Aware, Exploit and Sustain Innovation Framework

I have a secret confession to make, I collect innovation frameworks, there I’ve admitted to it, and feel just that little bit better that one of my innovation secrets is out.

This collection has built up over eight or so years and I have certainly seen some really excellent ones but also some seem pretty thin, those “oh dear” moments! I suppose I collect these a little like collecting pictures; some rare, some new, some promising but you can recognize and appreciate each for expressing that often difficult task of encapsulating innovation in any organizing framework.  Sometimes it simply boils down to each to their own, as long as it does the job, then fine.

Although I’m always curious to see how these seemingly can differ so much. Many I’m just convinced don’t go underneath the initial organizing framework top picture and I feel that is wrong. Some just seem to skate on innovation ‘thin’ ice.

I’ve used one over a number of years that I feel builds innovation systematically.

For some years I’ve been using one within my advisory business as a great frame to build from. It is based on three phases that you need to work through- aware, exploit and sustain and has a support base essential for this to work.

Let me provide a visual of the organizing framework

The Aware Exploit & Sustain Innovation Framework

The framework attempts to be a fairly comprehensive one that I would ideally want to (fully) work through if asked to build any innovation capabilities and competencies. It is an exploring framework, meaning that sitting behind it is a significant set of sub sections or component dimensions, which build towards this top level frame shown above.

I’m not claiming this is ‘the’ answer or even a distillation of all the frameworks I have collected, it was developed fairly independently and just happens to work for me. Usually I use this in much of my early engaging work with clients, so as to begin to build up a comprehension through this organizing framework, so as to give some underlying substance to their emerging innovation activity.

Any Innovation Journey has lots of complexity underneath it.

Each of the component dimensions has considerable complexity to dip in and out to build a reasonable understanding of what does make up innovation. Let me illustrate this through one example from each of the stages- Aware, Exploit & Sustain and finally the necessary supporting or foundation part, Support.

1. An example of the component the Innovation Context in the Aware Stage

Innovation Context Example in Aware for Innovation

2. An example of the component Resource Development in the Exploit Stage.

Resource Capabilities Example in Exploit

3. An example of the component Networks within the Sustain Stage

The Example of Networks within Sustain for Innovation

Networks component example in the Sustain part

4. Finally an example of the component of Communication in the Support Stage

Communications components example for Support

Whatever framework you do select- do select carefully.

My advice on selecting any organizing frameworks is to compare and contrast, to explore and get underneath. Achieving a comprehensive understanding of innovation is often badly lacking for many in their need to understand. The one I’ve provided above is certainly capable to deliver a solid grasp of what is needed in building innovation capabilities and capacity.

I certainly believe that and framework does have these three phases of becoming Aware, a need to Exploit and an ability to Sustain any innovation momentum and also provide the necessary Support.

If you are curious to go into this further then you know where to find me. I remain always curious on how innovation is depicted so as to build my knowledge further. As always, I am ready to discuss the need for an innovation organizing framework in your particular innovating circumstances.

The Innovating Power of Eight Words

Lately eight words have come up more often than not as the new imperative for business, not just for the start up but the more established business to measure themselves against. We live in ‘volatile’ times and they reflect what we have to constantly remind ourselves to do and they just are keeping me buzzing at present.

These are: Adapt, Investigate, Agility, Speed, Scale, Impact, Experiment, and Execute.

Here is my take on the power of these eight words that need to be in our innovating lexicon

They don’t need to come all together but I think they need to be applied as a ‘litmus’ test constantly in much of our ‘daily’ thinking to keep aware.

1. Adapt- New conditions are forcing us to change, to alter our ways to simply adjust or we fast become history. We have to often find ways to fit, modify, adjust. Adaptation is leading us more and more to Darwin and natural selection. We adapt to become fitter, to evolve and I think many are struggling on this in these challenging times.

2. Investigate- If we don’t have inquiring minds we are in trouble. We hatch ideas in the office, we ‘dispatch’ them outside talking to our customers and getting the real pulse of the market place. We need to scrutinize, search, shift and study far more than ever. Investigation leads to insights.

