Designing appropriate tension into the innovation process.

I’ve always loved this: “appropriate adaptiveness is not a natural tension- it has to be designed.” OK, I can hear you quietly sniggering.

When you are dealing with the innovation process you naturally have tension. Often if you have no tension or simply too much slack built into the process, you don’t end up in achieving a good result, it falls well below expectations. it is often this lack of designed-in ‘tension’ that is not appreciated like it should be within the innovation process. The wrong tension is left to eat away at the innovation process.

Firstly a cautionary warning here.

Now this is about to get into the realms of theory but I hope you stay with me on this. Why? Well knowing why innovation does fail can be useful (to your future) and what you can design into it, so as to reduce this risk has some value, I would think. So tune out or hang in- your choice.

Using theory often helps- really!

According to Professor Clayton Christensen the only way to look into the future is to use theories. “The best way to make accurate sense of the present, and the best way to look into the future, is through the lens of theory.”Good theory provides a robust way to understand important developments, even when the data is limited. “Theory helps to block out the noise and to amplify the signal”.

The theory of innovation helps to understand the forces that shape the context and influence natural decisions. You should consciously design in tension into your innovation process.

Let me explain this in its different parts.

Coherence in purpose & consistency is what we all desire

It is accepted wisdom in today’s environment, enterprises cannot design and impose from the top down, it stifles far too much and limits creativity. Strategies do not only emerge from the whole but from the sum of all the parts and it is the diversity within the parts gives the ‘richness’ to innovation. These parts are the emergent strategies that combine with a deliberate (approach) to strategy and become the realised and appropriate strategy. Within an organization we seek to have coherence in purpose and through this a consistency in behaviour. Innovation needs that as well.

Creative tension

Clarity of the vision (our strategic mission) of where we want to be and an honest assessment of ‘where we are today’, our current reality point, signals always a clear gap. It is this gap that is a natural tension for organizations to bridge and close. They do this through this creative tension of moving from reality to the vision. “I have a dream” by Martin Luther Kong Jr resonated with equally ‘where we are today’ to make it a defining moment. Innovation equally requires both, the vision and the honest assessment so the solutions are worked upon to close the gap. This is the creative tension we need to design into our process. This is one of our appropriate tension points.

Context and co-ordination

For me always knowing the context is critical. If we do not have a deep understanding of the why, what, how, then we are never going to offer the best solutions or come close. Far too often, context is forgotten in many new initiatives and the reason they flounder. It is like our current reality point. If you don’t know these, innovation becomes really hard to deliver the results you want.

Context is made up of many things, this can include the purpose and bounds, the capabilities and role structures within any social system that innovation tends to work within. By being explicit you actually highlight the tensions and you get closer to producing a ‘decent’ innovation brief.

We should look at context within this thinking through in this way:

  1. The purpose of innovation as a whole is to do what? What’s its contribution to the total mission, its primary function, its value.
  2. You set the bounds of innovative behaviour, experimentation and guiding principles to provide a growing empowerment and governance, this unleashes creativity and promotes the boundaries where innovation can play!
  3. Capabilities to produce certain outcomes (deliverables) need to be in place to meet the mission and it is critical to understand these and set about providing these skill sets needed for innovation to be managed robustly and with depth of diversity and  understanding of their contributions into the process.
  4. The roles that will be held accountable for producing the outcomes need defining and articulating and then managing consistently and well.

This clarity of innovation purpose is the leader’s role to co-ordinate and through the structures provided you can begin to manage the outcomes as well as to evaluate if these outcomes are achieving the goals and closing that gap between vision and today’s reality. If not , then he or she needs to loop back and tighten the tensions, to adapt them in design for achieving the appropriate innovation system. This is a critical leadership task, like designing a talent development structure to achieve your goals.

Recognizing there are differing rates of exchange

“Achieving this coherence between context and co-ordination of outcomes is subject to natural tensions”

Organisations have layers, a hierarchy to deliver the means, and these change at different rates of ‘shear’ against each other, these are often natural tensions sometimes mistaken as politics, inability or poor understanding. Management often fails to recognize these natural tensions.

One classic example is the horizon of an end result that the different level of the organization sees. This has a sheering effect between the layers involved. Innovation gets badly caught up in this.

When is the right timeframe for innovation delivery? Is this next quarter, next year, in three years or in what period?  Setting about establishing that innovation simply does not conform to annual financial calendars and needs to be accounted for differently become important to establish. This can allow innovation concepts to move within their more natural discovery /development cycle to achieve the right delivery of innovation value. Far too often it is being shoehorned into an unnatural calendar that limits the original concept and compromises the potential result, one that could allow for delivering more game-changing innovation.

If only innovation could have this recognition that it is different from finished goods and allowed to be set within a different cycle than financially driven based on financial calendar would have a most positive effect. You are designing in a more natural set of tensions and resolving some of those sheering effects that are occurring that are negative in their tensions. (Sheering is when tectonic plates are forced together and create this sheering effect – earthquakes, tsunamis, disruption).

