making the business case.

The cloud solutions do seem to look promising for those adopting a strategy of increased use of the cloud as a future IT approach. They seems less emphasis on the cost savings but its potential to improve business flexibility and gain access to a wider array of technologies and solutions. Also there is a growing view that the cloud supports critical aspects required today and in the future, that are more radical in organizational design.

Those that look to run IT processes in the cloud, such as development tools, test tools, development systems, test systems, service management and performance management as well as incorporating SaaS offerings (such as Salesforce) with their internal systems, and with this host of cloud hosted systems to make hybrid architectures that promise radical changes can be realized within our organizations.

If these changes can be delivered, then I think they will be welcome by all sides inside organizations, each grappling with all the changes swirling around the business today and forecasted to become even more volatile in the future.

Clearly organization design and its core processes and systems needs fresh, vastly different approaches, to tackling chronic organizational rigidity that is seen today. Business unit leaders are frustrated with a lack of new, more radical solutions to their needs of being responsive and agile.

Switching into the cloud can transform IT as a provider of on-demand service when the business needs it!

Switching to the cloud can also radically alter the position of IT as a real provider of the services you need to do the job, when it is needed, more on-demand. It can offer those in ITa future role of looking constantly towards being the ‘go to’ service provider, that is constantly adding the supporting structures for supporting new value and impact in flexible systems and processes that can constantly be adaptive to meet the business needs.

Critically the cloud can help significantly in the quest for speed, agility, scalability as well as being designed for the increasing need of having in place support structures for a more ambidextrous organization. These need different solutions than today’s systems and will become the big IT challenge to manager over the next few years.

There is a constant talk in IT circles of “everything is a service” and if this translates as the business expects this can have a real transforming ring to it. Business groups require faster execution, reduced time-to-value and higher levels of flexibility, and perhaps, IT might have a way to deliver these through the cloud. The promise is ‘hanging out’ there it seems.

Bringing innovation fully into the corporate fold

Thankfully, for many perhaps, innovation has been a little out, off on one side of enterprise resource planning. To some degree this has helped but also is rapidly becoming a real performance drag, innovation needs to be more central in core process thinking.

I believe the solution is to buy into ‘innovation in the cloud’ as the next practice idea. Today many innovation processes and systems have been fairly stand alone, remote from the clutches of IT and not being ‘integrated’ into the Enterprise Resource platforms so far, would all have to go and that will have a few cries of “OMG no!”

On-premise IT solutions for innovation remain highly constrained.

I’m certainly against innovation continuing to stay in the on-premise platform at all. Of course, any migration plans will give the current systems sometime but the cloud just seems to be an alluring prospect that meets many of innovations needs.

Innovation can only really thrive and move considerably up a notch or two in performance and recognition, if it can obtain the integrated flexibility and achieve the more open access to all shades of business agility that can be found, if we have the opportunity.

Innovation runs counter to repeatable processes; it needs to leverage this ambidexterity of having access to all that makes it adaptable- nimble, agile, constant change, and experimentation, prototyping that is tailored to explore incremental innovation in faster, more flexible ways.

Alongside this to allow for more radical innovation that taps into greater needs for mobility, usability, elasticity and yet still be aligned to leverage, exploit and maximise opportunities needs to run in parallel.  It sounds a tall order doesn’t it, yet I’m not sure it actually is, when you stand back and think about this and try to begin to piece together all the pieces of the puzzle.

I think there are multiple ways forward exploiting the cloud

There are many thoughts one could explore with a little bit of imagination, alongside a decent knowledge of what is possible today and what can be possible in the future, that is already in our ‘present line-of-sight by using something like the three horizon methodology. I’ve also written about the need for a “innovation mashup previously, as well as I can see the clear advantages that all these emerging platforms are providing that are delivering radically new innovative business models. Large organizations need to climb on board to thinking innovation differently.

Large organizations are lagging in the ‘responsive league’ clearly, they need to think beyond holding everything in house and look towards a more radical innovation agenda for change. Growth does not come from incremental dripping techniques; it comes from spotting emerging opportunities and turning those into commercial value as quickly as possible. The current legacy within any innovation systems is creating such a drag on organizations current innovation performance and why are our organizations not recognizing this?

Putting innovation in the cloud is itself disruptive.

