We seem to pass over distinctive innovation, why?

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

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

I believe many who work within innovation simply do not share in this delineation of innovation activity, as it divides talent into separate teams, often pitting scarce innovation resource against each other, often in many unseen ways.  This divide of activities is often a real pity but perhaps another story for another day we can explore.

Disruptive innovation is seen, partly by the way it has its effect on us and our lives. Many of us are always happy to discuss disruptive as long as it does not have an impact on ourselves, on the receiving end. As long as we are the ones doing the disrupting, or just wanting to show off the status as being early adopters or within the early majority of the innovation adoption curve, then we love disruption. Otherwise it is a very uncomfortable space many are not prepared to travel too.

I would suggest most people understand incremental as the first type or basic stage of innovation, especially in larger business organizations. For me large organizations give this incremental area far to much of a focus in their resources and efforts, to the detriment of other options which is partly due to their risk-averse cultures. I really do think though, they miss a trick, by failing often to ramp up to breakthrough or disruptive innovation, by not focusing on building a real capacity to strive for ‘distinctive innovation’ on a more consistent, even sustaining basis.

We should move out of the incremental trap far more and not continue to reinforce it as many do. Lets ‘name and shame’ the incrementalists and get them thinking more about distinctive innovation.

The missing value of distinctive

I think we miss something and it is a great big pity. Distinctive innovation is actually not just the middle ground, the passing through point towards breakthrough or disruptive but it is the inspirational point for all of us to rally around far more than we do. Inspirational is really important, it is a great motivating point if we can all achieve far more in our identity with something distinctive than just incremental. Whatever we work upon in innovation we should seek something distinctive as an outcome. I don’t regard the latest flavored yogurt, improvements to the speed of our computer processor power or a few more pixels on our I-phone as anything more than incremental. This is to keep pushing up the awareness curve to extract longer value from the brand or product. I’m looking at something that makes it stand out, to be distinctive.

A transforming point for all to all gather around

I think there is far more value in talking about this transforming type of innovation that I call distinctive. It is not a complete breakthrough, it is not something that really disrupts an industry but it enables a certain leadership status, a chance to build a reputation for your brand or service. Distinctive innovation gives you the ability to build and lead in either design, in solution resolution, in improving function etc., etc. We forget to talk about this type of innovation as we move from incremental to breakthrough.

I believe there is a clear consensus building point for all working on innovation would want to achieve, that is knowing they are delivering something distinctive. It is the new innovation neighborhood we should all move towards and plan out. Lets find ways to get out of the overcrowded incremental slums.

Most people can’t jump or not even be able or allowed to think about breakthrough, as that is far too often  “left to others” What they can really identify with is working on being more distinctive and less trapped in the basic, incremental mindset. What do you think?  Would you want to be associated with something distinctive, I would.

Risk aversion is just making us all feel ordinary

It really depresses me when you hear the remark “actually, in all honesty, we have no appetite for innovation, we are so risk averse.”  Actually it is heard a fair amount if you ask about risk and innovation. This is often never stated in earshot of others within the same organization, it comes in a sudden burst of honesty, perhaps over drinks, and always outside their ‘normal’ working environment.  Sometimes you have a rare exception, especially if you have been called in to help, when someone has just been appointed into the position to simply “do something about innovation, we are dying as an organization”

We all need meaning but we don’t like the risks associated with it

I was reading an excellent article by Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer on “How leaders kill meaning at work” and they offer the insight about the lack of recognition that everyone within any organization requires as the single most important need,that  is the feeling they are making progress in meaningful work. Managers often undermine the meaningfulness of work to us as individuals; it is too often dismissed or not thought as relevant to the work at hand.

In the article they suggest four traps to avoid and one of them ‘Mediocrity signals’ triggered this blog.  The organization they used as the example within this trap drove new-product innovation into the ground as the top management was so focused on cost savings they no longer were a leader in innovation, they simply became followers. One comment made by an employee was “mediocre work for a mediocre company”, yet it was not previously like that. Risk aversion had become dominating and the organizations leadership was signalling “they were really more comfortable being ordinary”.

How do we arrive at this point of being just ordinary?

Human being have always been risk takers, otherwise we would not be where we are today. As a species we survived because we took risks, but was this because we were threatened? There is a strong argument that we really only innovate when we are in crisis, being threatened, either with our jobs, within our organizations when we feel under attack.

So do we only feel we can take risks to survive? It is often amazing how the barriers are unlocked to innovation, within those deadlock meetings when someone signals “we can break the rules, we can go beyond our normal comfort barriers, into uncharted waters, it is acceptable, it will be supported”. We can change in seconds; it becomes liberating, exciting and risky.

The argument goes that risk-taking enables growth.

