Are we reflecting enough on the choice of the drivers of innovation?

There are many different places to go and ‘look’ for innovation but often we need to think through a little more of what is driving the changes before we ‘run off’ into finding solutions that are simply immediate to grow our organizations. Sometimes they are, of course in ‘plain sight’, but when you alter your thinking lens you might see innovation opportunities in different ways.

We might miss sizable opportunities in not exploring all the different drivers that are around to drive innovation and provide us opportunities. So why not take the time to ‘reflect’ a little bit more on all the different potential drivers of innovation available to you?

So what can and does drive innovation?

I’ve been recently looking at the different drivers that can be explored for innovation. They seem to be many and it can be confusing. I feel there are eight that merit thinking through in a more structured way. Working through these can significantly improve the agility and options of the organization to generate new opportunities and give you a ‘rich’ potential to explore.

My identified eight drivers of innovation

Innovation can be unique, it is complex, it needs careful design and facilitation to extract the most from the rich choices we have on offer to us. Working through these eight can open up our thinking.

  • Intelligence drivers– so much today is swirling around, often unsettling and changing. We don’t have long periods of stability anymore and to offset this we need to revert to often artificial intelligence to ‘read, sense and be more interpretative’ of these constant shifting patterns. We need ways to make sense of often disparate flows that piece together in different ways, difficult to initially see, so as to provide insights that can open up our thinking to new innovation. Cognition refers to a faculty for the processing of information, applying knowledge, and changing preferences that allows for development into concepts; individual minds, groups, and organizations need to pick up and explore this driver far more for innovation.
  • Technology drivers– The world of external collaboration, leveraging our personal and group networks and the different ways to interacting, are challenging organizations significantly. We all need to open up in areas where internal intellectual property, heavily guarded in the past, is being exposed to a different scrutiny. Technology  needs revisiting to accommodate a new diversity of opinion that extracts value in new more open ways. Also the management of physical and virtual relationships is also needing dramatic change in our behaviours and trust. We need fresh frameworks and designing these into our technology solutions for allowing open thinking. Much of this will come from the management of technology and the new understanding of the needs to capture, translate and extract in new ways. Getting the technology balance right and you open up to innovation in such an unparallel way than in the past. Technology understanding will influence innovation and drive it in some dramatic ways in the future.
  • People drivers– “Our people make innovation work, they drive it”. This is heard increasingly yet our actions run contrary to this so many times.  We need to look at what drives people to rise to new heights and performances within themselves? It is getting the mix right- in creativity, in talent, through diversity of opinion, exploring dialogues and having a constant focus on building relationships; it is providing them something in return for ‘driving’ innovation. Keeping people and not shedding them when it suites immediate needs and the bottom line must become a thing of the past. We must treat people as an increasing valuable asset that needs to be prized very highly not in ways that fitted 20th centure practices when supply was plentiful. Keeping experience within organizations is a growing challenge. We also need to value our middle managers more, give them empowerment not more restrictions.  You throw away an incredible investment when you lose people, not just their experiences but often their relationships. Can we afford to keep managing in this way? No, I don’t think so, people drive innovation, we must truly value them as nothing else can make up for their loss in managing innovation for a successful conclusion.
  • Customer drivers– Marketing needs to do a significant ‘reset’ as customers shift from price, lower volume demand and seek increased value and personal engagement. Getting into the mind of your customer, understanding their unmet needs and then interpret these into new innovation solutions is tougher than ever. As organizations expand globally there is going to be a need for far more reverse engineering innovation to match need with product or service in these times of diminishing income. Customers are driving innovation more than ever and organizations are presently struggling to catch up and master the new dynamics of the customer and the economics of the markets. Innovation for and with less is very relevant today. Same as knowing customers real needs.
  • Rational drivers– Innovation needs greater process and rational innovation thinking. This will come from a greater focus on innovations strategic architecture, the management of the systems to ‘drive’ innovation through to commercialisation, the innovation process designed on shrinking the time line, increased productivity and interventions so  to enable successful movement towards this commercialisation. We need to advance execution and results from this activity and that needs us to approach innovation in a more rational way to get consistent results.
  • Social drivers– How we are engaging in the world around us are one of the challenges we need to resolve. Interactions that can transmit genuine desire for the good, which are seen as enduring and meaningful to the lives of people, are going to be valued. Thinking these through, then implementing these in careful, thoughtful ways is going to be critical to growing innovation in social responsible ways that are meaningful for the communities and on a personal level will provide a completely new avenue to innovation activity.
  • Emotional drivers– We need to gain permission to enter people’s lives. We need to learn, to create, to explore people’s dreams, desires and hopes. Exploring the eight fundamental human emotional drivers of 1) connection and sense of self, 2) maintain security over our lives, 3) wanting more diversity, seeking variety, 4) achieving recognition and significance to grow beyond the present, 5) having a sense of achievement and progress, 6) opportunities for challenges and personal growth, 7) achieving self-satisfaction and pride in what we do and finally 8) the wish to contribute and be responsible. Mastering this set of emotional drivers through different innovation activity can be very powerful.
  • Environment drivers– the culture and climates provided that we operate within can allow or deny innovation. There is a growing need to increase co-operation between the diverse aspects of innovation activity and other organisations on third party platforms so as to involve as diverse a group as possible. We need to consider the organizations complete value chain and its diverse networks across the whole organization, than in the present silo form of present open innovation thinking (just R&D departments for instance). There is a difficult choice to make between quick results, always needed, and longer term structures to ensure sustaining innovation on a broader platform. Innovation is increasingly driving sustainable society in new products, processes and organization designs. Environment has to date seldom been an explicit targeted comprehensive process for many in innovation activity. It has been experimental. Increased attention to understanding the broader environment we operate within, how finite and sometimes fragile it is, will play a greater role for innovation development. The effectiveness in addressing environment problems will drive innovation significantly in the years ahead.