It offers the real chance to innovate existing business practices, it can give increased visibility. Innovation can be ‘seen’ throughout the organization, not tucked away in dark corners, scrabbling to gain attention. If you take the example of what did in cloud computing to transform the customer end, then why can’t getting innovation on multiple platforms in the cloud really show its potential as well? Then innovation connects and suddenly the customer becomes a co-creator of value and collaboration really comes to the fore also, as something necessary and needed.

The speed of any innovation implementation process is determined by demand and acceptance though.

Any new design is determined by its adoption, diffusion and usage, all the way through to exploitation and uptake. I’ve written about the need to adopt improved practices for capturing and distributing knowledge through applying absorptive capacity that give greater structure and receptiveness to change that is increasingly needed to cope with growing inflows of information, knowledge and increased big data insights.

We need to find ways to ‘push’ organizational readiness for innovation to change and that comes from the top really pushing harder to achieve real growth from new opportunities but supporting the infrastructural changes this requires, a real place for IT and HR to become more involved in preparing change.

We also need to reflect on what is needed to help assimilate innovation as it will continue to have a complex, non-linear need in processes and this often in the past has simply kept it out of the ERP space, for example.

Equally due to this exclusion, sometimes the constant need to focus on innovation falls out of the corporate line-of-sight daily, as it is not part of this core, organizational supported process, it operates on one side for many to feel not involved. It comes back into the spotlight only when something has not happened, not as promised and that then ‘expends’ lots of negative energy chasing down answers, seeking explanations.

Resolving existing thorny issues need to be brought bring into the innovation cloud equation.

We need to tackle some problems within the innovation that will simply not ‘go away’ but will remain thorny issues until we tackle them ‘full on’.

The greater emphasis on the softer aspects of innovation in skills, attributes and collaborative techniques calls for different thinking on talent development, learning new topics, working in different, far more project related ways that are responsive and agile to ‘seize the opportunity’ by actively seeking the solutions that are available but most probably beyond the walls of the organization and this can be through the cloud.

The art of letting go and opening up to collaboration and co-creation is a growing challenge for all organizations. The pressure is on finding the ‘ways and means’ to enable that to happen. Another strong argument for promoting the cloud where you have a constant array of collaborative tools and applications help draft, design, brainstorm, make mock-ups live, sharing to do lists in real-time, manage projects, offer concept board development on the fly, provide facilities for all aspects of audio, mind mapping and creative enhancing techniques and on and on.

I’d argue that innovation needs the very best ways to tease out understanding, not locked in selected mindsets of product developers. We need to offer interactive, real-time collaboration tools to make the design and execution of innovation a whole lot better.

Lastly, without droning on more, we need to find ways to orchestrate, monitor, allow for broader performance monitoring, adding tools as needed on demand, to build and deploy capacity management and modelling outcomes against performance within innovation all are needed. We need to change the ways we report on our total innovation activity,  not in the days and weeks these requests can take, but at speed the cloud can potentially provide and the business requires, fast.

So I am making my call of innovation and its need to head towards the cloud fast!

We have come a long way in understanding innovation, yet it still stays locked in legacy systems and structures. We need to make future choices on what we want out of our innovation activity, much of the same as today or the ability to move it into a new domain of performance?

To do this we have to navigate through all the hype and mystic surrounding innovation, we have to be bolder in testing out capabilities to experiment and explore the options we have available today in new software, tools, thinking and applications.

We have to take clearer positions on the best applications to do the job and not settle for today’s poor compromises of having one stage gate system for example, we need to feel comfortable to leverage and extend our resources and capacities to innovate and learn on a continuous basis how to exploit the opportunities in agile, flexible and real-time ways.

Making the business case

For me, to achieve this we must go cloud-based, agile, and moving towards having a more ambidextrous organization design for innovation. This will help innovation to break out of the existing constraints and linear approach we have given it as its straight jacket. It will not come overnight, a cloud-based innovation capability but I see no reason why it can’t be delivered in less than five years.

I’m sure there are some out there wanting to bring this hugely disruptive potential into realization quicker than that, it has a real business case potential in my opinion. Does it for you?

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Opening Ourselves Up to the Innovation Mashup

Mash Up VisualSometimes some things come slower than others, and then they suddenly rear up and hit you. We don’t make all the connections we should; we are too caught up in our little world, beating our existing drum, drowned out by its own noise, to step back and appreciate something new is really happening.

Recently I was investigating one strand of thought and then bingo! Something else, leads to something else and the rest, so to speak, becomes history.