We have all heard the mantra “without risk, there is no reward”. Yet the very opposite occurs more often than not. Those that do take a risk, often find their ‘reward’ is in being fired, demoted or being warned “this behaviour is not something we encourage in our organization”

So if you want to be an average manager or an average employee, then you need to find the average organization were little risk-taking is required. Does that fill our lives with meaningful work? I think there are better ways to go through life than hating the very thought of getting up and going into work. If we lack fulfilment, and being in an environment where work begins to have, each day, less meaningful purpose then we have taken out one of the major factors of life surely? If risk is being progressively taken out of the equation I think innovation suffers, let alone us as human beings having to live with this feeling of working in such a mind-numbing environment.

How often do we hear managers quantifying more on all the downsides of risk, looking at the possibilities of loss and less at the probabilities of success? Risk-taking becomes threatening to them, their tenure, so they work the downsides wherever they can, rework the product so it can still be innovative but is simply ordinary as against the original idea where it was potentially extraordinary. Risk aversion took hold and we are left with this “no appetite” and being ordinary.

We need a shift in risk thinking to help innovation.

Organizations need to work at ways to reduce fear, discomfort and resistance. To allow for opposing views, seeking out a diversity of opinion and establishing that one thing we all would love to be part of, this is an authentic culture that matches the promise with the reality . One that shifts away from conventional thinking to embrace risk and not try to always control but to seek actively experimentation. It is through experimentation we gain our best learning. Equally experimentation should be at the core of every organizations drive to innovate, we accelerate our knowledge the more we attempt something different, proving or disproving is exciting work.

Shaping ideas, taking risks, allowing experimentation, providing tolerance, exploring the unknowns all should be an integral part of innovation. Innovation is risk-taking.

Kouzes and Posner back in 1987 suggested that individual’s be encouraged to keep trying despite failures, and focus more on on the learning from this than just simply from the outcome alone.

They suggested three points as a way forward to improve risk tolerance:

  1. Choose tasks that are challenging but within the person’s skill level to build a sense of control
  2. Encourage people to see change as full of possibilities and to build an attitude of change
  3. Offer more rewards than punishments.

Over time this increases our risk-tolerances, we become progressively more creative in this risk-taking orientation to seek out and push for more innovation. We allow-in a greater desire for the capacity to be innovating and how we want things we are working on to improve, to give us a greater meaning within our lives. More purpose, more satisfaction, greater identification.

Equally allow those who are willing to take risk, as their more natural position, the head room to explore, to push boundaries. Outline the guidelines, expect them to be broken on a few occasions but work with them, talk with them and talk about what they are doing where ever you can. Work towards expecting more positive surprises through your engagement than fire fighting the negative ones because you were unaware.  Do also make sure others above you or alongside you are party to the risks. There is a certain thrill in any ride if it has a little edge to it but equally it is in a successful finish. Risks always need active but positive managing, keeping them within a certain tolerance.

Building environments that encourage risk-taking should be sought.

If we can provide environments that encourage risk-taking and they are consistent in what is expected this becomes a big step to change our present thinking about innovation.  If the leaders within organizations lay out what they want to achieve, breakthrough innovation for example ,and this is clearly articulate and laid out in the governance, the culture and in the environment and linked to the purpose of the organizations goals, then risk becomes better managed and valued.

Risk-taking can come through experimentation, through more open learning and discussing, through testing and pushing for greater innovation alters the tolerance levels. These tolerances change over time as more confidence seeps into the way we evaluate and make the betting on the outcome more risk-rewarding. We begin to move back into truly innovating. As I suggested earlier: “innovation is about risk-taking”.

We look for a meaningful contribution as Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer suggest. It boosts the “inner work life” and as they equally suggest “inner work life affects the bottom line” if employees are allowed to be engaged, part of something that allows them to be more creative, productive, committed and collegial in their jobs.

I would add fostering risk tolerance can push innovation beyond the ordinary back into the extraordinary. Nothing is better than being associated with extraordinary moments, we all need them, and they give us real meaning and purpose, just make sure you add a certain spice of risk into the mix. If you can’t live with risk, risk may come and live with you.

Striking the balance for exploitation across different innovation horizons

Nobody said innovation was easy and I was reminded of that recently. Innovation can certainly be, without doubt, fairly complicated in larger organizations. What must not be forgotten is that we must manage the innovation activities across all the three horizons of innovation and that adds even more complexity.

What is ensured from this complexity is that you can expect innovation does get very entangled in balancing out the resources that are available and needed, to handle all the conflicting, competing demands placed within the innovation system. For the innovation teams involved in the multiple tasks, getting this balance right and also trying to justify further support to keep all the activities progressing on time, is tough.

Each of the innovation horizons can demand different management’s attention for allocation, response and focus.  Horizon one represents the company’s core businesses today, horizon two includes the rising stars of the company that will, over time, become new core businesses, whereas horizon three consists of nascent business ideas and opportunities that could be future growth engines. This link takes you to a series of discussions on the three horizons http://tinyurl.com/d97bkhh for a deeper explanation.

Dual needs are often conflicting

How often do you face the real difficulties of striking the right balance between those dual needs of meeting what is important to service in today’s business for short-term performance and targets, with the other critical aspect of pushing the performance into the next horizons of innovation? Those future horizons that offer the space for the new concepts and ideas that eventually lay down the expected foundations for your continued growth.