3. Agility – Today’s landscape is shifting constantly.  Agility comes in different forms, but it’s the ability to quickly adapt too or even anticipate and lead change. I can’t think of anything more important than building an agile company, because the world changes so quickly and unpredictably.  Besides it needs to be on my list as I chose this name for my advisory business and innovation work.

4. Speed- Simply everything is speeding up. The rate of what is coming towards us just seems to demand we react quicker, have a rapid and prompt reaction to all that is bombarding us daily but for organizations, it really is the speed of change happening around us to give us all such difficulty to read and react to this. Thankfully we just have to ‘escape’ to that tropical paradise to put a brake on all this, once in a while.

5. Scale- the degree we ‘scale’ our business from its small beginnings to becoming a national then global business is shortening dramatically. We have more tools, more technology, more ability to achieve this but often we lack the two essential ‘fuels’ to power this- the right people and the cash to keep the pace alive.

6. Impact - The ability to be seen, to achieve a more dramatic effect than others around you to get not only noticed, but to fuel the momentum. Often we lack the necessary impact within our presentations and don’t get the required attention. Our products are required to offer impact, our advertising, our design, our sales pitch so we can stand out in a very crowd space of competing voices.

7. Experiment – We are being always asked to ‘prove it’ and encouraged to prototype, to run tests, to hold trials, to provide evidence, to prove or disprove something. This can be a theory, a product, a piece of research, a new innovation tool that might be speculative. Experiments contain and provide the value and proof it can be taken forward.

8. Execute- the ability to deliver. As Chris Trimble & Vijay Govindarajan suggest in their book “the other side of Innovation” that solving the execution challenge is critical. I’ve written numerous blogs about execution as it is where the ‘last five yards’ separate the winners from the losers that others judge the result. When you execute you need to deploy a significant skill set and dedicated resource to bring home the results.

So these are my eight, most powerful innovation words that keep me awake and alert. What are yours?

Innovation is simply in crisis near you.

Over the weekend I was enjoying my cappuccino and suddenly it started to taste bitter, not from the actual coffee but from what I was settling down to read.

I enjoy a lot of what Steve Denning writes and his series in nine parts on “Why Amazon Can’t Make a Kindle in the USA” (start here ) has really hit home on the seriousness we are facing in Western countries over innovation capabilities.

He mentions the “decades of outsourcing manufacturing have left U.S. industry without the means to invent the next generation of high-tech products that are key to rebuilding its economy”, as noted by Gary Pisano and Willy Shih in a classic article, “Restoring American Competitiveness” (Harvard Business Review, July-August 2009).

The pursuit of profit is killing innovation

Last Friday, 18th November, he followed this series of articles with a further one on a talk given by Clayton Christensen entitled “How Pursuit of Profits Kills Innovation and the U.S. economy” ( )  and that so much of our basic thinking taught in business schools and promulgated by consultants is partly the cause.

So I was faced with a ‘double sit up’ not a double latte, of Denning and Christensen, and that did more to wake me up than the caffeine intake I was having.

The bottom line is that major segments of the US Economy have been lost, in many cases, forever and that equally applies in Europe.

On the other side of the Pond- the EU and its Innovation Union.

Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science and Vice- President Antonio Tajani, responsible for industry and entrepreneurship have said: “As we emerge from crisis in the teeth of fierce global competition, we face an innovation emergency. If we do not transform Europe into an Innovation Union, our economies will wither on the vine while ideas and talent go to waste. Innovation is the key to building sustainable growth and fairer and greener societies. A sea change in Europe’s innovation performance is the only way to create lasting and well-paid jobs that withstand the pressures of globalisation. “

With an ageing population and strong competitive pressures from globalisation, Europe’ s future economic growth and jobs will increasingly have to come from innovation in products, services and business models. This is why innovation has been placed at the heart of the Europe 2020 strategy for growth and jobs.

The long list of ‘must do’s’ suggested within the EU recommendations all are shouting after the horse has bolted from the barn. In both Europe and the US we are losing our capacity to innovate as we are rapidly losing our knowledge and experience built up and we are facing a ‘knowledge deficit’ exported over many years to developing countries. This will place these countries even in more a dominating position in years to come.

We may be in a series of financial crisis but the ‘knowledge deficit’ one will be even more damaging to our future prospects.

The real crisis is not the current financial one; it is knowledge application for job creation.