I’ve been reflecting on the new era of innovation and opening myself up to exploring alternatives, different thoughts, discussions and viewpoints. Underlying this is a growing sense of my convictions, still partly forming, malleable but trying to drive certain ‘stakes’ into the ground to keep testing and improving on a hypothesis or two; that innovation and its management definitely has to change, and fast!

Of course the cloud figures in this as a whole new different way to orchestrate innovation. More on that at another time as I need to get into some more robust discussions with one or two others on this and expand on my own position a lot more.

My recent ‘bingo’ moment was as I was listening to a round-table discussion within GE and its lighting division with a panel of outside thinkers. Beth Comstock, Senior Vice-President and Chief Marketing Officer was chairing the discussion, so it will always stay lively and stimulating and it did not disappoint on that. Her throwaway line at the end of the panel session was “Perhaps the headline here is the Big Data Mash Up”.

Mash-up?  So am I missing a certain beat here? Or does it fit into my thinking

This started me off – Mash Ups, Ecosystems, Platforms, Big Data so how about the Big Mash Up to help the necessary Smash up?

So off I go on one of my walkabouts, needing to plug into mash-ups a little more.

Business jargon is drawing more and more from our software and computer worlds. We have seen lean, agility, scrum and a host of others entering into our business practices in broader ways than the original application; the principles are being extended out.

So what is a mashup?

In web development it uses content from more than one source to create a single new service, displayed in a single graphical interface. It works if it is fast, easy to integrate and has clear application interfaces that allow this to happen.

The original term of mashup, according to dear old Wikipedia, comes from British – West Indies slang, meaning to be intoxicated or a description for something or someone not functioning as intended. I like this as it is the way many of our companies are reeling from with all the disruptive changes swirling around them. Also within music, it is used when we remix and combine different aspects of music or song from one vocal track to another. Thereby ‘mashing them’ together to create something new.

So why do I feel the innovation mashup is coming?

The main characteristics of a mashup are combination, visualization and aggregation so as to make ‘it’ (whatever it is) into something more useful, for personal or professional (or organizational) use. We have a fair number of mash-ups going on already; in business mash-ups to reveal actionable information, consumer mash-ups that can come through our browser interfaces (maps and info) and data mash-ups that provide new, more distinctive web services.

I’m not going to get into all the technical stuff on this, let alone the challenges but as you read about the taxonomy structures I start thinking innovation taxonomy. Don’t ask me why but I do.

Let’s smoke a little more here (I’m kidding) and think the Internet of Innovation

We have been digesting the internet of things, the internet of everybody so we need to push this a little more and ask “can a comprehensive vision of how this set of events around digital, data etc., alongside our physical needs be translated into returns for a business wanting to engaged in greater, more valuable innovation”. These will come from platforms and connecting everyone.

I hold one additional thought here “virtualizing the core business” and extending this beyond the core, to deliver innovation faster and better by orchestrating its parts to architect the future, based on responding to real needs and extending those existing deliverables that continue to provide value.

We need to manage innovation in more real-time, we need to dramatically improve the process, we need to pull together often the disparate knowledge, we need to inform better, we need to place what we are doing into a greater context and we need greater predictive decision-making. What we have working the innovation activity is ripe for disrupting. Innovation and its management is mostly operating with the 20th century model.

The move towards digital – physical mashups

Darrell Rigby of Bains & Co wrote a recent article in the September 2014 Harvard Business Review entitled the “digital-physical mashup”. You could image that got my attention in my walk about.

His view is we are in a period of upheaval, do we see technologies as a threat or a new pathway. The growing reality is digital has the real potential to destroy our existing positions in existing markets.

We see this with digital platforms, those lean on physical assets attack the incumbents, take Airbnb for example in its mattress and B&B challenge to hotels or Kickstarter for alternative funding. Value creation is being rethought in totally different ways and business models and being staged on platforms.

Now what happens when you combine digital and physical? As Darrell comments there is a growing ‘weaving’ of digital and physical worlds to come tightly together. He cites Nike+ that is giving more than 30 million customers a tracking, sharing of runs, workouts and setting fitness goals as the shoe has a built-in sensor and can work with your iPod to see data on time, distance, calories burned and can all be synced back, compared for charting your progress.