Within each of these eight drivers for innovation activity is a bountiful harvest of innovation opportunities to explore. Understanding what can drive innovation opens up significant possibilities.

The central meaning of innovation relates to a quest for renewal. For this renewal to take place it is necessary for people to change the way they make decisions, to see things, they must choose to do things differently, make choices outside of their norm. Schumpeter stated that innovation changes the values onto which the system is based. So when people change their value (system) they ‘drive’ the old (economic) system to make room for the new one. When that happens innovation has occurred.

Understanding the options within the drivers of innovation is important. Knowing the options of what can drive innovation can help you choose multiple paths to explore and then grow from.

Reflections from a tough 2010 for innovating differently in 2011

So here we are already in December. Budgets are being argued, numbers fixed, concepts and plans discussed, high hopes build for a successful 2011.

Tell me what did we learn from 2010 from an innovation perspective that we can build upon in 2011?  Here are some of my thoughts

For me a number of important lessons or impressions come out of 2010 that I’ll continue to build upon in 2011 as areas of opportunity for changing, challenging or clarifying. These I simply summarize in ten points for this blog:

I felt 2010 was a ‘crossing point’ in innovation maturity to position us in 2011. We began to consolidate what we know, explore with growing confidence what we didn’t know and experiment in-between.That was healthy in such a tough year of uncertainty. Now we need to build on this in different ways.

1. Firstly, “ideas and alternative solutions coming from everywhere” is now fixed in most peoples’ minds, unless you have freshly arrived from Mars. What we all need to work through  is the significant implications, the different structures and management approaches for opening up organizations to this ‘rush’ of diverse thinking.

2. The single-fix solutions are collapsing in adoption; organizations are recognizing the ‘harder road’ of sustaining innovation takes more than one fix to solve all. It involves complex work, yet to be undertaken and painful to complete without a clear, comprehensive roadmap and depth in innovation understanding.

3. The delivery and speed of innovation seems unrelenting but the time to market still seems stuck internally in conflicting issues and personal agendas. When will this change? 2011? All involved really need to be (seriously) challenged.

4. ‘Defend & Extend’ seemed to rule the roost of 2010 but the early signs are ‘Disruption’ will come sweeping back in more industries to chase the elusive growth needed. Are you ready for the roller coaster effect of going over the top with your stomach in your mouth, screaming and pumped up?

5. Capabilities, competencies and capacity all had a mixed review for progress in 2010, did we advance or stay trapped as many organizations struggled to keep or lay off people. Along the way many organizations lost their creative people, their mavericks and now they struggle to recreate that ‘buzz’.  Stability and growth need to come back somehow so it ‘allows’ for a positive build of skills, trust and knowledge retaining and 2010 was not one of those years!

6. Social media & design thinking have raised their heads in 2010 and demanded to be integrated with innovation. The way ahead still needs to be defined for many to understand this but they have moved up in top-of-mind in 2010 and we will see some of this emerging in 2011 that will have the ‘rush to copy’, irrespective of effect.

7. The chance to throw away much of the innovation legacy in old approaches, structures, processes etc that we have built up ‘piece meal’ prior to the downturn was not cleared out and replaced- what a real pity! We still are trying to manage 21st problems with 20th century tools. This has just got to change soon! We lost a golden opportunity in the past year of much restructuring to address this ‘full on’.