Managing across the different horizons really places a complexity for constantly juggling and balancing out different sets of high-yielding performances, often from the same team. To help we need to have a much clearer understanding on the aspects that make up innovation management.

Grouping the necessary activities

Here I’ve attempted to group into what I feel are the four critical focal attributes and their activities that are needed to be managed, planned out and pursue across the innovation horizon mix to deliver on the innovation expected . These need a fairly advanced organization structure to be managed effectively.

I feel there are four critical activities to balance out across the three innovation time horizons.

  1. Strategic planning, portfolio management to manage the growth management pressures
  2. Project productivity, execution and disciplines to drive the system
  3. Managing relationships, increasing more external through open innovation and emerging new platform management techniques and collaborations to accelerate activities
  4. Securing, anchoring and developing the talent to deliver the innovation needed.

These are not so easy to work on simultaneously, it needs some deeper thinking through and management skills to balance the many conflicting pressures found within the innovation system. Here I just discuss the concepts and activities within each. These need to be thought through individually by each organization to balance out which is not an easy task, often not as well-considered by external observers or advisors as they should be.

  • Strategic planning, portfolio management

The balances here are focused more on evaluating emerging opportunities; ensuring portfolio consistency and demonstrating where the portfolio returns lie. Then strategically and tactically working to exploit and combine any cross-over projects, updating on a constant on-going prioritization the impact of the different growth platforms, and finally monitoring the activities that are working themselves through the innovation system for communicating their changing value.

  • Project productivity and execution

Here the focus is far more on the disciplines within the system. The optimization and appropriate allocation of the necessary resources for embedding project management disciplines, demonstrating constantly the validity of what you are doing, reducing rework, demonstrating the value of the activity to meet the required end result going through the innovation pipeline.

There is a growing need is to build up clear prototyping and scaling techniques, plan to ‘inject’ dedicated specialists into projects to drive and offer appropriate advise where needed and be constantly ready to show viability from the work progressing through the pipeline . Finally, there is the need to find the right balance between customization and standardization techniques to provide the optimum yield from these activities.

  • Management across external and internal relationships is complex.

More and more open innovation seen as accelerating the innovation activities is placing a real increase on the demands for exploiting and promoting different collaborations platforms. As there is an increasing need to attract different partners for working across often very diverse platforms this is placing increasing demand in the management of a complex set of dynamics across new and ever-changing relationships with outside parties.

There is a need to explore different techniques here that involve discovery syndicates, venture networks, deploy absorption teams and seeking out a range of idea and technology sourcing networks to feed into the internal organizations process and systems. Each plays its part in providing focus and exploring new yields to accelerate the innovation activities.

  • Managing the talent needed for innovation

Firstly securing, then anchoring and developing the diverse range of skills required to manage in a complex innovation system is increasing hard to complete. Not only do you have to map out workforce supply and demand, analysis and account for many different career preferences to meet personal circumstances, you have to leverage the skills across different needs and these three horizons. The growing importance of sharing knowledge, both tacit and explicit, that can be fully absorbed and exploited requires an absorptive capacity structure http://tinyurl.com/crtdv86 needs consistent attention and re-fuelling.

Four aspects that offer increasing value are, developing up a system for assessing the impact analysis of where resources can offer the best return, exploring where you can work to improving faster cycle times, building technology and knowledge libraries, and finally exploring different portfolio scenarios, all need to be simultaneously developed and exploited.

Lastly, the structuring of effective teams always needs that consistent attention. The ability to constantly build up the competencies and capacity for more ‘responsive’ and depth in skills. These are increasingly required to meet the changing innovation activities that are expected over the complete innovation development life cycle, where fresh discoveries are always occurring and you can reposition resources to capitalize on these ‘breaking’ opportunities.

How are you managing across these four?

Each of these four critical attributes is certainly placing increased demand on those that are managing within the innovation system. It requires for some advanced planning and attention within the management of innovation. Of course this grows in complexity by the size of organizations innovation activities and need.

Recognizing each of these four and being able to balance the often conflicting demands across different innovation horizons and competing for scarce resources within organizations is far from easy. It needs dedicated focus within innovation management.

How are you tackling this complex need for different high-yielding management within innovation? This is not an easy task and sometimes we external commentators forget when we keep layering on more ’timely’ advice and poking around with our innovation sticks. It is always very different when you are in the ‘eye of the storm’ than being the observer.

Certainly a ‘tip of the hat’ to those that manage within this complexity, it is not easy to balance out all the competing, often relentless demands placed on innovation’s exploitation needed across the three different horizons.

Thanks to the Research & Technology Executive Council for their past benchmarking in these areas.

The Case for Re-engineering Your Innovation Process (part two)

There are a host of reasons ‘renewal’ might be needed to be explored as part of a more radical redesign of your innovation system. Today, when markets are especially tough, looking long and hard at what you have and jettisoning what you don’t need becomes essential to reposition yourself as leaner and more flexible, far more agile.

