Making the appropriate impact

How do we set about and measure the impact of something or somebody? Impressions do matter, snap judgements can shape and influence so much that you can actually spend your precious time at simply defending and justifying something or someone.

This applies to a new product as much as it applies to ourselves and how we engage across society, organizations or in our teams. We actually have a set of daily impact points and we need to think about these, it can be positive and impressive, or it can be inappropriate and judged as weak. They can be proactive or just ‘set’ constantly in reactive mode.

Having a clear understanding of the different impact points can help you and those around you have a better meaning in helping to shape events and the future contributions that can make a positive difference and give you a greater sense of satisfaction.

How do we shift from that often subjective view to a more balanced one?

I’m a great believer in trying to shape events before they happen. This often requires a lot of pre-work and often some ‘spent energy’   but if I’m not prepared enough I often feel uncomfortable and not in command of myself, and my ability to explore and influence through my thoughts. This gives me that sense of insecurity and then I feel I have less of an impact on the discussions and caught up in other people’s agenda’s, often for the wrong reasons and not for the best outcomes

So what are the points of impact for innovation?

I think we need to break these down into different levels of impact. Arguably there are different boundaries of impact. For example we might have global, organizational, social, competitive and personal impact points. We can surprisingly have an influence in all of these in a highly connected world and through our organizing and influencing will partly determine your innovating future.

So I look at impact points in different ways but I tend to start at two points of impact.

1.       What are the triggers to growth?

Answering this question leads us out on the appropriate impact path. Are we, for example, in survival or in crisis mode? What is our needs for future growth (personal and organizational for instance), do we need to find an innovative response to a burning need, are we facing competitive pressures, are we seeking new market space? Do we want regeneration in what we do? We need to discover, to explore new ideas, new learning opportunities and concepts. We need also to make some evaluation to any seen or even unseen threats to any growth approach.

2.       The second question relates to our legacy issues.

These are often ignored. We tend to layer onto what we have instead of taking a more radical approach to overhaul where we are. We often build up our innovation activity in set, established ways and don’t want to face the issue of re-engineering the innovation systems or process. I would argue we should. There are always natural tension points in any innovation process, we get caught up in inertia, the copying of other people’s best practices, the commodity trap, the extraction of ‘raw’ energy in the name of efficiency and the constant ‘quest’  to become more effective. We really do need to press the ‘reset’ button. We should look at alignment to strategy, to challenging what we are doing in the name of our customers not just ourselves. We need to reconfigure and we need to simply challenge and let go of much of what we have built up. It is never easy but legacy resolutions release much for improving the impact.

Then we need to set about two further questions.

3.       Improving performance

The potential surrounding absorptive capacity is critical for creating the appropriate impact on innovation performance. Absorptive capacity (AC) is a critical dynamic capability in knowledge-based competition. It is the ability to recognize the value of external knowledge, assimilate it and apply it to new commercial ends. To learn how to target, absorb and deploy this external knowledge becomes critical to ‘feed’ the internal innovation process. Learning to do this and do this well, this can become a powerful source of competitive advantage, not easy for anyone else to copy. This can become unique practice applicable to you, not best practice found across your industry. The work of Cohen & Levinthal is a great starting point, besides some of my own comments you can find on my site. It is this ‘outside in’ potential that feeds the process and raises the engagement.

4.       Tacit Knowledge

The more knowledge you require- not information or data- the more you have the potential for strategic advantage. Just look at places that knowledge is not moving as fast as its potential, collecting more knowledge or insights than others and focusing on the customer experience all the time raises knowledge, implied and explicit. Tie that back to absorptive capacity and you have powerful sources of potential impact.

My third set of impact points relate around building platforms, road-maps and in execution.

5.       Building platforms and road-maps

As we become more open within organizations and in ourselves we begin to develop a more connected sense. Separate ideas or points of knowledge need combining; they need greater collaborative efforts than before. We need to reach out to others; we need to recognize others have a greater specialised knowledge than we do so we need to learn to build more platforms that allow multiple parties to work together, each on their own parts. It is this ability to leverage through a platform approach that yields the potential for greater impact, for more radical or breakthrough innovation through diversity yet working towards a common cause.