We are simply losing our knowledge to create things close to home we are being ‘forced’ to seek global collaborations as knowledge simply is found and extracted where it is best served. How can we reverse this for many nations needing revitalization as knowledge leads to jobs. For many, we need a massive bailout plan, not for our financial debts but for our growing knowledge deficits.

Any declines, closures and more importantly, as the business firms continue to push to go overseas and chase low cost manufacturing places simply sets off a powerful chain reaction. Expertise is lost, advanced research suffers as more trained people seek meaningful work that relates to their skills and qualification overseas, increasingly in countries outside the US or Europe.

In manufacturing, in significant decline in Europe and the US for many years, those daily interactions between process and engineering leads to new design, fresh thinking to solve problems so knowledge builds up in locations closer to the manufacturing point and then, more businesses are ‘forced’ to locate closer to where the action is. As Pisano and Shih state in their HBR article “In the long term an economy that lacks an infrastructure for advanced process engineering and manufacturing will lose its ability to innovate.”

The argument is we adopt a more strategic approach to innovation.

This I couldn’t agree more with. Innovation must become more of the overarching policy objective, it needs to go well beyond leveraging our strengths, and it needs to draw back in lost knowledge before it is too late. We need to reverse the outsourcing policies driven by short term gain and not accounted for in the total ‘cost and benefits’ that society eventually pays.

We need to alter not only the measuring criteria spoken off with Clayton Christensen’s phenomenon of “driven by the pursuit of profit” in the above mentioned article, it lies in calculating a different ‘rate of return’ (IRR) so well put within this article.

This last article from Steve Denning (re Pursuit of Profits) sums it up

“Thus when a firm calculates the rate of return on a proposal to outsource manufacturing overseas, it typically does not include:

  • The cost of the knowledge that is being lost, possibly forever.
  • The cost of being unable to innovate in future, because critical knowledge has been lost.
  • The consequent cost of its current business being destroyed by competitors emerging who can make a better product at lower cost.
  • The missed opportunity of profits that could be made from innovations based on that knowledge that is being lost.

The calculation of the IRR based on a narrow view of costs and benefits assumes that the firm’s ongoing business will continue as is, ad infinitum. The narrowly-defined IRR thus misses the costs and benefits of the actions that it is now taking that will systematically destroy the future flow of benefits. The use of IRR with the full costs and benefits included would come closer to revealing the true economic disaster that is unfolding”

Different mindsets and different solutions are needed for a better Innovation Union.

At a time when the external environment is highly dynamic, businesses that exist today (irrespective of where they locate) may be gone tomorrow. To survive in this world, a different kind of mindset is needed and if I may say- imposed.

The traditional ways we see our business, in isolation of the dynamics going on around us where profit maximization driven by management’s preoccupation on efficiency at often the cost of real innovation. The drive for cutting costs to meet the quarter and thus losing more knowledge that resides within, and then the consistent outsourcing, this relocating chase, is an eventual death-spiral for many economies. Whole communities that had previously built around ‘knowledge clusters’ suffer and go rapidly into decline and over the long run, simply die and fade away, not relevant any more- gone overseas!

Our continued loss of knowledge, with our continued uneven recognition of the real value of innovation, will continue to feed this death-spiral unless we can somehow reverse these trends.

Moving more knowledge and the associated assets away from the US and Europe might seem sensible for today’s managers and financial backers but this is exporting knowledge and experience and this makes up innovation, it is where improvement, breakthroughs and future competitiveness come from. We are rapidly losing know-how, it is what is happening that give me greater cause to worry for our long term prospects than the financial crisis. We are losing our competitive positions as any growth in the economy is in investing in knowledge for people to innovate.

How far can we go on this slippery slope as money does quickly follows where knowledge resides, and this is rapidly moving overseas, located increasingly in Asia. Until we recognize this, we can ‘shout’ long and loud but the (knowledge) horse is fast galloping away from us and we will be left with simply pockets of incremental innovation, while others lead, we will simply follow along in their dust.

Building an Integrated Innovation Capability Framework

My real area of dedicated focus and wish to achieve, is in supporting organizations, teams or even the individual, to really build their capability and capacity to innovate.