Looking to be capable in incremental innovation is simply not enough, we need to be at the same time achieving more distinctive and breakthrough innovation. This is the higher demand point that is expected from the innovation system within organizations,  and regretfully this is not happening as much as it should.

There are many pressing needs why organizations have to ‘shape up’ and make some adjustments to their innovation activities. One of these is simply don’t ignore the need for looking to explore a re-engineering of the innovation process. It can really make a lasting difference to the fortunes of the organization.

Herein this second part of the case for re-engineering are some thoughts to offer and support this call for a more in-depth look at redesigning your innovation process.

What is valuable, what is not?

What does give you real value within the existing process? What are really non-added value activities that have been implemented over time to defend, to protect, to layer on the existing? Perhaps having a fresh perspective, driven by changing market conditions, you can challenge many present activities as work that might be unnecessary, as you make a greater focus on optimization and speeding up, consolidating activities, as part of your needs to adjust and meet this market change that is happening at present.

The need for focusing on new responsive outcomes not just task or unit inputs and process outputs does need radical rethinking.

To be more responsive you might need to place into the innovation system a higher sense of urgency, of reducing time to market, of delaying certain decision points closer to the end. You need to be more adaptive to these changing market conditions and this might need some radical rethinking by challenging existing practices and norms.

Firstly what is achievable within the existing system?

What is possible with leveraging different technologies, collaborative platforms, more flexible structures and exploring synergies across the whole innovation system? If you were able to cut across existing boundaries, changing existing controls and constraints presently imposed and challenge the existing structures, what would that achieve?

Of course you begin to challenges sensitivities, threaten personal silo’s and comfortable routines built up and nicely established, you challenge existing attitudes.  All of this has increasing ramifications on existing structures so you have to move cautiously and in thoughtful ways.

Focus on those that might be effected most, that can block and challenge, then set about to offer them a clear alternative. One that they can see a different potential and ‘richer’ promise than often just the protect and defend of the daily grind. You need to paint an inspiring vision and some details of the journey and outcomes expected. Get them involved, excited and wanting to change, those that don’t, well it just simply will get harder for them to block real progress if you can gain real momentum and early success is quickly seen and felt.

A more radical rethink needs a reason

When we are evaluating the existing business processes, there will always have a certain structure and measured set of activities within it. These are designed to produce existing acceptable results from a set of particular outcomes that might have worked, but I expect, really expect, you were not really happy with the results, it seemed to give a certain disappointment. If you are truly dissatisfied with your innovation outcomes then you need to see these existing systems and structures as an obstacle and barrier to a different innovation path.

It is when the dynamics change, then you need to be alert and ready.

What if you needed from your innovation process, the shift to a real need for building in agility and higher market responsiveness for example? Changing the existing process is unlikely to work it needs re-engineering. You certainly don’t just change just for the sake of it, this does not make sense but changing it for a new strategic purpose does. If you markets are changing, if we are moving towards more volatile trading conditions this provides the strategic intent and motivation to change.

Are you ready when the CEO enters your office and expects different innovation?

In the coming months and over the next few years CEO’s will be finding their way to your executive office, more and more. Or equally to the marketing teams office or R&D centres, demanding far more from innovation. As responsible for managing within the innovation system do you have you a complete ‘handle’, an in-depth understanding, of what is truly possible to respond to this increasing demand from the CEO? Not just knowing your existing innovation system and structure but what are the possible options and ways to rise up and respond to a new set of challenges?

I would suggest that you should be already working on it because the way we are all doing business today, is certainly about to change, if it is not already under-way.

It happened to me some years back

I recall one event many years ago when it was expected to improve productivity within the system by 15 to 20% in the organization I was working for.  Admittedly not the innovation system but the whole organizational system. I had to go out and deliver this as my area of responsibility across a global operation. Equally there was a further demand to reduce operating costs by 15% and standardise the process so it could be understood and totally visible to the CEO.

The outcome delivered was 25% improvement in productivity and 25% saving in operating costs to channel differently. Both outcomes allowed for increasing throughput desperately needed and holding operating costs so as this allowed us to channel much of this to different new value adding activities to raise performance even further and drive through more volume.

It took a significant amount of time, commitment and resolve to alter structures, systems, processes  and the mindset across a global organization that had been very defensive in its local organizations. What it did do is radically altered the market competitive position of the total organization and gave the customer more of what they wanted, a guaranteed delivery to his desired needs when it was expected.

Why can’t these types of results be applied to the innovation system you have?

Don’t be dismissive simply because my example is a business process re-engineering one, what do you think innovation has become? It is a business process, with its entire supporting infrastructure, systems, management structures, processes, controls, culture and practices. Recognize the beast that lurks across your organization called innovation in all its forms, it can make or break you, it is that important to your future.

Innovation needs to find slack, it needs to utilize technology, it needs to find new ways to combine and explore. To achieve this you need to engineer time, to save on your existing costs, to improve on your existing process and to allow for experimentation, fresh generation of ideas and concepts and allow for the three ’S’ needs. You need to stretch, to scope and too scale differently on your innovation activity if you want more real distinctive innovation breakthroughs that truly accelerate growth.