Here we see digital sport emerging, the ones not embracing technology will suddenly have their market position erode (and fast)

Then we come back to GE and Beth Comstock’s throwaway line “the big data mashup”

GE when they decide to move into something, they tend to do it big time. They make “big bets on big things” according to their CEO and Chair Jeff Immelt. Big Data Analytics is one of these exploding for them. They have housed this under “Industrial Internet” and GE Predictivity TM for asset and operations optimization.

This will come from these analytic insights, through the use of sensors and other technologies in aviation, rail, oil & gas, power generation, wind, power distribution, healthcare, mining, water and process technologies, lighting and manufacturing from machines that are self-aware interacting with other machines and their human operators.

The collecting of data is impossible to manually analyse but if this can be translated into insights through analytics’s and big data management techniques, visualization and dashboards techniques, that can manage complex machines, save labour, downtime, direct resources and reduce costs it certainly opens up the thinking.  GE’s estimates could be as much as $20 billion in wasted deficiencies per year. Further opportunities will simply occur as this gets understood more as it gets rolled out.

Wikibon analysts believe the analytics market will be worth more than $47 billion by 2017 and Gartner reckons the rise of the Internet of Things will propel the global IT industry past the $3.8 trillion mark by the end of this year.

I can certainly see this as a valuable and seemingly ‘big bet’ sandbox to go and play in and GE are doing this on a strong execution platform. They already have scale, they are just scaling this more into a different business model and value propositions.

Big Data is coming of age, can we handle it?

Big Data is going to certainly drive IT spending in the next few years, yet it is its translation that promises to be within the value extracted, on how we interpret this though analytics, insights and what it then yields in improved productivity, new product designs and service offerings. It all signals a very healthy set of new innovation activities in new products, services and through new business model designs. The fusing of digital and physical for new opportunities is upon us.

So are we seeing the groundwork for a new industrial age where innovation will increasingly play even more of a part, one that needs us to focus on the data, our people and the whole architecture, where the ability to collaborate, exchange, network and decipher what is coming towards you in meaningful ways to turn insight into commercial opportunity seems beckoning.

So is our current innovation systems fit for purpose?

So real-time comes up against old-time innovation processes – something will have to give.

So there is a whole new world of possibilities, a mash-up of the cloud, data, analytics, digital / physical combinations, real-time activities all crowding into the existing innovation pipeline, manually being cranked along. No, something needs to change. We need to really begin to dump these legacy systems for manual innovation and really step back here.

The BHAG for innovation is needed here

We need to take a very different perspective on the innovation process. We need a greater visual control across our organizations; we need to build a completely new end-to-end innovation management system on a platform approach.

We need to collect and aggregate more knowledge, information and data than ever, the complexity will simply grow as we connect more the digital and physical worlds and innovation is being expected from this fusion.

Fusing the parts, forming the bigger picture

We need to give up on ‘hard end of line’ measures and metrics (so anti-empathy) and go into analytics far more, for driving innovation along its new process constantly at its point of need (note that), embrace data, seek and design new deployment models like cloud and mobility, merge the architecture design of the innovation process onto a visualization platform, seek out those that can contribute both inside and outside the organization.

We need to orchestrate, provide stunningly different user interfaces (beyond the Excel spreadsheet please) that can come into you wherever you are, tailored to the individual’s role within the innovation development process at a particular time to make it flexible as an on-demand need, drag and drop knowledge into your space to make it hugely dynamic full of interactions, modular and capable of being extended within our more elastic (flexible) enterprises.

A future full of collaboration built on real-time and valuable insight

The future will be collaborative, full of mash-ups to make innovation happen. Innovation management needs to be in the driving seat of changing in response to the next revolution of digital and physical that is ushering in the next era of innovation.

Who is going to take up this grand challenge or is innovation just going to be lagging behind again as efficiency and effectiveness remain as the big brothers dominating the organization’s thinking ‘block’? We do need a whooping big innovation mashup. By all indications, what is coming towards us we certainly will need some big innovation mashups.

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Seeing Your Innovating Future Across Different Horizons

The three horizons offer us much to frame our innovating future

IFD Mountain ViewFollowing a couple of recent posts on reflecting on the three horizons methodology, firstly here and then here, I wanted to come back to where I see real value, in managing innovation into the future.

The 3H methodology enables us to look out into the future, across three different horizons that can manage the transition between short, medium and long term in our innovation activities, something often badly lacking in most organizations thinking.