Innovation is complex, it needs sketching out, and it needs always a roadmap. Innovation needs clarity; it needs a greater awareness of all the points of innovation fitness for you to navigate along as you traverse the terrain to your end point. I have a dedicated site on this area at www.innovationfitnessdynamics.com which is outlining the different aspects of dynamics needed for innovation impact understanding. The aim is looking to improve the innovation performance engine within organizations and build fitter, more responsive and dynamic ones, around their needed innovation capacities.

6.       Execution is the last 5% of real effort.

The argument goes; ideas are ten a penny and simply it is through our execution we make impact. Execution is the tougher end of innovation not that fuzzy front end stuff. This execution end is the real point of innovation performance where you actually feel the impact of all your personal efforts. Do you meet the needs and wants of your customers? Did you arrive with a clear winning proposition or felt you have compromised far too much within the organization that the final result was incremental at best and not what you are truly capable of. Execution is far more than ‘just’ 5%, because if you can’t execute then where is the lasting impact?

Then my last set of impact points are the ones that impact on you personally.

7.     Adapting to change.

We often struggle to adjust our thinking, to recognize that change is needed and invariably we leave it too late. It can become ‘disruptive’. We do need to combine the three e’s of evaluate, explore and exploit, we need to adapt them to changing circumstances. The value of combining these in different ways gives numerous, surprising diverse levels of impact points.

8.       Empowering and Trusting

We need greater engagement, we need powerful stories to motivate us more, and we need to seek out more meaning in what we do. The more we do this the more impact we can contribute back. This needs dedicated time in resourcing, supporting and investigating from others to support us. The more we trust each other, the more we form stronger relationships, to build better networks of understanding and place our growing trust into more effective collaborations, which have growing impact for all to see.

9.       Measuring our success

There are many ways to measure success. There are the ones ‘handed down’ to us, there are ones we can measure ourselves against. I believe our own measures usually far exceed the ones handed down to us. If we can learn to adapt more and quicker, if we can utilise the technology around us more effectively, if we actively seek new learning and experiences, to respond to any threats in better ways, then we are really learning and making a constant improving impact within ourselves. If we can apply what we learn constantly with the aim of improving on the existing, we are then moving well beyond’ appropriate’ impact, we are building our competencies and capabilities that become visible for all to see the positive impact.

There is a self always in relationship to others.

How others see you and what sort of person are you matters. If you care for making an impact there are many ways. How do you want others to see you? It is all in alignment, how you absorb and translate knowledge and where you wish to take it. Improving your circle of influence comes from knowing, from seeking out new knowledge, staying throughout life in that endless curiosity. As Harold Jarche (http://www.jarche.com) does put it so really nicely: “Life in perpetual Beta”

We all need a virtuous cycle, something that reinforces the good. We can make deliberate steps to change our behaviour, to make increasing contributions. How you are viewed, in turn, changes the way you are treated. This reinforces change. The more you can contribute in positive effect, the more impact you can have. You choose the impact you want to make and you will be surprised that in today’s world you can influence far  more than you often can image, and then perhaps bring a brighter colour into your and others lives through your positive impact.

You can choose the appropriate impact points you wish, what you do need is a strategy, knowing where you can shape and what you can influence. It is the path to improving your recognition and value and that is not such a bad point in these difficult times.

Interpreting the Strategic Discussion for Innovation

The struggle for innovation alignment is one of those real challenging issues that are seemingly very hard to resolve, or so it seems. I’m not setting out a comprehensive solution here, well not in this blog, of the suggested ways to address this strategic/innovation alignment issue, as that is far more complex. All I will offer at this point of time is this alignment concern is becoming increasingly top of my mind.

Constructing an innovation conversation framework

What I am offering here is an innovation conversation framework, on how we can approach different strategic value propositions, and where we might need to debate these across the organization, as the points of impact so we can make this move towards a higher degree of innovation alignment.

If we take the three ‘classic’ strategic thrusts of product leadership, operational excellence or customer intimacy, just for illustrative purposes here, then we need to make clear the potentially different emphasis points within any suggested innovation approach that we should take. We must, within any innovation approach, be clear on what and where we should be placing our primary focus.