What are my three big imperatives (BHAG’s) that push you towards re-engineering innovation.

  1. We need to improve the operations around innovation. We need to improve the formal and informal aspects of managing within the innovation system. We have to adapt our organizational structures to improve the balance between local and global responsiveness. We need to capitalise on all the information systems, communication technologies and infrastructures we have introduced progressively over the years and not harmonized or integrated fully. We need to account more for open innovation. Finally we need to look harder at what adds real value and what doesn’t and rebalance the two
  2. The scope within the operations is increasingly complex and we need to reduce this. We need to build more scale where it matters to outperform competitors and outperform in (deteriorating) market conditions. We need to add flexibility, we need to maintain a standardization in approach, we need to add a higher risk profile into our innovations.  We need to share in a more inclusive innovation strategy and we need to maximise our global processes to help deliver in reducing time frames. We need to make innovation life simpler.
  3. The chance to build fresh capabilities into your innovation systems. When you need to reconsider innovation beyond the existing incremental you have delivered you need to find compelling value propositions. To achieve this everyone involved needs to lift their heads up and find some solid, decent time to be allowed to think through this challenge. Knowing the (changing) innovation strategy and the need, being more included in this dialogue, adding their personal insights built on solid market understanding and not just through reliance on other people’s focus reports. Having a growing sense of trust that the outcomes of any re-engineering will release them.

We need to build  new competencies and capabilities into our innovation system, so as our people engaged in innovation can be able to contribute to improving more helpful processes for them to do their job and, feel engaged in a more compelling work experience. A place where their contribution is truly valued and seen, feeling included and able to ‘freely’ reach out across internal and external networks. Placing real trust and investing in the skills will open up individuals to want to take on new experiences and challenges. They can see they are making a real difference.

So any first step is to see and then respond.

So what do we really need to do to seize emerging opportunities quicker, at tomorrow’s new innovation speed?

Six simple opening steps to begin to think through

  1. Redefine our need from innovation
  2. Sketch out an opening road map of how to tackle any re-engineering of innovation
  3. Identify some opening improvement opportunities that can really galvanize change and significant for the organization can get behind.
  4. Take a hard look on what you need to achieve for any change like this and what it means in efforts and resources. Often not as much as you initially think.
  5. Begin to organize and draw in a team that can undertake the redesign and can share in this. This calls for expertise but seek out a real diversity of opinion but can all come together as a united team once the debating has run its course and results come in.
  6. Seek a growing commitment from those around you, determine the appropriate approach and be ready to clear the decks and take the initiative out of your office into the heart of the organization.

So, concluding my opening case for re-engineering innovation.

As I suggested in my opening remarks in part one of this, innovation as we know it today is grinding to a halt for many. The existing treatment and values we offer in innovation’s name are tired, over worked, often over engineered and under delivered into the market place to make real difference.

We need to radically re-engineer the innovation systems and structures to offer a better value from all the innovation activity that is going on within organizations. In  not recognizing the crisis within, is not providing the opportunities to explore & extract the best opportunities we can deliver to meet our customers needs and what markets are looking for in growth and stimulus today.

We have available more means at our disposal to move from the existing to the preferred than ever before. Innovation needs to go back to being the real option for significant growth by offering something that ‘wow’s’ the consumer and creates fresh new markets, found by tapping into the unknown needs and jobs-to-be-done that our consumers are trying to achieve with the existing products and services but failing.

We are in volatile times or heading towards them. The markets and consumers requirements are changing, much is by being forced into making change and they, our consumers, don’t like that. So we have to find different ways to meet these changing conditions with radically altered approaches within our innovation management to respond and be more agile, to draw the consumer back in.

Without question we do need to put back the ‘wow’ factor back into innovation if we want to first survive and then begin to thrive in more compelling ways and in tougher times.

There is a time for this need to re-engineer what we do in the name of innovation and this might actually be that time

The Case for Re-engineering Your Innovation Process (part one)

Real innovation is slowly grinding to a halt in many organizations. If the top leadership are not totally engaged in driving innovation it struggles, it grows in complexity; it gets bogged down in the internal politics of self-preservation and delivers only a ‘watered down’ end result, seen far too often to be a lasting sustaining solution, which it is plainly not. When are we going to recognize that innovation, as we have it organized within many organizations today, is failing to deliver on its promise of providing the growth expected and so often talked about by the CEO?

Larger organizations, let’s face it,  are so caught up in the incremental trap. Risk mitigation rules at every level of the management of innovation, as it ‘churns’ slowly through the complex innovation process, built up over the years. If an organization is totally happy with spending all its knowledge and internal resource on providing incremental products to its customers and gets away with it, then fair enough but does it have to be so?

Alternatively, if shareholders, customers and competitor’s sense there should be far more, then the organization is travelling a road that indicates the pathway to decline. The worry becomes simply, can it reverse this mind-set of incrementalism and risk mitigation in driving its innovation? There is a different pathway on offer but to travel down it, you have to think about some serious form of radically altering your existing innovation structure and processes.