If we could place innovation into three time horizons that you will find I’ve discussed in previous blogs in some detail. Briefly this recognize different horizons:

  1. Goals- achievements within the period covered (by a financial review)- milestones
  2. Objectives- attained later but are progressed and those parts accounted for within the period
  3. Ideals- unattainable within the time period but progress is possible during and after the period under review.

These are actually different rates of exchange that can apply a consistency of behaviour (and understanding) and be configured within the innovation process accordingly. These need to be appropriately designed into the system.

As we study ecosystems we see they reflect the sheering effect.

In a study of ecosystems by Robert V O’Neill and others, published in a book called “A Hierarchical Concept of Ecosystems”  by observing rates of change of different components you see the dynamics and tensions within a system. For example, hummingbirds and flowers are quick, redwood trees slow, and whole redwood forests are even slower. Most interaction is within the same pace level- hummingbirds and flowers pay attention to each other, oblivious to redwoods, who are oblivious of them. Meanwhile the forest is attentive to climate changes but not the hasty fate of individual trees.

The insight can be often applied to innovation:

The dynamics of the system will be dominated by the slow components, with the rapid components simply following along. Slow constrains quick, slow controls quick”

Tension occurs as faster changing layers sheer against slower ones, impatience and resistant ‘kick in’ when innovation is demanded, or promised and is not delivered as expected. Knowing the tension points and recognizing their negative effect needs designing out. Again we need to have appropriate adaptiveness designed in, we need to place tension into a context and we need to keep it creative in tension.

Innovation should be the regular way of daily thinking

We should view tensions among innovation, values and risk not as conflicts to be avoided, but as opportunities to be managed. It is the impact of appropriate values and organisational culture that create the ‘right’ tension to allow innovation to thrive or wither.

It is the successful ability of encouraging opportunity, of converting ideas into practices and accepting that there are risks associated, without knowing for sure, that generate new products, services or processes that close our gap between a vision and our present reality.

How do we balance and encourage natural tension’s?

These exist between all the parts of the organization that need to innovate and how we manage successfully the different attitudes to risk that will reside there. How do we organize-to-innovate? What structure needs to be in place to accommodate risk-taking? How do we seize on opportunities quickly?

Adapting the context-and-coordination approach has value here.

The process of adaptiveness is likened to a pilot’s ability to learn through the mental process: “observe, orient, decide and act.” This constitutes an (adaptive) loop.  It contains the four essential functions to any adaptive organization of:“sensing, interpreting, deciding and acting” This adaptive loop is a method for institutional learning. The key is “learning what?” then “how should we learn?” but  an organization has to learn to fulfil its purpose, in this case to close the gap with innovation.

To build in tension we need to become more of those innovation learning organizations.

I’m not sure how many people have read Peter Senge’s book “The Fifth Discipline” but it offers a roadmap for changing our current organizations into learning ones, ones that build innovation into everyday thinking. He suggests five critical needs: 1. System thinking, 2. Personal mastery, 3. Mental modes, 4. Building shared vision and 5. Team learning.

I think exploring these you build in the appropriate natural tensions that innovation requires but you firstly have to make that honest assessment of your current reality, and sadly far too many organizations or leaders are not prepared to do this, they prefer to labour under mistaken reality.

Leadership needs innovation to happen

Leadership has to create the environment to successfully handle paradox, complexity and in the end risk. It needs to design in the appropriate system to allow innovation to work, to permit creative tension to take place. Failure to create this right ‘mix’ will often mean they lose the opportunity both within the organisation and especially in the market place as they have not understood the complexity of the innovation ecosystem they need to manage.

Leadership has the role of getting the right balance, the right design tension into the innovating system, so as to bring out the best from this participation of all the opposing forces for greater innovation opportunity. Harnessing risk and opportunity for innovation is essential, managing its tension becomes essential to be designed in, not simply allowed to happen. Understanding this is important for innovation to succeed.

What’s hot and what is not in Innovation currently?

So what is hot, what is not in innovation at present? Any thoughts?

What do we need to remind ourselves about as we go about our ‘daily’ innovation business?

Some of my top of the mind quick thoughts:

  • Innovation is not the preserve of the (selected) few but the domain of the community. Driving this message home yields a real upsurge of new, often exciting activity that you would have missed out upon without engaging the broader community.
  • This absolute growing need to move on from the reliance of symbolic projects to justify innovations existence. Stop dipping your toe in the water, just jump in and get wet. Get everyone involved and wanting to contribute.
  • Recognizing innovation is traversing functions, entities and boundaries faster than ever. Find ways to get out of the way to allow it to flow where the energy goes and then ‘attempt’ to capture it for the good of all.
  • Open Innovation is moving out of the R&D Lab and moving very fast across an organization for a more Open Enterprise approach. Keep breaking down those barriers of resistance to allow this openness to further take hold, expand and contribute into your everyday thinking.
  • Collaboration is formed at the hip with Co-creation. Making sure you are extracting your fair share of value from all these exchanges.
  • Design is certainly coming increasingly to the fore and working through how and where it fits within the innovation mix and valuing it for its ‘added’ worth.
  • The combining of great design and appropriate functionality giving your customers what they need and feel good about is a powerful combination to achieve.
  • Platforms and ecosystems are emerging to manage complex innovation challenges and knowing where and how you can fit into these to extract more is essential.
  • The power of social innovation and linking your product to societal needs Scaling becomes important to expand this out.
  • We need to “reconnect to dominant economic activities of the larger society”, add a ‘higher’ purpose into our innovation activity.
  • The bottom of the pyramid thinking is really ‘hot,’ very relevant in today’s more cost conscious market conditions.
  • Reverse innovation and its ability to be rescaled to adapt across different markets is equally a valuable source of growth within organizations. We do need to learn from others on what is actually possible so a product can enter previous untapped markets.
  • There is a growing hope we are in the final death throes of the organization, of moving even further away from the linear process of cause and effect that has dominated much of the 20th century thinking.
  • Innovation needs to respond to the market and the needs. It does need to be more ‘frugal’ or matching more closely the pockets of your consumer. Equally there is always a wish for something to ‘wow’ us. The two ends just need understanding more to get right.
  • For me, the one that stays always top of mind is setting innovation in its context so this can be understood by others so they can find their ways to contribute.

I’m sure you have some that are important to you. Just remember to keep them in focus as we go around our daily work, or least we sometimes forget.

Plan your innovation resolutions early for 2012

For many October is the peak month for bringing together their strategic and operating plans for 2012. Meetings get frantic, issues get raised, and plans get drawn up, rejected and redrawn. The period becomes a fever pitch.

Where does innovation figure within this? In new products, new services and plenty of noble entreaties to adding to the growth I am sure. One aspect you might want to consider within all this activity and planning, is to develop a resolution list of issues that need resolving, I mean really, finally, actually resolving in 2012, to allow innovation to have a greater ‘hold’ on future thinking. Achieving a consensus, a clear focus, and a corporate commitment is what strategic plans are about so draw up your list of innovation resolutions needed to be resolved in 2012 and commit to them within the plans. Be upfront and bold.

Make sure you choose ‘soft’ as well as ‘hard’ innovation resolutions within any mix

One thing I would recommend when you draw up your list. Most corporate executives find the ‘softer’ aspects of innovation harder to work through. There is this certain ‘hard wiring’ that everything has to be clear, measurable and tucked away  in the accounts or ‘ticked off’ in each person’s mind. Softer aspects of innovation often don’t conform to this orderly view of the world and it is addressing this inconsistency ‘head-on’ has great value.

As anyone working across innovation challenges can recognize, it is the intangibles, the softer aspects of innovation, that make it truly work, so my recommendation, make sure you embed these softer ones within any set of innovation resolutions. Eventually more people become comfortable these ‘softer’ aspects are critical to focus upon as they become strategically established and it makes the job of any person engaged in innovation a little easier that it is recognized.

Here are 9 innovation areas that might need your resolution for better outcomes in 2012.

These 9 struck me as issues that are causing problems for innovation but please don’t let me stop you making your own list, but all I ask you is please make sure you have not forgotten them by the end of January. These resolutions should be strategic commitments to really work upon to fully resolve. Raise them, talk about them, get them agreed as important to resolve and build them into your strategic plans for 2012, along with the required actions, resources and thoughtful solutions to delivering on these.

-          There is this urge to keep forcing change on the client with new products and services. We are in really different economic times at present and they might find these as difficult to accept so working out ways for extracting value from their need for a ‘steady state’ can provide different innovation opportunities such as adding services to a product.

-          The recent emphasis has been on finding the ‘disrupting’ application, product or business model, nothing is wrong with this to change existing markets or move into new segments. There are many other ‘types’ of innovation to explore which might actually not be as equally disruptive to you. Disruptive approaches are often fraught with risks for you and this might not be the time for this strategy anyway, explore the others to contain risks in volatile times. Learning about the significant differences in required competencies and approaches for each type of innovation will provide for a greater dimension to your future innovation activities and your ability to deliver on these.

-          Establishing a more ‘listening culture’ so you can discover far more about the issues effecting your customers, your employees so you can adjust your innovation offerings to cater for a more exact need. This can be a really powerful competitive advantage. There is a lot to absorb in this, from social media to CRM and through learning and experimenting. Raising this up within a resolution need for 2012 would be strategically important for your organizations future to really define and structure.

-          We struggle to leverage the tools that are available for finding new opportunities, be these at the discovery stage or in market research. By exploring the array of tools that are available for spotting trends, needs or unearthing the next big opportunity you can leverage and exploit these different techniques allowing a deeper appreciation of their value. Also one positive outcome is to have established a greater toolkit of techniques to take forward.

-          Downturns are really good times to get rid of some of the ‘legacy’ within your organization, to finally recognize older systems, flat file repositories for managing innovation, idea management systems can be reviewed and you reposition yourselves with some incredibly nimble, low cost, highly flexible systems that are available through a Web 2.0 approach. This can greater advance a more integrated flow of ideas to concepts through product life cycle management approaches and cloud management. No time is lost in learning and experimenting with these in pilot, beta testing environments so you can be well positioned to justify new expenditures based on these ‘investments’.