8. Innovation leadership got lost somewhere in 2010 to a host of crisis management issues- understandable but regrettable. Will leadership in innovation come through more in 2011? I suspect it all depends on the crisis either ‘within’ or the forces outside and the rallying call of “all hands to the innovation pump” will mean different things to different circumstances. We do need strong bolder innovation leadership to come through in 2011. Will we get it, do they, our leaders, get it?

9. The ‘rush’ of ‘how-to’ innovation books really was plentiful, yet strangely there was little pioneering work within these, with the notable exception of the books on Business Model Innovation and Design Thinking, the majority were more to substantiate and confirm existing thinking. I certainly hope this really does change in 2011; we need fresh bolder thinking with a future perspective and imaginative thinking not just a confirming look in the rear mirror or just consolidating (part) of innovation practice.

10. Finally, 2010 saw many restructures, write offs and layoffs but little new emerged that I felt was highly imaginative to change our fundamental thinking about ‘business as usual.’ 2010 was a year to survive but sadly not to re-engineer, perhaps this is for 2011? Those that do confront change in innovation thinking will pull ahead as business is certainly not ‘as usual’ after these past few years, it is getting (or is) very different and demanding on all of us to think and react differently. Nothing seems to stand still, it demands ‘agile’ minds.  We do need to start in ‘managing’ differently from the past and that is one big leap to make.

Any thoughts you might have had on reflections from 2010 that give us optimism (and work) for 2011?

Achieving a sense of renewal to your innovation activities.

Innovating for the future lies with a fresh approach

We need to constantly renew within ourselves. There is a time when your innovation efforts may need a serious renewal and for many this might be now. Knowing when to invest in an innovation renewal and organizing for it is like any other organizational activity.

Those that are honest enough to admit that what they have achieved to-date in innovation activity is just not going to ‘cut it’ for the future will be making a  very ‘tough’ call but it might be one of the best ones you are about to make. I think we all need to think of a renewal of innovation as essential in our thinking as over time many things have changed and moved on. We need not just to adjust in our objectives but more importantly to adapt and acknowledge that our innovation understanding has greatly improved, so we need to reflect this in our innovation structures, processes and systems.

Challenge the ‘legacy’ within.

Considerable investment has gone into previous innovation activity but much of this is actually ‘legacy’ and perhaps our current innovation practices are ‘frozen’ in past times and organised around out-of-date structures and processes. We all (should) have been learning about new concepts and approaches to innovation and what these can bring in growth, sustainability and value to our organizations.

Often we don’t allow ourselves to call for a thorough review of our innovation infrastrcture.  We also sometimes need to expand out our thinking and push it a little more with future foresights, fresh visions and bolder challenges. We need to truly capitalize on the emerging practices of innovation, not just based only on yesterday’s experiments and successes or achieved through outdated past behaviours and thinking.

A need for a critical and fresh evaluation of your innovation process

There comes a time where any structure, process, culture or organization needs a radical rethink and innovation is no different -don’t simply bolt on the next bit, I would argue we need to reflect on this and think differently, reequip ourselves to meet the present and future challenges. To achieve this perhaps, radical departure, you do need to look at a more structured approach to your renewal of innovation, designing into this processes and structures that are more sustaining and can become embedded within the organization once and for all.

Making the first critical steps

Firstly you have to start out with why you feel a freshening up should be required, should this be radical, distinctive or incremental. What do you actually want to achieve that takes you closer to your aspirations, not just immediate goals? Can the way you conduct innovation today meet that strategic challenge? It could be for a host of pressing needs for meeting competition in today’s market or positioning for the ‘forces’ swirling around global competition as changes in fortune do not come just by luck or chance; we have to create the right environment to enable it to happen.

We should question many of the ‘established’ approaches and challenge them with fresher, more up-to-date thinking based on current innovation thinking.

Going step-by-step

Let me offer some thoughts of taking a more systematic and structured approach to renewal. Theser can help you to think through those needs that have to be addressed for a different innovation approach in the future.

I would recommend that you can work through a step-by-step approach, enabling clarity and understanding as you go, so everyone involved can see the problems, challenges and contribute to the solutions. What this does call for is a very structured, comprehensive investigative approach across the organization to build the momentum for firstly sensing renewal as important for the future, and then seeing clarity for this future that is built upon a sustaining innovation culture all can become involved in.

12 critical steps through this diagnostic structured framework for equipping yourself for improving innovation.