The critical design is of three mutually supporting capability building platforms do need to be put into place.

Within an organizational setting you need to have in place three supporting capability building platforms; organizational supporting, knowledge and competency gathering, and a clear innovation process to channel new capacity through as final products or new services. All three need to be in place and integrated.

If you have these three platforms in place you can begin to move from more of an ad hoc set of capabilities through to a more integrated, synergistic  and unique innovation capability framework to grow from.

Organizational support platform is made of proving clear leadership and commitment to building capabilities by setting in place an infrastructure that accesses, anchors and diffuses capacity, so it not just flows but is constantly creating and exploiting for new economic and social value. You need to ensure the conditions for a trusting environment and climate are actively worked on and supported and finally provide the resources and ways to measure this to support and re-enforce the value of this corporate initiative. You should take a look at a previous blog here:

Knowledge & competency platform is where you permit time to discover and absorb what is being made available. The key absorptive capacities mentioned above. Deliberately allowing the time to explore both the external world and the internal world, and then setting about to capturing this ‘new’ knowledge through clear consolidation techniques and technology is vital. Knowledge should focus on a given core and context of what the organization is looking to achieve and want to learn from/about. You need to explore explicit and tacit knowledge. See my recent blog on tacit knowledge:

Innovation Process platform lies at the heart of your innovation capability needs. This I have called the Innovation Business Architecture within work I completed with Jeffrey Phillips of OVO, and can be viewed here . The process needs to have in place the capability to explore, to converge, to keep moving through the innovation pipeline, a portfolio of concepts and be able to consistently consolidate and further exploit the ‘raw’ material of these ideas and concepts, by designing in some controls and risk management. Other thoughts for thinking through the innovation process are discussed here and here as well.

Moving from ad hoc to an integrated, synergistic and unique state

It is not just simply having in place the three platforms outlined above; each is a building block on top of one another, dependent for the ‘strength’ of the structure and to achieve a momentum from have ad hoc capabilities to call upon, usually scarce and over stretched, to this integrated state.

The need is to recognize that you do move, over time and dedicated effort, from ad hoc availability through a more formalised and recognized capability building process into a more broad based structure with deepening capacity to innovate. This is where the three building platforms become tightly integrated to gain a more synergistic effect for all that that participate to learn from and this growing innovation capacity provide increasing self-governance.

The need for external inputs is essential

Building the internal capabilities happens largely by the way it ‘embraces’ the world. The more you seek, the more you gain, the more you are able to see new possibilities. Seeking knowledge externally clearly comes from the encouragement of exploring networks, building relationships- accessing the external capacities through scanning, scouting and collaborating openly.

Finally market-learning capabilities feed into this cascading platform

The real strength of appropriate innovation is designing in the right tension points- see my blog  on this. “Appropriateness has to be designed in“. Set within these platforms you need to build in new (ongoing) capabilities for Co-creation orientation, Customer Knowledge Acquisition, Customer Sharing Dialogues and Information Interpretation.

This knowledge becomes your collective memory where capabilities learn and grow from these customer conversations, actively sought out and nurtured. Not only will you learn, but you have to unlearn here as well. Having a reflective market-learning outcome part built in enables new learning opportunities to be embedded and often triggering those critival behavioural changes often needed to align to market opinion and sentiment.

A short ‘call to action’ summary

I would argue strongly for this need to focus on the value of having a clear innovation capability platform structure as it has the real potential to transform the organization into a perpetual learning one, unique to your environment, and capable of lifting innovation delivery significantly. This dedication grows your capability maturity and can offer much.

If you want to find out more, keep tuned in or simply track me down. This is my passion and focus within what I like and want to do- advancing innovation capabilities and capacities for those that want to see their innovation efforts thrive.

Based from an academic paper from H E Essmann & N D du Preez advancing the view of maturity application and innovation models.

Tacit Knowledge- Rich in its Innovation Implications.

Imagine if we could understood tacit knowledge better—what it was, how we can set about to capture it and organise it effectively, once acquired how it can be built upon even further. How can we learn to recognize it more actively as as essential part of our lives, when to trust it, how to teach it to others, how to share what it has offered to us, as individuals, to others.