-          One of the biggest issues for me is the continued lack of innovation alignment to the strategy within organizations. A recent report suggested that anywhere from 25% to 50% of your organization’s time and effort is being spent on tasks that don’t fully align with the corporate strategies. If innovation folks don’t understand that their efforts are not really contributing to the strategic goals then you should be concerned. I would suggest fixing this potential ‘unproductive loss’ is a great resolution to pursue.

-          When is the right timeframe for innovation delivery? Next quarter, next year, in three years or in what period. Setting about establishing that innovation simply does not conform to annual financial calendars and needs to be accounted for differently would be an incredible, potentially internal breakthrough point. Having this on your resolution list to ‘crack’ through extensive internal discussions so as  to allow innovations to move within its more natural discovery through to the right delivery cycle. Far to often it is being shoehorned into a unnatural calendar that limits the original concept and compromises the potential result, that could  allow for delivering more game changing innovation would be a dramatic recognition.

-          The question still remains for many organizations of when will innovation will be totally embedded in the psyche of the C-level corner office. Spending dedicated time and efforts for the numerous C-level executives to finally ‘get it’ so they move from emerging to emergent would solve one of the biggest innovation inhibitors faced in most organizations. Making the commitment to educate and inform the top echelons or your colleagues on a consistent basis would make a terrific resolution to steadfastly go after throughout the next twelve months.

-          Quantifying innovation is always a difficult ‘nut’ to crack. Again the majority of the management want everything to be measured, a return on the investment. Taking time out to delve into the different ways to quantify and establish these as the metrics to be adopted and used can put finally ‘to bed’ this perennial issue. Showing the real value innovation brings to the organization needs a real dedication in understanding. Getting to an innovation value ROI map and all that it impacts as innovation ‘touch points’ can galvanise an organization hugely if they understand this. Time well invested.

Of course, these are just some suggested resolutions, tough ones actually but I think resolutions should be demanding on you.  I’m sure you have some of your own that should be written down and ‘baked’ into the 2012 strategic plans to manage, pursue and resolve. Sometimes fixing some of what you have got that sometimes does not fully work, is far better than always searching out for something new. Many of the ones suggested above really would strengthen and embed innovation into your organization’s culture.

Go on, adopt some innovation resolutions that need really fixing in 2012, I’m sure you can name a few. Establish them in your strategic goals and personal commitments and then set about cascading them down and across the organization as important ones to be fixed in 2012. Do plan for fixing them by drawing up your innovation resolution list and include it in any and every review.

Clear trends are shaping the future of innovation

In the last week or so I took a step back to look at the emerging trends around innovation. It certainly seems to have a bright future but its management is growing in complexity. It now needs a deeper understanding than ever. Are we achieving that?

My viewpoint on observing different innovation dilemmas:

  • Innovation used to be about product, technology and R&D but it is far more now about value and anything that carries value. It is about creativity and entrepreneurship and it is even more tied to a clear vision today than ever, so it does become a vital part of the culture of the company. Innovation and its potential value generation have certainly broadened out in options and needs even more to be tightly integrated with the strategy- how different types of innovation are aligned is really critical. I think many organizations are failing badly on this alignment recognition.
  • The growing appreciation that richer opportunities are to be found across the entire value chain by how we manage and view this. Making the strategic choice of what should remain in house as a contributor to the core and which can be outsourced to specialists better equipped and more focused on that part. This is making innovation far more complex and will challenge everyone but it can be very liberating and more rewarding providing the value can be recognized and leveraged effectively …in faster and more relevant innovations that deliver from the core or adjacencies or through others better equipped to add their value. The key to outsourcing is resolving the questions of can this be effectively coordinated on who manages what, and who owns what, and how it is exploited, for the added value and impact this can offer each party.
  • There is a clear recognition that defining real value lies more at the customer point and not within an organization in the R&D lab, as has been the past practice. Getting the customer involved as early as you can from discovery to delivery- the end to end of innovation- extracts greater potential value. There has been a growing shift for innovations to meet exact customer needs and also discover their unmet needs and then working back to developing the solutions. This increased customer focus will continue by making them more central in any web of co-creators and co-creation activities that needs to be undertaken around innovation discovery and its final delivery.
  • External parties are seeking more involvement in a ‘joint’ innovation processes and the development process as early as they can. Partners are becoming increasingly reliant on each other to become a critical contributor or component provider to resolve more complex problems. Understanding these mutual dependencies is important to be recognized and actively managed in new collaborative ways.
  • We have seen some really dramatic shifts in research techniques to know more of what ‘pulls’ and ‘connects’ with consumers. Customers are also looking to become more engaged and involved in their products and services, in what they expect and wish to be associated with. Managing these dynamics and often the emotional mix is hard and often frustratingly complex, to decipher and interpret.  The new work is to be positioned as the ‘orchestrator’ of these dialogues across the organization and in drawing in through collaboration with the partners, by constructing the conduits and business platforms where the flow of exchanges takes place where new concepts evolve.
  • The shift in emphasis to the customer makes a really compelling case for increased emphasis to be made on trend spotting, scouting, aligning and recognizing behavioural changes so as to make insights a real core of your business, more the source of those ideas than leaving ideas simply emerging from within an organization. Stringing together an often diverse set of signals calls for higher capability in pattern recognition and appreciating more about complex adaptive systems and the part they play. These are where dynamic networks of interactions and relationships merge and adapt differently, so individual and collective behaviour changes as a result of the experience, leading to emerging new opportunities to explore.
  • There is an increasing need to manage a diverse group of collaborators across a common process. Often these parties might not want or need the same end-result but do need each other to ‘combine’ for a given result. This will benefit their individual businesses and add new dimensions in this collaboration space, to then deliver different outcomes than the existing solutions in place today fail to do. There is a real value of combining and working through a common business platform, to achieve individual and collective aims and equally, enhance the total delivery experience (Delivering Applications around Android are a good example here or Apples developer platform). Platforms bring together developers, providers and customers that can scale or contract accordingly and if well managed can drive business strategy in dramatically new ways.
  • Building a more robust ‘activity system’ into managing innovation, beyond just simply pipelines and portfolio’s needs thinking through. It requires a more open logic model to be articulated and built around so as to allow for more early ‘open’ thinking, exploring and investigating multiple options. Far too often an idea is screened out far to early and not explored in a wider context of ‘seeing things differently’. Equally the lack of flexibility of concepts simply moving through the innovation system with a one dimensional end result of ‘just’ product without exploring the value of services, or even combining them, can miss huge growth opportunities .
  • The value and growing appreciation about exploring different Business Models has increasing value. Providing the necessary space to explore emerging opportunities with new business models is becoming a must for accelerating growth through innovation and experimentation. Showing that increased willingness to separate and develop more ‘spin offs to encourage the concepts to flourish is more frequent from larger organizations that will increasingly challenge the young upstarts. By showing more commitment to separating off exciting new concepts to bear fruit quickly and to be allowed to more highly focused, so as to deliver the ‘seen’ result will allow larger organizations to be more nimble and responsive than in the past. This growing willingness is altering the competitive landscape even more.
  • The constant ’quest for growth’ will need an even deeper connection between Marketing and Innovation as they will continue to be two ‘twins’ as the strongest drivers of margin and revenue growth. What is required is to re-equip marketing executives with new skills in design appreciation, research expertise, deeper customer engagements and an even stronger voice at the C-level to drive innovation through its different avenues of opportunity (service, product, social, business model generation). Innovation needs to be a core capability within Marketing, not just given a cursory understanding or working through a narrow view, it needs deep appreciation of what and where it can provide this growth.
  • The recognition that adopting someone else’s best practice is not the ideal way to go, it has been the ‘lazy man’s’ solution for far too long and really does need even more rigorously challenging. Defining your specific emergent or good practices that fit your culture and context are clearly better, adopting blindly others is not, yet still far too many do this. Your context, your culture, your resources are uniquely different and other peoples ‘best practice’ is not the right starting point. Somehow best practice needs a radical overhaul in what it provides and what it can inhibit. Far too often adopting best practice can be a disaster. Emergent practice should be the watch world.
  • The art of spending wisely today is even more vital. The choices between experimentation, trial and error internally and learning from external expertise for understanding innovation needs to be worked upon. There needs to be a better appreciate of each other’s contribution. It still seems not be well managed, far to ad hoc and not well thought through. Admittedly external expertise has often failed to provide innovation leadership and the deeper thinking that internal expertise on its own simply cannot deliver. External advisors simply took over and then left at the end of their consulting engagements, leaving much simply not embedded within the organization.
  • Contracting hands-on consultants should be seen differently from using external knowledge providers-they offer a distinctly different service and for me, the difference between consulting and advising. With growing complexity innovation specialization has increasing value, often this is not sitting on the teams bench, it needs bringing in and being valued for what this can give in greater appreciation. Greater external expertise needs to be injected into the innovation equation of many organizations for deepening individuals, teams and organizational understanding of what innovation can provide in its different potential. There is today even more of a business case for a deep innovation dive with external facilitation to graps new understanding and latest developments from a party that is 100% focused on the subject. The internal executive is often left badly equipped to recognise innovation’s complexities as it seemingly doesn’t fit their lens of the world and due to this organizations can discount much to their peril in the longer term.

There is a lot evolving in the name of innovation, all very healthy but all very challenging. Innovation needs to be treated as a critical discipline, to be built up, to be called upon where necessary. It is often not as well understood as it should be, on how it often works but it needs establishing far more within the fabric of each organization. It should be treated no different than the IT specialist, the accounting specialist, the strategic advisor, PhD researcher or sales specialist, innovation has a critical place and needs clear representation at the top table.