It allows us to gauge  the challenges, adding aspects we are beginning to gain a sense of, transitioning from one position to another. It allows us to deepen our evaluation of the innovation portfolio of activities, resources and skill sets across different delivery frames of short, medium and longer-term.

It is one that requires us to reflect and possibly make change, then we can move forward to meet the new challenges, within this emerging vision of the possible futures.

So 3H is a way of working with change, it offers us a foresight and framing tool for drawing out our often conflicting discussions and views of what all this potential change might mean, from our established patterns or approaches and those that are possibly emerging. The 3H supports innovation’s management very well.

Accepting everything has a finite life-cycle

From my perspective we see businesses littered with not wanting to make change, rejecting the changes going on all around them. These are happening in changing technology, different business models, threats from competitors coming into the market with different and often low-cost models.

Source: Adapted from Sharpe / Hodgson

Sometimes a concept or product has ‘run its course’ is seen as yesterday solution, or industry segments separated in the past are suddenly ‘fused’ together in new ways due to new technologies, or being purposefully designed, they begin to disrupt the existing.

We can’t afford to ignore the ‘call of change’, it places our business at significant risk. Recognizing the challenges life-cycle management can bring, does need careful managing within our innovation management.

We do need to recognize changing conditions and begin to plan out our responses, both short and longer-term through a well crafted transformation road map. The 3H can underpin this.

So where are you viewing the world from?

Why expand the Innovation Horizon visualMany of our organizations are viewing the world from where they are.This is often in the safety of their offices. They feel comfortable to stay with what they know.

They only see change when something suddenly triggers their perception and the world alters, and it then gives way to a new horizon of sight. Often these can come far too late.

What needs to challenge this place of “the world of where we are” and prompt fresh thinking so we can allow one of emerging knowledge and insight to enter into. One where perhaps we are blending our imaginations, with some envisioned destination, where change will likely alter today’s dominant position. We need to prepare for it as these insights can radically alters our present position. We become open to change, to think differently.

We need to see the clues all around us

We need to reflect and see how we can forge those new innovation patterns. A methodology that helps raises our future consciousness and moves us to building new competencies for future competitive advantage is surely valuable?

We cannot stay trapped in our offices, our constant need is to find all possible means to be fully engaged and well-connected into the changes taking place within and across the world.

Managing the present, moving towards the future

wave tension painitingIn any future thinking there are numerous uncertainties, yet we also need to address the familiar “the way we (presently) do things around here”.

We need to grapple with “how can we ‘keep the lights on” but equally move towards a different horizon without “betting the shop” and totally disrupting all we have built up? This requires even deeper thinking.

Something that requires us to re-equip, challenge existing and entrenched ways of working, bring in and fuse new skills and capabilities, push experimentation and exploration far more, tolerate failures in new ways, keep shareholders happy, recognizing the need to make change for a potential sustaining future. Possibilities of changes in our ways of working and approach begin to unlock and open up to different thinking.

The unlocking of the future is partly recognizing the future patterns, yet is is equally releasing us from the dominance of old ways of working, systems and structures – ways we have been increasingly sensing are no longer truly work well for us.

We need to shape our future intentions

Different Futures VisualIt is the second horizon; you can read a further post specifically on this 2nd horizon, “entering the zone of uncertainty”  within this framework, that is the hardest one to work through.

This is the transitory horizon, balancing today’s business with the investigations and new possibilities to lead towards a future.

Our abilities to manage this transitory zone (the 2h) is vital for our innovation management, it holds the key to staying locked in the present or moving towards a sustaining future built on different views and perspectives

For me the value of the 3H is in its use within innovation’s management.

Three Horizon Challenge 4The three horizon framework offers a map of transformational potential which allows us to move towards finding new skills, degrees of new freedoms and creativity, we are striving for a balance between existing and preferred, based on present day understanding.

Scoping out the future needs for innovation to address needs different thinking. It needs foresight and exploration. It needs to allocate resources across the three different horizons and each of their respective challenges of the future needed from innovation.

This is why the 3H is, for me, a very valuable approach to managing innovation in the present and for the future.

The 3H framework prompts the need for transformational capacity.

I believe there is great value in exploring innovation possibilities through a framework that can support the often diverse management thinking, one that is far more strategic in its focus on exploring the options, working through different scenarios and mindsets, then adjusting the resources accordingly, or identifying required new ones.