Then imagine what it could provide us for this knowledge to be leveraged within any broader community use, so it is knowingly valued by others as something they can gain from, not as we often do, simply reject it as not within ‘our’ experience. That could be pretty valuable. It could give us a deeper understanding and empower us to function better in many sorts of situations. Then surely we must search for understanding this more and what it means, as in this case, for relating it to innovation.

Let’s start off by stating tacit knowledge is inherently inefficient, so is good innovation; it is messy, often unstructured. Why do we continue to not give this TK sufficient ‘head space’ in our thinking? Is this because it is not tangible, that softer aspect that we reject as we don’t have time for it or simply we don’t ‘trust’ it like those ‘hard’ quantifiable measuring points?

Using Michael Polanyi as my main anchoring point here.

Michael Polanyi, was a scientist and philosopher, who while writing Personal Knowledge he identified what he calls the “structure of tacit knowing”. He viewed it as his most important discovery. He claimed that we experience the world by integrating our subsidiary awareness into a focal awareness.

To quote part of an entry in the Wikipedia and get the ‘heavy stuff’ out of the way:

Tacit knowledge is not easily shared. It involves learning and skill, but not in a way that can be written down. Tacit knowledge consists often of habits and culture that we do often do not recognize in ourselves. In the field of knowledge management, the concept of tacit knowledge refers to a knowledge possessed only by an individual and difficult to communicate to others via words and symbols. Knowledge that is easy to communicate is called explicit knowledge.

Tacit knowledge has been described as “know-how” – as opposed to “know-what” (facts), “know-why” (science), or “know-who” (networking). It involves learning and skill but not in a way that can be written down. The process of transforming tacit knowledge into explicit or specifiable knowledge is known as codification, articulation, or specification. The tacit aspects of knowledge are those that cannot be codified, but can only be transmitted via training or gained through personal experience.

Tacit knowledge (TK) is a crucial input to the innovation process

We depend on many of our different levels of tacit knowledge on how to innovate.

Firstly, new and novel problems require TK about ‘ways’ to tackle the unknowns associated with discovery and how to bring this out into a final innovative concept. The more we can form into teams and share what we know or why we do things in certain ways the greater the potential power of the collaborative effort. So the more interactions we have, especially face-to-face, direct contacts the more our tacit knowledge is seen and applied. The value of knowledge transfer to the innovation process is vital. Often we employ knowledge experts, subject matter experts and have a diversity of specialists collaborating as they are surprisingly as individuals, often unaware, often unable to articulate, communicate and describe what they know; it often requires others around them to bring it out. The important point is they know but often cannot articulate it without prompting or drawing out what they know in a ‘given’ context to make clearer meaning of it, moving it from tacit to explicit.

Secondly, tacit knowledge can be a real sustainable competitive advantage. The more you can transfer knowledge, tacit and explicit and embed it in group settings, to in-build in shared core values, assumptions and beliefs, the better but as we know, it is often hard to pin this down, to locate this, quantify it, map or value it. Especially without encouraging and stimulating the environment to allow time to draw it out.

Thirdly, TK makes up a large part of our human capital, the knowing part. To give TK the chance to spread or diffuse across the organization or outside, organizations not have to invest in their individuals but bring groups together to greatly increase this human capital. Also this knowledge has to  simultaneously be captured (if possible) so it ‘resides’ and can be diffused out even more. Knowledge management systems can help here if tacit knowledge was given the appropriate weight of focus it does need and a skill to decide the ‘what’ in its relevancy (and value) to any discussions.

Fouthly, and central to Michael Polanyi’s thinking on TK was the belief that creative acts (especially acts of discovery) are filled with strong personal feelings and commitments. He saw this as ‘creative tension’ where informed guesses, hunches and imaginings are part of exploratory acts and motivated by what he describes as our ‘passions’.  This is why there is always such a strong argument for innovation champions as well as the need to encourage anyone with a strong belief or insight, to find the time to explore it by clearing the path for them to do this as part of their work day- not just in their ‘free time’.

Conviction is always required for realizing innovation.