Place more trust in the specialists that have innovation as their expertise, internally and externally but give this the necessary ‘head room’ to be understood. It is time innovation as a recognized discipline should be fully embraced, ambiguities and all! There is a new wave of emerging innovation practice going on.

Declarations and Social Innovation

I always get nervous when declarations are made. Over two days in the middle of September, 2011 in Vienna a “Vienna Declaration” was made determining “the most needed social innovations and related research topics”

Maybe it is the way it has been written as a declaration but I’m left uncomfortable. When you read within the declaration document:

the ‘deliberations’ took place on what could be done to strengthen the social sciences capacity to play a prolific role in conceptualising and research of social innovation, and thus favour desirable development of the globalised knowledge society. This led to the idea of a Vienna Declaration that should identify critical areas of social and scientific development, and state a number of equally important corresponding research topics

The rationale behind the declaration states the Vienna Declaration is the first and immediate Core Deliverable of the Conference, created and established during the conference by joint efforts of all participants.

This makes me even more nervous, those that went decided to make a ‘universal’ declaration but OK, I can’t fully comment as it is difficult to see the whole context for this meeting. it remains unclear if it has a pivotal role or not within SIE in Europe, on behalf of the EU, on behalf of society within the EU? I’m left really not sure.

The declaration rationale then went onto stating:

The topics selected and prioritised do not represent the completion of the process of determining the most needed social innovations and the corresponding research issues. In fact the whole operation was built on being courageous enough to start the process of getting there, while at the same time remaining modest enough to know that this is just a beginning. It is perceived and shall be read, commented, and considered as the starting point in further clarification, specification, and operationalisation of important research topics social sciences shall deal with in an attempt to support processes of identification, development and implementation of the most needed social innovation of the 21st century. In addition, of course, social sciences also are requested to also study, analyse, and assess the societal impact of innovations in general, and of social innovations in particular

Finally the report suggests three main ways to build on the results achieved by the Challenge Social Innovation. (their wording)

  1. To collect questions, recommendations, comments of support and critical assessment alike, the first and unchanged result of the identification, wording and voting processes of the Vienna Declaration is published for discussion in an open forum at www.socialinnovation2011.eu. Any entry in this forum from 1st until 31st of Oct. 2011 will be recorded and analysed by the Steering Committee, (steering committee of the very people involved in the declaration?) feeding in to the revised and commented version of the Vienna Declaration in the first week of November.
  2. The revised version, taking into account suggestions and remarks to the initial version, will be broadly published and brought to personal attention of EC Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science, Ms. Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, on Nov. 11th, 2011……..  At this stage of development it is neither possible to predict a certain impact in research and innovation support programmes, nor is there any guaranty that policy makers will really take into account proposed topics highlighted in the Vienna Declaration.
  3. The sensational high interest in Challenge Social Innovation – with 371 participants registered and many more who could not register any more because of extreme overbooking – together with high standards of presentations, discussions, and results delivered emphatically call for establishing further collaboration and community building. The European School of Social Innovation, formally based in Vienna, is conceived as an international Competence Network, reaching out to European and global scholars and institutions involved in social innovation research, academic education and vocational training. The proponents will organise a formal inaugural meeting later this year to establish the Board and other Organs of the Association, and to kick-off first concrete activities to become executed during  2012

This is a clear opening response to social need or is it?

It does sound like the conference was an overwhelming success for the participants. They are agenda setting, they are goal defining, they are research shaping. They are raising social innovation as a high sense of urgency to organize around. The question is for whom? For themselves to become an effective influencer independent of EU structure or an arm of the body set up to lead this?

They have adopted a set of research themes going forward made in response to major societal challenges  the Europe 2020 strategy sets measurable targets such as Employment of 75% of the workforce, investment of 3% of the EU GDP in Research, Development and Innovation (RDI), adapting to the challenges of Climate Change (20% less greenhouse gas emissions, 20% increase in energy efficiency, 20% of energy from renewable resources), reducing school drop-out rates below 10% and enabling 40% of age cohorts to complete third level Education, and reduce the number of people in or at risk of Poverty and Social Exclusion by 20 million.

I by the way have trouble with these strategies for Europe.

So far all I’ve seen does not tell me where we are coming from in regarding these measurable targets. Also I’m not clear how these strategies really does tackle real social problems of chronic health, promoting growth and well-being not only for, but also with the citizens, a stated objective of the initial social agenda documented by the European Commission. Where the citizens engaged in determining these? Does it offer effective ways or just more of the same ‘push’ of existing policies? These measurable results, have they been challenged, debated or discussed- I might have missed that.

This declaration leaves me concerned. Let me explain why

The explanation, I felt actually was very dismissive, as captured in the declaration:

“To aim at such specified targets involves the determination of a multiplicity of objectives and the need to co-ordinate scientific as well as practical activities in the wide domains of employment, RDI, climate change, education, and social inclusion. What is required here is only to a limited degree further development of business innovations and new technologies”. (my bold emphasis)

The declaration went on…..