A framework that ‘sketches out’ that future promise can significantly improves strategic and innovation alignment, help set organizational direction and defining and allocating resources appropriately.

It frames discussions, it is a navigational guide to allow for framing challenges and seeing perspectives in different frames, so as they can be addressed. The 3H helps scope out the pathway of change from today’s existing innovation approaches. It takes you through the key milestones to the future envisaged and allows you to distinguish different horizon challenges.

Working with the 3H approach can be a very powerful tool for managing our innovation future.

Any framework that draws out concerns, differences of opinions and prompts transformational discussions, can be a very powerful management tool. If it provides the platform for framing and recognizing what needs to change.

If it can help to begin to flesh any capability gaps, stepping-stones to cross and if it can ‘point’ toward the action and activities that need to put into place, so the organization can make their moves towards that different innovation future, then it has great value within any organization wanting to manage and structure its innovation activity.

I believe the three horizons approach can contribute significantly to this aim of managing innovation and giving organizations a sustaining future. I certainly recommend it.


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Three Horizons – fields of future, full of foresight.

Three Horizon Book Bill SharpeI’d like to relate to parts of a book that came out in late 2013 from Bill Sharpe. His book, or actually more a booklet, called “Three Horizons: The Patterning of Hope”, published by Triarchy Press, has some really helpful insights.

In this book, Bill outlines his distinct ways of creatively working through many of the unknowns, by framing and connecting though the Three Horizons, (3H) as his contribution to the patterning of hope for all our futures.

I draw out a lot within his thinking, experiences and approaches within the book. Some of these initial thoughts outlined here, re-affirm my own thinking and focus on the 3H, specifically for innovation and its management.

Here are some of the ‘triggers’ I connected with strongly from his book:

The three horizons does offer us much to frame the future

Firstly, the 3H is actually a simple framework, see my original opening post in 2010,on a quick explanation if you need it. The 3H allows us all to work with what we know, about today, and a method that allows us to engage creatively with what we don’t know. To look beyond the existing.

The 3H methodology enables us to look out into the future, across different horizons. It allows us to gauge  the challenges, adding aspects we are beginning to gain a sense of, transitioning from one position to another. It is one that requires us to reflect and possibly make change, then we can move forward to meet the new challenges, within this emerging vision of the possible futures.

Tackling uncertain futures for transformational change

Bill asks the question in his book “How can people work together to create transformational change in the face of the uncertain future?”

He suggests we have choices, we continue the pattern of how we have been doing things today or we start a new pattern. What can be abandoned and let go, what can be adopted as new and how do we manage the transition.

Bill’s view is that transformation change comes about when we see that the way things are getting done now has its limits; we cannot get much beyond these limits however much we try to improve the existing system and we must face the reality create to create this new pattern for the future we need.

So it becomes clear the 3H is a way of working with change

The 3H offers us a foresight and framing tool for drawing out our often conflicting discussions and views of what all this potential change might mean, from our established patterns or approaches and those that are possibly emerging.

It provides for a transitory step in its second horizon, full of the challenges of wrestling with change, letting go of the present, holding onto essential aspects for the future, embracing often totally new concepts, skills or thinking through positions. You are intentionally drawing out diversity of opinion to improve the dialogue, narrow differences through pattern recognition. It can be tough work.

As Bill states “a lot of dynamics of change come into view quite naturally, and we are lead to explore them in terms of patterns of behavior of those (involved) who are maintaining or creating them”

We can explore the  possibilities found across the three different horizons

The intent of the 3H is to offer a way to look at the process of change, to view possibilities across three different horizons, that encourages us to look and question a little deeper, we make the future more accessible and relevant to us operating in the present, for future intent and action.

It brings out all the differences, often conflicting ‘voices’ and patterns, to challenge continuity. Then we need to figure out what needs to come into ‘play’ to help us understand those future patterns through these dialogues, so we can begin to determine what resources and emphasis to we place on them.

The 3H can help tackle complex problems or from my own focus, the future intent on innovation; in its planning, resource allocations and skill gap identification to build capabilities and capacities to be ‘future’ ready. We need to map innovation across the three horizons.