Much has happened in innovation in the past ten years.

Often you wonder if any new understanding really has permeated through the outer skin of some organizations, perhaps with the notable exception of open innovation. We have greater technology, software, and understanding of systems, people, and structures than ten years ago. We are better at measuring innovation in inputs, throughputs, outputs and outcomes or have the potential to do this. Of course, that is, if we chose too.

The real issue for me is that much of this potential, these potential advancements are often seemingly being ignored, or certainly not fully leveraged. We just keep adding more and more on top of the existing systems, instead of stepping back and looking for a more radical redesign, one that can change the innovation dynamics. The one that transforms and goes well beyond our existing slow growth reality, seen today based on present performance of so many. The extra margins of profit today are more likely to come from reducing not enhancing.

So why do I argue we need some radical re-thinking of how we manage innovation?

Well most of the economies are flat on their back; the money in the pocket of the consumer is dwindling and less certain than in recent years. Many of our larger organizations continue on in their juggernaut fashion, believing they are that irresistible force that is indestructible and that they can keep on going offering increasing extensions to existing products, passing on higher prices expecting those higher sales. Will this last? I doubt it.

They are busy chasing higher revenue, not so much in existing markets but more by expansion into new markets. Much of the existing market activity is quickly negated by competitors, which stalk every move and cover off any short-term advantage to try to regain the status quo. Layoffs, reductions across the board just continue to eat into the very fabric of the organization to extract profit, often at the price of real innovative growth.

Organizations are increasing their complexity by the very nature of the business model they are pursuing.  They are reducing decision-making away from the markets and the field and centralizing this, therefore requiring the building up of the necessary controls to make sure there is compliance and fulfilment of these decisions. They are increasingly remote and losing the very trust of many of their employees by this ‘drip by drip’ set of actions.

Complexity comes with a growing cost.

It is slowing everything down. More people are spending all of their working days coordinating and justifying more than ever. The productive person, seen before to be the one producing something new or different is today plainly different. They are more likely seen as dynamic by the way they respond to requests, the way they communicate and coordinate, the way they chase and monitor. They shut down more in creativity by their need to satisfy growing demands placed on them.  Organizations are employing hundreds, if not thousands caught up in feeding the machine not driving the value-adding process. We spend increasing more time in seeking out efficiency and being more effective but effective at what? Certainly not on working with great innovation in the majority of cases!

The need to shift from efficiency to agility for innovation

Our focus is on efficiency and control, delivering more and more incremental better products, trying to stay one step ahead of competitors. By being in increasing control by planning and knowing your outcomes well ahead of the real need you are running your process to minimise risk and variation. The need is to have constant visibility and anticipating obstacles by employing the means to make this happen, being in total control, taking out uncertainty, taking out experimentation and replacing it with certainty. Six sigma enthusiasts must be delighted.

What if we changed this?

We want to bring in agility, the ability to adapt quickly to changing market conditions, to lead market change that increasingly shows signs of volatility and uncertainty. Would our existing ruthless grinding execution machines be up to the different challenge? Challenges like building in accelerating effective exception handling, separating the prevailing present business and application logic to be driven by different innovation logic of rapid, more radical, responsive product and service offerings that provide solutions that get closer to meeting some often radically changing customer needs. We need to be looking to take greater variation and turn it into a market winning advantage.

To achieve greater agility we need to cut rework, we need to seek faster problem resolution and reduce cycle times way down, reduce downtime involved in waiting for escalating decision-making of the past, minimise any backlogs and combine current innovation into bigger big bang solutions that can cut through market uncertainties to maintain your share of wallet, mouth or band width. We need the principles of Six Sigma but with distinct differences.

A corporate culture dominated by Six Sigma management theory will be primarily incline toward inwardly focused, continuous improvement types of innovation activity — process, customer service, systems, operations, and so on. The aim is small, incremental innovations that really can add up but only can go so far!

Seeking a more entrepreneurial environment

A culture that fosters disruptive or encourages distinctive innovation is going to be more entrepreneurial, more outwardly focused on new markets, technologies, and business models. The goal is to find big new growth platforms that add significant chunks of revenue and profit.

Innovation is uncertain, unsure territory and requires sometimes a significant level of unstructured thinking to spot the emerging patterns and opportunities; the innovation system needs to build this in as slack. We need to ask the underlying question is whether the discipline of process management will fertilize or strangle those new ideas that come from light-bulb moments of brilliance”

The need is for a different orientation

We cannot make money without innovating for growth, and we cannot save money by not having efficient processes. What we need is to strike a new balance from what we know that works and what we know is questionable if the activity does not have a real value add component to it.

The task would be to re-invent how we work to carry out this. We need to focus on the fundamentals within our existing processes and even be ready to tear down many of the current ways of managing innovation within the business. We need to seek solutions from a fresh perspective. When you begin to question you begin to re-engineer.

Part two, published tomorrow, will delve further into this case for re-engineering innovation.