The most urgent and important innovations in the 21st century will take place in the social field. This opens up the necessity as well as possibilities for social sciences to find new roles and relevance (my bold again)  by generating knowledge applicable to new dynamics and structures of contemporary and future societies”

In the present way this document is written it seems to have a narrow agenda where social science is seeking out its new role and relevance but what I found constantly missing was the social good that it will deliver?

For me social innovation needs scope, scale and impact in all we focus upon, otherwise it will not ‘shift the gauge‘ on social issues needing urgent action.

Is this socially reflective enough?

I’m just worried that the momentum behind this declaration is not as well thought through, balanced out, social inclusive, socially reflective enough.

If the wording is right “What is required here is only to a limited degree further development of business innovation and new technologies” then social innovation may never get off the ground. This cannot be right surely?

I still subscribe to the barriers that were identified in a document dated May 2010 entitled “Empowering people, driving change: social innovation in the European union”

It stated:

Social innovation is a risk-taking operation that requires imagination, perseverance and confidence to develop a creative idea of a product or service, and then implement a participative process and establish strong partnerships for its implementation and subsequent scaling-up. Social innovators are confronted with barriers that are often linked to an incompatible audit or regulatory culture.

Reviews and evaluations of EU programmes managed by the Commission have highlighted a number of obstacles to the development and mainstreaming of social innovations, including the traditional risk-averse and cautious organisational cultures of administrations, closed systems which favour single-issue solutions developed within clusters of organisations lacking mutual awareness, communication, networking and trust, fragmented capacities (resources, infrastructures and intermediaries) and skills (training, design tools, monitoring, validation and evaluation) preventing the development of a rich ‘eco-system’ for enabling social innovations, and insufficient stable, seamless and sustainable funding throughout all stages of the innovation cycle”

I must be missing something here- maybe social innovation inclusion

I seem to be reading another message with the Vienna Declaration from the above EU document. I’m certainly having a hard time to equate to this declaration. For me it needs an awful lot more contextual work and linking it back to all the social validation that has gone on before it needs to take place. Maybe I’m just reading this declaration wrong. Maybe I’ve missed some critical steps on how we got here.

I do get nervous on declarations, a lack of contextual background and timelines that allow for little constructive response. The implementation of any declaration is within the details and this misses much for me as it presently stands,  not in their enthusiasm but in relationship to what has been developed before this declaration, in policy outlines and direction of social concepts.

Declarations can be noble but the wider community needs fully engaging for any implementation otherwise it becomes, in this case just a further body of academic suggestions that might miss the real mark.

Preparing the secret sauce for innovation delivery.

The secret sauce required for innovation delivery sometimes can be hard to itemize but knowing the ingredients and constantly improving on them wil make your ‘sauce’ stand out from others.  For many it seems, execution or final delivery of the innovation is simply not given enough attention inside many organizations and that needs to certainly change and not just left to chance or delegated out as the less important stage.

For me, clarifying and committing resources on the innovation delivery part is a critical task to get right. I’ve discussed that elsewhere, but if your final delivery is wrong then all your preparation and effort simply ‘goes out the window.’

It is like a restaurant kitchin- correct delivery of the item makes or breaks all the hard work beforehand and if the final garnish or sauces are wrongly executed, the meal itself fails and it leaves the customer dissatisfied, irrespective of the original efforts put in.

To avoid this in innovation delivery you must have a full ‘convergence’ where you have aligned within your innovation process the organization, knowledge, technology, resources, concept and performance to bring this all into your go-to-market plans.

As you consider what is  involved for effective innovation delivery you might want to reflect upon the following within your sauce:

  1. Mapping and planning this delivery completely- execution planning needs dedicated focus, a robust plan that has clear objectives but not overly complicated or excessive in detail.
  2. Building and editing based on changing insights- keeping fluid and agile to changes and adapting the plans where necessary but crucially keeping everyone in the ‘loop’ so all news, good and bad, gets ‘aired’ and seen.
  3. Project management and planning- adapting a disciplined approach to tackling the execution part: setting milestones, tracking changes, informing and pushing for commitments to be delivered upon.
  4. Aligning and influencing multiple ‘vested’ interests- nothing beats communication, seeking opinion and knowing where you can accomodate or not. Be clear on what is important, what can be ‘worked around’ but draw all ‘voices’ into the process but take responsibility and decide- don’t let issues ‘hang’.
  5. Collaborating with external stakeholders- knowing and valuing their place within the execution process is important to always have in mind. Engage with them constantly.
  6. Ensure you have diversity in the team to promote and challenge constantly, seek to encourage and  engage in this often consuming participation as it will ‘alert’ you far earlier to problems than pressing on regardless, not wanting to listen to those signals.