The three voices that are to be hopefully found in the same room

The different voices involved can be highly engaged, as Bill suggests, you have the voice of today, more concerned with managing the existing, maximizing returns and keeping the organization going efficiently and effectively. Then you have the second voice, the voice of the entrepreneur, the one eager to experiment, try out new things, explore and extend, accepting some aspects will not work and the third voice,  of the aspirant, who is looking to build a different vision, believing in different, more pioneering ways and visualizes things in their ‘mind’s eye’, far more aspirational, that can seemingly on first ‘take’ look to be totally incompatible to the reality of today.

The ability to draw out tensions, seeing emerging patterns and growing awareness

That tension between “our present circumstances and positioning” is full of possible future consequences and those patterns and indications that are stirring the ‘future consciousness.’ For some this seems to be a little wacky, flaky, far too aspirational, surely inconceivable, incongruous and unthinkable.

The value of the 3H framing is to begin to make the connection’s, shifting individual thinking into team actions and decisions. The 3H connects the future for bringing strategy, vision and innovation into greater alignment of thinking through diverging and then converging.

Bridging often highly divergent differences that are causing a growing and deep set of tensions are in fact, in Bills words “different perspectives on the future potential of the present moment”.

We are actually facing three different perspectives; those immersed in the dominant system of the present, with those that ‘sense’ the scope for new thinking and try something different, to those in the third domain of arguing for radical change or seeing things very differently.

The question for all too answer is “how the present might play out in the future?” The job of the 3H is to raise this in all the three opening and different thinking positions, to achieve a more united ‘future consciousness’.

The Three Horizons approach works well with complex issues

The value within Bill’s book is how he describes the three horizons in his experiences often working within complex societal areas:

“It offers a way to find and shape our own intentions more clearly, as we look over the first horizon of the known, towards the second and third horizons of innovation and transformation towards the future.

It transforms the potential of the present moment by revealing each horizon as a different quality of the future in the present, reflecting how we act differently to maintain the familiar or pioneer the new”.

I have found this book offered me a fresh perspective of the power of the 3H framework.

Bill Sharpe’s book does add some fresh and helpful thinking to working with the three horizon framework. It offers real, insightful ‘nuggets’ of an experienced practitioner, working constantly in futures work, taking on problems that need fresh approaches and new concepts, rather than application of routine methods.

Finally as Bill suggests “to shift from our simple, one-dimensional view of time stretching into the future and instead adopt a three-dimensional point of view in which we become aware of each horizon as a distinct quality of relationship between the future and the present. We call the move into this multi-dimensional view, and the skill to work with it, the step into future consciousness”

Through this book Bill provides his personal perspectives that have added real value to my own focus and understandings on how to apply the 3H to innovation.

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We seem to pass over distinctive innovation, why?


* I decided to re-post a group of my previous thoughts that I believe offer some value.
* Please see these as a collection to ‘dip in and out of’. Just scroll down the home page.
* Normal service will return as of tomorrow 1st September, just enjoy these older posts, I did!

Would you want to be associated with something distinctive, I would?

Originally posted on Paul4innovating's Blog:

I see so many suggestions on the types of innovation, actually I’ve offered a few myself, just go and take a look at for a different slant on this . For me, one ‘type’ of innovation that seems always to be often passed over is distinctive innovation in discussions. Why is that?

Most people work away in the trenches of incremental improvements and these outputs make up the vast substance of innovation activity.  Many working in these trenches of innovation on a daily basis would love to be part of a breakthrough but tend to find this is always ring-fenced for a few others to work upon. All they can often do is gaze over the fence or quietly accept this divide simply goes on.

I believe many who work within innovation simply do not share in this delineation of innovation activity, as it divides talent into separate teams…

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Forming the unified view on innovation design


Driving outcomes often required separate innovation functions.

Originally posted on Paul4innovating's Blog:

Although we are seeing a number of cases where innovation in its structures, functions and design are evolving, we still have not achieved the mainstream recognition of innovations importance within the boardroom. In many organizations it still lacks a clearly separated ‘voice.’ Its present voice tends to be fragmented within its parts represented by the separate functions providing their narrower view of innovation.

You still have marketing, research, financial, strategic development all offering their unique views of what and where innovation can contribute. This often ‘fragmented’ approach reduces the promising breakthrough effect of innovations potential contribution. By not having this comprehensive and cohesive viewpoint articulated at board level by a fully accountable person, the Chief Innovation Officer, innovation often stays locked up in one position or another. No one is stepping in and unlocking its full potential from a holistic viewpoint, totally responsible for innovation by structuring it, for adding…

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