Establish a different global thinking for your innovation.

When you read through a paper on transformative innovation by the Corporate Executive Board (CEB) at www.executiveboard.com that offers in its conclusion: “Innovation teams have been reorganized, de-layered, downsized, and (increasingly) dispersed, weakening the underlying structure of many companies ’innovation efforts” you do stop and reflect.

Then you read in one of the latest McKinsey Quarterly’s articles about “the global company’s challenge” (http://tinyurl.com/8yvwsrv) suggesting many issues are needed to be faced within large global organizations, you get even more of a confirmation that all is not well for innovation.

Innovation’s future seems to need some wholesale changes to take place and those innovation leaders are facing multiple dilemmas and choices that can’t be ignored for much longer.

The issue is “are the leaders of these organizations up to the challenges?”

According to McKinsey, through a fairly extensive survey overall, global organizations are struggling to adapt in many areas. A year ago, McKinsey uncovered a “globalization penalty”: high-performing global companies consistently scored lower than more locally focused ones on several dimensions of organizational health. For example, the former were less effective at establishing a shared vision, encouraging innovation, executing “on the ground,” and building relationships with governments and business partners.

Also another section of the CEB report states clearly that “the past decade of economic uncertainty made executive teams risk averse—focusing on incremental innovation to improve existing products and ensure more predictable, near-term revenue. In effect, these firms have been trading larger, higher-impact (and riskier) ideas for a greater number of smaller, more manageable (and less risky) ideas, causing incremental and next generation initiatives to dominate most innovation portfolios.  Incremental innovation still accounts for more than 80% of funded innovation initiatives

The CEB report further goes on “With weakened ideation networks, stretched management, and ineffective global working relationships, many companies are hard-pressed to restock their innovation pipeline with breakthrough ideas. Without re-establishing the necessary organizational capabilities, companies are unlikely to shift their innovation portfolio fast enough to compete and win in new markets”.

It does offer the following glimmer of hope “while daunting, the challenges are not insurmountable” but let’s think more radically in resolving these barriers.

I think we should stop the innovation bus and re-evaluate where large organizations are really going.

In both reports they indicate fundamental underlying weaknesses that are not being fully addressed that seems to me is a major constraint on innovation. Unless those on the ever-moving faster wheel don’t pause and reflect they are just going to run harder and harder for diminishing returns and growing frustration, then they are facing the road to nowhere.

I think it is time to get off the existing tread mill and really begin to think through a major re-engineering of innovation.

Four tensions need addressing but differently for each organization

In many ways I like the McKinsey suggested four tensions they put forward as needing to be addressed in their article to be overcome; in managing strategy, people, costs, and risk on a global scale. The importance of each of these four tensions will vary from company to company, depending on its particular operating model, history, and global footprint. My approach to these:

  • Firstly manage within the global innovation team differently than today. We need to bring back strategic confidence and put a different stretch into the structure that builds on trust, on exchanging, on collaborating and building a deeper ,a  more globally spread experience level that is both dispersed, yet still globally orchestrated and one that is simply not imposed and driven centrally.
  • Make people more the central asset to your accelerating innovation. Place more trust in them. Not by simply dumping more work upon them and asking them to fill in more forms for a central repository on their progress. Or equally demanding a constant feeding back, often in one way conversations but in permitting the unleashing of  the talent that does reside within and across organizations, so often buried, by giving it a higher level of trust and self-determination. This would mean a much more focused coordinating platform that exchanges on a mutual respect and value for each person’s contribution and value generating contribution. Balancing local insight, adapting global brands and tailoring the final offering to tap into local opportunities needs a different approach than we are seeing today. Stop imposing, start listening and adapting and adjusting more to what is needed in local markets not ‘driven’ from some distant point of reference that needs significant compromise to meet different market demands .
  • The huge advantage global organizations should have is simply being eroded more and more. Not just by the local more nimble competitor but more importantly by the way organizations seem to be structured in recent years. The advantage of shared infrastructures that large organizations are supposedly meant to have, does seems to me, all but eroded. You see the duplication in the system as often staggering. The myths of shared services can be often illusionary, as well as more and more complexity is layered in the system to offset and counter potential risk. The growing cost of compliance, seeking global standards and coordinating these needs constant re-evaluation, cross validation and assessment is pushing out products by turning them into just safe innovation. Often we are seeing even longer delivery-to-market time horizons with all these internal exchanges .  There is a real pressing need to release this layering-on effect and find new and different ways to speed up and become more adept and agile.
  • Reducing risk often seems the first overriding priority in many large matured organizations. Take all the risk out of innovation and all you end up with the incremental approaches we are seeing today, all too often touted as innovation breakthroughs, what rubbish. Can this change, I think it must do, as real growth demands different solutions than what is being offered today, otherwise we will just simply ‘bounce along’ in slow growth across many industries. How to manage a more diverse business portfolio in global organizations needs a different hedging policy to rebalance the risk premium with more of an adventurous exploration of innovation bets. Re-balancing infrastructures and deciding where to locate skills to support both a global business but with a greater diversity of innovation within local operations and regions is a tough challenge. Managing mind-sets and embedded thinking calls for a more radical overhaul if more breakthrough thinking is called for.