A Go-2-Market plan covers the who, what, where and when and must include:

  • Clarifying the needs and wants of customers in this launch- know these early.
  • Attributes of success, a winning proposition articulated and constantly reviewed.
  • Ensuring innovation delivery is tightly linked across the whole innovation process
  • Scope, timeline and approach to market strategy is well thought through and updated.
  • Definition of risks, economic, competitive and internal positions that are honest.
  • Alignment capabilities and techniques and knowing the gaps to bridge realistically
  • Definition and clarity of the relevant value to the different parties and the final customer
  • Differentiation that is being provided by the new innovation that is clearly spelt out in a clear Value Proposition that keeps being referred too and evaluated.
  • Outline of the appropriate proof-of- innovation delivery concept (based on research, concept work, piloting, customer engagement etc)
  • Plan to acknowledge and cultivate the critical relationships involved and making sure all parties are kept in the loop, compromises only made to resolve impasse.
  • Have clear ways to measure the results, impact and success of any delivery.
  • Provision of feedback and enhancement opportunities/ needs to all relevant parties, even back to the front end of idea creation to provide improved clarity and definition that helps
  • The clear accountability clarification of who does what well stated and well managed.

Achieving correct, effective innovation delivery does provide the chances of  achieving greater commercialised success than simply allowing implementation to just happen as an afterthought. The value of providing the appropriate resources to the final delivery end of innovation are sometimes the critical difference between why certain companies are just so much better at ‘delivering’ their innovation. They ruthlessly execution to a well thought through plan that has learnt its secret sauce and constantly refined it.

Mission Critical for Innovation – Final Delivery

Why is it that for some firm’s innovation seems to be incredibly rewarding yet for the majority it remains at best an unfulfilled promise. Why does innovation present such a stark choice, often fraught with difficulties for many, yet so simple and successful for the few? Innovation delivery is one of those differentiation points.

Let me sugggest here nine points needing your consideration when it comes to thinking through the innovation back end delivery part. Execution as I have outlined in a previous blog, is the final rugged frontier- the tough one to truly master as it is so variable in its makeup. Just consider:

Point one: the key to successful innovation is not idea generation or putting all your creative efforts into the front end of innovation, ideas are always plentiful; it is turning this myriad of ideas into market or customer changing outcomes that successfully deliver based on understanding the customer’s needs.

Point two: There are no silver bullets for execution that is simply a fact. For any established business it is striving to perform above known standards. The ability to sustain leadership in the market is not just about the new product but about the execution and delivery of this. Executing well you have to be ruthless as the market is unrelenting, so you must make designated people accountable to meeting or exceeding standards. Normally innovation delivery needs a highly engaged executive involvement. The innovation delivery part cannot be devolved; it has to be well orchestrated.

Point three: Innovation is always swimming in uncertain waters. As uncertainty rises, the value of a well-thought-out strategy actually drops. There are constantly arising critical unknowns and sometimes all you are left with as your innovation emerges is actually a starting point, a launching point that needs rapid understanding and interpretation to build quickly upon, to yet fully capitalise upon in suddenly hitting a ‘rich vein’ of untapped need.

Point four : So you really do have to be ready to adapt, be agile, be ready to experiment, explore and learn, hence why execution is actually the harder end of the innovation process to get right. Everything hangs off a hypothesis, a set of assumptions, a ‘germ’ of an idea and needs to be proven in its delivery. When innovation is at the heart of your strategy, you need to zero in to the best possible execution strategy and constantly review this as successful delivery provides the validation. What you learn has to be feed back fast into the organization so you need to make sure the listening and responding parts are switched on to ‘receive’ this new information.

Point five: Often the lack of a clear formalised decision making process for commercialization and going-to-market is not present. Corporate leadership often leaves this to lower levels to execute, yet those ‘responsible’ struggle due to a lack of fact-based safety nets, managing the levels of uncertainly that innovation has and the often reluctant to seek out leadership engagement to resolve conflicts.

Point six: Far too often senior executives are engaged elsewhere and those left in charge of the execution process lack the courage to make often tough and game changing decisions. This often damages optimal innovation delivery as teams often adopt safety first principles.

Point seven: The ability to move an idea to implementation- with increasing agility- is what will distinguish the successful organization from the less successful. The ability to execute well remains a critical gap of performance. Innovation requires a deeply imbedded set of capabilities. Innovation is high maintenance but also offers high reward.

Point eight: The increasing complexity within markets, the global pressures of consistent breakthrough or disruptive innovation happening consistently all around us is making successful innovation harder.  The increased emphasis on new business models are causing escalating problems as well, changing approaches to market or challenging core offerings that were previously accepted. Complexity at the innovation delivery stage calls also has no different a need for a higher level of getting organized, keeping discipline and executing effectively. Staying alert to the rapid changes occuring daily.

Point nine: Innovation delivery requires having the right capacity in place, at the right time, to drive execution through to its identified end points. Innovation delivery is where many decisions are often muddled through. Market ‘alertness’ and fast reaction times is becoming more crucial than ever. This needs building into your delivery part- adaptive alertness.

The relationship between innovation efforts and their success lies increasingly in understanding the “go-to-market’ phase- executing the innovation delivery based on understanding clearly the customer and market needs.

Innovation should not be a mystery but it is hard to go from end-to-end without a real recognition that focused effort on the back end delivery part is a relevant, extremely important part of the innovation process, for achieving the return expected from all the total efforts that goes into it from that original idea.