Aligning innovation within a strategic conversation framework

This framing can be most useful to remind people who are involved that there are significant points of difference. There is a need to agree and align on what we are driving our innovation activity to support any selected strategic direction. This framework can really open up the discussion. It can begin to show the possible implications and challenges ahead.

Equally some might argue that you actually need to combine all three, well I’d certainly want to question that really hard on whether this is possible all at the same time. I would really doubt it, if you just consider some of the aspects I’ve laid out within this framework above.

If it is still demanded, and some leaders can be just that, demanding,  I would suggest you really do need, even more, a framework to remind you of the critical differences and what aspects need clear focus to deliver to the distinct value proposition parts. Each strategic value proposition has significant implications to plan and work through.

Having a top picture in mind certainly helps

Having a top picture of the where to place your emphasis makes some sense. I’m not saying these shown are the ones you will have within your boxes but all I’m offering here, is a suggested framework that captures the key strategic emphasis points, so as you can engage in a deeper discussion before you launch yourself in blue yonder.

This framework can help you to contribute to achieving a greater alignment between the strategic direction (product leadership, operational excellence or customer intimacy) and the key innovation aspects that help to align to this that the organization will need to think about and work through.

Does it make sense to you?

The essential innovation vision

In a recent leadership study on innovation by Capgemini Consulting, one of the studies top line concerns was the lack of a well-articulated innovation strategy, and then beyond this, a lack of organizational understanding of the linkages required.

It is amazing how many organizations lack a clear innovation vision and an explicit set of statements from the Chief Executive or their designated C-Level Officer on innovation.

One great visual paints a thousand words

This visual I came across some years back, and for me, it is outstanding in providing the feedback loops that go into developing the right innovation vision. To get to a definitive end point of having an innovation vision you are faced with some complex challenges. These are well shown here. Each influences the other and constantly loop back, making hopefully an improving vision success.

The critical feedback needs for constructing an innovation vision

The different challenges seen in this terrific depiction, provide the sort of dialogue and efforts that needs to go into ‘crafting’ the innovation vision. It is hard, thoughtful work. Lets look at each of these a little more.

The Time Challenge

We get caught in annual planning cycles that often leave little time for ‘considered’ opinion and debate. The annual plans all come in a deluge and this is plainly wrong. Creating a vision needs a lot of time to consider all the aspects. The ‘time gap’ seriously impacts the visions success and clarity of purpose

The Diversity Challenge

Not only within the same board room do you have a diversity of opinion, you have that up and down any organization. Getting the views first out in the open, then managing the conflicting aspects and dealing with the ‘polarization effects’ all is difficult. This is where a dedicated focus, a Chief Innovation Officer, can really make a difference. To get people to talk about the vision, what it should stand for, what needs to happen leads eventually to a greater clarity.

The Relationship Challenge

Managing the relationships both within and outside the organization when it comes to the right thinking on innovation is hard, converting doubters, drawing out differences, improving the quality of any conversations around innovation (ideally with facts not conjecture) and raising the enthusiasm to engage is crucial to moving towards the right vision

The Vision Cap Challenge

There is a reality to what and where you are and the perceived gap that need addressing honestly. This  is something we tend to be very poor at, is, holding a ‘creative’ tension that can stimulate and create a vibrant and exciting innovation vision. We try to dampen the divergence in opinions far too early so we can (quickly) got to convergence. This ‘keenness’ to take away the ‘creative’ tension tends to replace it with potential set of ‘destructive’ ones and this often creates much of the beginnings of the barriers to innovation. People resent not being well listened too or allowed time to develop their arguments.

The Vision and its Success

If you get people to ‘freely’ talk about innovation, its importance, its impact and can ‘paint’ the future in broad brush strokes, they achieve a growing clarity and enthusiasm and that often missing critical component a sense of shared identity.

Innovation is complex; it deals with formal and informal mechanisms. There is an awful lot to constructing a solid innovation vision but believe me, it is even harder to understand the right components that make up the innovation strategy, so it does eventually become a well-articulated innovation strategy. More on this to come at a later date.