These are:

  1. Assessments that firstly evaluate your present position. Build this not only on internal observation but on external evaluations. Separate opinions and facts, highlight potential weaknesses, and investigate the culture through a range of evaluation tools that are available to complete this part.
  2. Next, benchmark quickly your competitors and search across other industry insights to begin to build the momentum for ‘why’ change.
  3. Seek out those pockets of resistance that are constantly just below the surface or even deep seated, address the critical issues through a change resistance grid and resolve the obstacles through a variety of methods and techniques with a real sense of urgency. Address this clearly and squarely.
  4. Making a battery of tests to assess the readiness for change, the resilience and capability to make change and evaluate where innovation has contributed to your performance. Talk about this broadly.
  5. Approach solutions with a greater understanding of the different people style options, the diversity of traits, leadership and situational methods that if accounted for from the early stages will bring fresh and different dimensions to your thinking and break down possible blockages by recognizing and adopting different techniques for different people. One size does not fit all and respecting diversity across the organization and accommodating this diverse opinion will add such a ‘zest’ of freshness.
  6. Learning the techniques of facilitation to mobilize latent energy, provide encouragement, revitalize and respond to the multiple layers within your organization and spending the appropriate amount of time in building this into the actions you are needing to take for changing the environment and climate for innovation to thrive.
  7. Focus upon the critical aspects of the business that assesses, realigns, restructures and redeploys around the three critical aspects of knowing and leveraging your core business through your innovation offerings: 1) making the customer the centre of your thinking 2) addressing your products and service quality and offerings at the new innovation speed, 3) to build increasing agility, flexibility and anticipation that is required to meet the new market needs. Make these central to your new thinking.
  8. Managing innovation change needs a clear, dedicated focus in clarifying plans, thinking through new systems and practices, committing to training and constant support, providing feedback, managing the inherent stress this can cause and building the building blocks of commitment and shared identification. Recognizing that this requires a sustaining innovation engine that needs well resourcing.
  9. Knowing where the levers are to revitalize innovation requires a range of techniques and dedicated innovation champions to clarify objectives and to provide guidance and authentic authority. It is through these dedicated champions of innovation change that you communicate any decisions, communicate new policy to integrate these across the business. Seize upon any early wins, celebrate successes widely and provide the mechanism for this recognition through strong well thought out HR support. Identify and tackle those current difficulties head on and make every effort to reduce road blocks to give this increasing sense of renewal for all to see and relate too.
  10. Innovation regeneration needs setting new visions, new directions and goals, providing essential resource and support to promote new culture and capabilities needed. You need to construct the appropriate action plans, track results, update and re-adjust from fresh knowledge and learning so these begin to restore a growing sense of identity and corporate value and building the communication plans to cascade these throughout the organization. Let everyone feel, hear and see the changes.
  11. Provide clear solutions that define the goals, structure, systems and processes. Don’t duck them. Invest in the design considerations with care and forethought. Plan any cultural or structural shifts so as to provide the learning platforms for investing in new competencies and skills that place a premium on acquiring this new knowledge needed to adopt, using open consistent communications and growing networks that inform, promote and identify the emerging vision of why we need to do innovation differently.
  12. Place innovation at the heart of generating new growth and establishing the ongoing momentum for sustaining renewal over the long term, with a structured process and corporate sense of engagement. This means an absolute alignment of innovation to the strategy. This alignment is a C-board imperative, otherwise nothing really changes, all you have achieved is a simple ‘lick’ of innovation paint to brush over existing weakness.

There is a real imperitive for a clear sense of renewal in innovation, it often needs it to take away redundancy and replace it with a more pupose built innovation engine for growth and value.

By taking this more structured approach it certainly calls for a dedicated commitment that seeks out, investigates and builds the momentum for generating innovation renewal. The need for making the case for renewal and charting the path towards the solutions is no different than any other corporate initiative. Making the commitment and getting others to sign on often is hard but essential.

It takes that ‘sense of innovation renewal’ that does come from an organizational commitment that all begin to recognize as necessary to address and meet the future.  It is crafting the story  in a clear, logical way that will gain that greater identification and commitment. Explaining that our future is not waiting for others, but ‘seizing the initiative’ and translating what we ‘know’ with what we ‘need to know’ is important. Placing our innovation destiny in our hands and on our terms by renewing ourselves is critical today.

We need to lead, so others follow and try where they can, in reacting, copying and adjusting does give a significant first mover advantage in todays innovative world.

A structured approach to renewal is not an easy journey; it takes dedicated time and incredible strength of determination. The rewards come through an organization that emerges from today’s ‘uncertainly’ equipped to be more resistant, flexible and agile, so as to seize emerging opportunities quicker, at tomorrows new innovation speed .

An innovation guide in this ‘sense of renewal’ can often help.