Polanyi talks of knowledge of approaching discovery. To hold such knowledge is an act deeply committed to the conviction that there is something there to be discovered -what we try to do through invention and innovation? It is through our determinations and beliefs we ‘push’ our tacit knowledge as we believe this is a path to go on bringing something new into the world, our new innovation. He placed a strong emphasis on dialogue within an open community- our networks for innovation to work. This is why open collaborative innovation is making such headway. We are allowing more ‘convictions’ to enter the innovation pipeline

Polanyi wrote in The Tacit Dimension, we should start from the fact that ‘we can know more than we can tell‘. He termed this pre-logical phase of knowing as ‘tacit knowledge’.

We need to move tacit knowledge out- into the open and main stream- so it can be shared.

Finally, tacit knowledge is certainly very personal, rooted in action and for us needing to acquire new experiences consistently we need to push ‘the organisation’ to find the ways to be more committed, involved and identifying with wanting to strenthen this. Organizations seek the knowledge owned by the individual as it is highly valuable to be shared, to be drawn out and not, as is often the way, the other way around, imposed upon individuals to bury their passions , guesses and hunches, the mistake we make today. A top down process by determining only the knowledge they need to know stifles creativity, enquiry and innovation discovery. We need a ‘healthy’ mix and open minds to allow discovery.

Management certainly needs to lead. It needs to give the context so knowledge can flow. For instance leadership inspires and identifies the right targets, while management identifies the right practice and encourages dialogues and sharing. We need to ‘codify’ as much as we can, hence why I argue, it needs to be built around context. This then allows people, time to explore, to exchange ideas and experiences so they all come together within the appropriate context or ‘spin out’ into something radical that leads to potential real breakthroughs. Finding time and making connections, simply being allowed to explore is rich for innovation possibilities, set around some even loose context.

Having a more open network that seeks out diversity and through this, delves potentially deeper in this often latent tacit knowledge that resides in the individual does needs significant focus and commitment to allow it to happen.

To encourage the free flow requires extensive personal contact and trust. Do we provide this in today’s organisation? Seemingly we are going the other way and perhaps knowledge attainment might actually be suffering?

For this blog I drew on an exchange I had with someone within my network, Jim Burke, Manager, Futures, Forecasting & Change Mgt at TASC, Inc.  These were in his private capacity for the exchanges we had that covered a range of different subjects we both wanted to explore our thinking ‘out loud’. Also I drew upon different references that explore tacit knowledge to help me in making some of the points expressed here.

A quick innovation translation

Often you can be asked or placed in a position where you have to assess quickly the innovation capability of an organization, a unit or a team, working on an innovative concept to deliver in changing market or organizational circumstances and can they?

There are many ways to do this but when someone says “look, (and takes a long breath) it has to be really quick as we need to make some fairly swift decisions to meet some deadlines” then you can’t go and propose a three month study, or to construct an extensive questionnaire. Sometimes a real urgency needs some sharpening down within your focus.

You certainly need to be careful in accepting these assignments and ensure you set out some caveats and qualifications before you accept them.

  • Caveat lector, “let the reader beware”
  • Caveat emptor, “let the buyer beware”
  • Caveat venditor, “let the seller beware”

Six honest men are often simply not enough.

I’ve always loved the Poem “Six honest serving men” by Rudyard Kipling ( but I’m not sure this alone would serve me well in this sudden situation to assess a given situation or the innovation capability needed in quick assessments.

I KEEP six honest serving-men
(They taught me all I knew);
Their names are What and Why and When
And How and Where and Who.
I send them over land and sea,
I send them east and west;
But after they have worked for me,
I give them all a rest.

So I have a short and simple snapshot approach.

These are my rapid six things to check. Not cast in stone or rigid but they quickly get at the core I feel.

I seek to understand the motivation, the timing, the organization, the network, process and inventory make ups. Let me explain each but recognize this is far from perfect and needs consistent exploring and often looping back.


What is the motivation behind the innovation concept? Has it been explicitly formulated, what does this innovation create in new value?  What does the story (so far) communicate to me? Questions that work around the reasons and needs for a given course of action. The aspirations, purpose and desire can often move mountains (and projects). Also knowing its importance gives you a ‘clear heads up’ in the real urgency.


What is the time plan to deliver this? Are these realistic dates? Does it match needs and considerations of (all) the parties involved? What possible consequences can arise from this timing? Simply a reality check,that often someone external can ask and probe more effectively, but make sure you keep cross checking this to not be ‘snowed’.