Each of these four tension points needs to be re-balanced, to be re-engineered. Innovation needs some radical re-thinking, a more ruthless review of what is working, what is holding it back.

To achieve this I feel a complete re-engineering approach to innovation is called for. Large organizations are strangling great innovation ideas at birth and slowly to death through a heavily compromised pipeline These are being replaced with lacklustre concepts that are often boring their customers and compelling them to question the value and look more and more elsewhere, for solutions that fit their needs and pockets.

Otherwise global scale will simply not matter if organizations can’t leverage the people on the ground, so as to link more specifically to the customer needs in different regions and markets and provide them with what they want.

The urgent need is to improve the organizations abilities to connect locally and adapt globally, not the other way around. Yes, you can call that reverse re-engineering in the way you are managing innovation.

The dark side of the innovation moon

Ever wondered what is on the other side of the moon when you look up towards it? Do we really need to look beyond our own horizons in our daily lives? Should we question beyond our existing horizons in how we go about innovating, to explore, to push ourselves into the unknown?

What about the other side, the darker, unknown side of the moon. Are you ever curious of what lies behind what we can see? I certainly am.

Innovation is perhaps like the moon. We only see a part of it wherever we stand, we appreciate that part and value what we see and work within. It is even better if we can repeat it again and again. It can even offer something reassuring and comfortable, we grow comfortable within our own known borders of innovation activity.

What happens though, when we suddenly face a crisis? Or our innovation activity that has happily gone on and on, is abruptly questioned due to some sudden changes in the market place? Then we often enter the unknown side, the darker, murkier side of innovation, where uncertainties lurks, this is like maybe the other side of the moon, out there but not part of our ‘seen’ world until now. It unexpectedly challenges what we know and leaves us vulnerable and uncertain. It also prompts us to be curious.

The issue becomes, what is the power of knowing that darker side of the innovation moon beforehand? Maybe it is the explorer within us all. Knowing whats actually out there. Understanding as much of the whole innovation moon would be good for many of us but we would like to do this safely within our existing comfort zone. What we would ideally love is not just a glimpse of the far side, that darker, unknown side, but a chance to visit it, just to see if it is something for us or not. How can we do this, can we prepare?

Visiting the dark side of the innovation moon

I think we all do need to gain a really good glimpse of the total innovation moon. It would help us to be better equipped to be ready for different eventualities that are more often than not, coming our way in unexpected ways.

What can be provided that allows us to move around innovation with more confidence, to experience it, to explore it and then become eventually more comfortable with it so as to work all sides of this innovation moon?

To orbit the innovation moon we do need to rise up and go beyond our day-to-day lives. We need to look at innovation in its broader context; we need to understand all of its inter-connected parts. So much of the innovation moon often remains in mystery, the side that faces away from us.

Part of my job is to encourage you to not only leave your comfort zone but to attempt to offer the framing techniques and approaches to equip you for deepening your journey onto the darker, less known sides of your innovation understanding.

How can we explore all the potential within innovation?

We should ask of ourselves, what does block out the light, the understanding of gaining a fuller understanding of innovation. Is it a lack of time, of incentive or it is not simply part of our job, the role expected by the organization we work for does not want us to be curious? We need a way to freshly connect, to relay and make exploration, to feel like we can make a safe venture. To do this we often need permission to go beyond our existing horizons.

Equally we each have to ask ourselves what and where are the dark sides of the innovation moon for us? Why are these differences on the side that faces away from us, the unknown sides of the innovation moon? We do need to open up and seek out far more.

This blog site was deliberately set up to help in this, along with my advising, coaching, researching and consulting work to help you in your innovation focus. I’m trying to add the ‘innovation fuel’ and essential frameworks and equipment to help you explore innovation with growing confidence and continued support.

The power and force of the dark side has growing attraction

The difference that can be made is distinctive innovation, breakthrough and disruptive innovation. This is the attraction of exploring the dark side of the innovation moon, it is what investors and your organizations are looking for, that makes you stand out and be different. You have pushed the boundaries.

Those creative forces, the unique breakthroughs, the distinctive products, services and different business models that allow us to break free of the pull of the gravity that often holds the majority back, that is the attraction of the dark side of innovation. This often require us to move out of our comfort zones, be pushed to explore the other side, the far side of our thinking.

We all are in need of making fresh moonwalks.

To understand the whole innovation moon we do need to make moonwalks. We need to explore, we need to map out the terrain. I think we need a new model that tackles innovation so it can articulate for all and becomes the innovation roadmap that communicates to us all in a way that makes clear connection. We need more help in reducing uncertainty and replace it with something that gives us all a feeling of being part of something bigger and more exciting, something we want to take part within.

We all need to visit the dark side of the innovation moon. I am more than happy to walk alongside you, actually I’d welcome it, as we all gain a new perspective when we do make any journey.