This is the one you can get sucked into. This can be a minefield of politics so don’t dive in, just work around some of the ‘raw’ edges. Sound out relationships within the team, those contributing into the concept as step one. Then probe a little more at the delivery capability- past and present stories. Finally get at the key resources and the knowledge capital within the project to see if it ‘gels’ and seemingly makes some sense. Leave the ‘beating and amount of eggs’ to others.


Relationships make or break innovation especially when you are under pressure. What are the interactions, what are the dynamics within the team, what are the dependencies, what and where does this innovation concept fit within all the conflicting pressures going on and how does the support structure support this. What might help, what causes barriers, what needs unblocking from what you can ‘quickly’ see.


Knowing the innovation process, the hurdles and gates, a concept needs to go through and what is focused upon to achieve this. How does the reviewing process work, what is captured, reflected upon and then built into the ongoing process?  It is often the process that dictates and kills innovation off. The shift to ‘status and attainment’ rather than ‘value and benefit’ often gets muddled up. What can make a difference, what are the risks and benefits.


This might be the resources you have working on the innovation concept for sure, but I would equally want to have explicit and distinctive value propositions well articulated. What are the options in different scenarios, what needs to change, search for inventory gaps, explore alternatives, getting a sense of capability and capacity to deliver in varying situations. Get a handle on this is not easy but essential to discussing alternatives.

At the end of this short investigation prepare for the shooting of the messenger- you!

What you have to be really ready for is the ‘cross examination’ from this. As I said at the beginning this is to form a quick opinion on the present position, the realities of delivery as promised and the potential and risks if deadlines need to change or are required to change. It serves as a structure for ‘delving into’ much that should be sufficient to ‘flag’ issues or ‘wave’ the project on. Ensure they don’t hold your feet over the fire but it can get hot as they are feeling the heat more than you.

As the end of Rudyard Kiplings poem it finishes with:

“One million Hows, two million Wheres,
And seven million Whys!”

Again, you need your caveat list ready. The most well known caveat is caveat emptor (let the buyer beware). Seriously if you can provide some early warning signals and highlight some issues it is far better than everyone pressing on regardless. Also respect what you have learnt when it is told in confidence. There are ways to break the news without naming the source and be clear to avoid at all costs the politics of others!

Sometimes these can be tough assignments and can leave there mark on you. Deliver as best an assessment as you can, nothing less, but they are not easy.

Recognition of a better soft skill taxonomy for innovation

In our present uncertain environment, it is becoming increasingly important to build our ‘transferable skills’ for our future employability, adaptability and occupational mobility. The amount of economic restructuring presently underway will require a far more flexible workforce in the future that needs to have a wide range of transferable skills. Knowing what and where it will be is valued is becoming important for all of us to understand.

Released in late September 2011 there has been a timely report for the European Commission as part of the Social agenda for modernising Europe entitled “Transferability of Skills across Economic Sectors”,  ISBN 978-92-79-20946-8, doi:10.2767/40404 © European Union, 2011 found in the DG Employment, Social Affairs & Inclusion section under this link: I think this helps build a better understanding of the different skills required and especially for me, a better structure for softer skill definitions

The background to this report is the increasing concerns within the EU as to how to improve its competitiveness and redirect the European economy towards higher added value to generate new and better jobs. This increasingly relies upon a more strategic management of human resources.

For me innovation will be a leading driver of this job and growth generation so in obtaining a deeper understanding of the present thinking in this area of skills is important one to my work on building future capabilities and capacity for innovation for my present and future clients.

The part people play and the skill set they will need are crucial for innovation’s health. Clearly we are facing continual adaptation and the consistent search for adding value, not just to what we sell but also to what we have available in resources  to exploit it. This report helps in reinforcing where skills fit, front and centre, to any future growth and job creation.

Establishing a skills taxonomy

There is a lack of consistent theory for defining and classifying various skills, and there is no generally accepted skills taxonomy. The project team thus decided to distinguish three categories of skills on the basis of previous analysis: 1)soft skills; 2) generic hard skills; 3)specific hard skills.

Skills Taxonomy By Transferability- source: European Union 2011 report.

Specific hard skills are characterised by their lower level of transferability, whereas soft skills and generic hard skills are skills with high transferability across sectors and occupations and can be identified as transversal skills.

My focus here is the soft skills within transversal skills that support innovation activity.

Transversal skills that range from problem solving to interpersonal skills are considered as important for innovation. Having these skills, which can be transferred from one context to another, is a good basis for accumulation of specific skills required by a given job expected in managing a robust innovation pipeline and portfolio to deliver new growth opportunities.

Within the report I find it is interesting that they have identified 22 soft skills within 5 clusters

Suggested Soft Skill Cluster, source European Union, 2011 report

Cluster one: Personal effectiveness skills:

Self-control and stress resistance; Self-confidence; Flexibility; Creativity; Lifelong learning. These skills reflect some aspects of an individual’s maturity in relation to himself/herself, to others and to work. They are related to performance of an individual when dealing with environmental pressures and difficulties.

Cluster two: Relationship and service skills:

Interpersonal understanding; Customer orientation; Cooperation with others; Communication. These skills enable people to understand the needs of others and to cooperate with them. Communication skills are linked to all clusters and they are included in this one because of their important role in relationship building and communication with others.

Cluster three: Impact and influence skills:

Impact/Influence; Organisational awareness; Leadership; Development of others. Skills in this cluster reflect an individual’s influence on others. Managerial competencies are a special subset of this cluster.

Cluster four: Achievement skills:

Achievement orientation, efficiency; Concern for order, quality, accuracy; Initiative, proactive approach; Problem solving; Planning and organisation; Information exploring and managing; Autonomy. The essence of this cluster is a tendency towards action, directed more at task accomplishments than impact on other people.

Cluster five: Cognitive skills:

Analytical thinking; Conceptual thinking. These two skills reflect an individual’s cognitive processes – how a person thinks, analyses, reasons, plans, thinks critically, identifies problems and situations and formulates explanations, hypotheses or concepts.

Although all skills, to some degree, can be transferred across jobs but it is these ‘softer’ skills, the transversal ones are seemingly valued as having a more important impact on success in life and certainly for working within and across innovation activities.

Distinguishing between hard and soft skills is important to achieve.

We all understand, sometimes frustratingly so,  that  Employers tend to distinguish the  hard skills such as job-specific skills closely connected with knowledge as they are far more  easily observed and/or measured and can be specifically trained. Having these ‘hard skills’ can be overly rewarded due to this ability to measure more easily and then reinforced, often to the determent of innovation that needs a healthy mix of all skills. Today thankfully there is a push that we do recognize and require more of a better mix of T-shaped occupational skills profiles.

Whereas soft skills such as non-job specific skills which are more closely connected with attitudes and necessary for innovation, that ‘can do’ aspect are far more intangible, and difficult to quantify and develop. Recognition and assessment of transversal skills in new hires is also more difficult also and getting to understand these softer skills and within this report they lay out a suggested roadmap to build this more into the educational system and should be supported by specific systems, methods and tools.

A Suggested Transversal Skills Development Education Roadmap

Suggested Education Roadmap of Skill Developement- source European Union, 2011 report

I find this suggested roadmap discussed within the report as helpful but it is for the longer term. What can we do in the short to medium term?

There is increasing need for organizations and professional bodies to undertake a talent identification and development study, perhaps by using this suggested taxonomy and report as a base. We do need to think through the ways to build into our training more of a transversal skill emphasis and talk more openly about these as increasingly needed for skill-related work within a networked economy where the softer skills are increasingly seen as important to have available.

I found this report a valuable read- it helps my thinking and ongoing work.

This report I found as a valuable read, it is part of the wider social agenda for modernizing Europe and along with the comprehensive sector studies the EU is mapping and evaluating the evolution of innovation, skills and jobs to begin to anticipate the needs emerging from the current restructuring being undertaken. They see worrying signs of skill decline and a high increased demand for high skilled jobs, with service continuing to grow in importance. All of this will require new types and mixes of employees and skill development within itself is going to be a crucial challenge.

We do need to manage and know what different skills do impact innovation activity; I think this report helps in this. It certainly provides a clearer structure for my work in supporting organizations ability to build up their innovation capabilities and competencies.