Living through 2013 on a meal of innovation alone

Making resolutions that work for the new year just seem never easy to keep. Our resolve weakens or we get distracted as the year evolves. For a business I regard the equivalent of resolutions as statements of intent, but they do need to be backed up by underlying logic. I’ve been working on these, getting perhaps a little more innovation fit.

I see as we move into 2013 a real need to become far more focused than ever. Here, first in a visual and then in a short summary that I’ve reflected upon in the last few weeks, is where I need to place myself for the challenges we all face in 2013 to offer helpful, thoughtful solutions that provide positive outcomes around innovation activities.

Turning intent into delivery

2013 is going to be a very tough year.

I feel the uncertainties across business and our economies in the West have magnified. There will be more demands placed on organizations to find innovative solutions yet their ‘risk appetite’ will be even more pronounced and guarded.

We will need to “convert and drive” innovation far more in faster, in more imaginative ways. The opportunities to “exploit and extend“, to “experiment and explore” will be even more at a premium to undertake, far more focused, balanced out and disciplined in execution. Good execution will be at a real premium in its need in 2013.

The ‘push’ will come from finding that “constant sense of renewal” to deal with rapidly changing market conditions that keep connected with the real needs of our consumers as their fortunes and reactions fluctuate. We need to stay highly focused and rapidly “tuned in” to emerging opportunities and become more agile and flexible to deliver on these as quickly as possible. I just can’t see 2013 as a ‘business as usual’ year in any shape or form.

What does this mean for me and my business?

  • For me, I need to focus down on a few selected innovation concepts that support in this time of increasing challenge. I equally need to shape up in what I provide.
  • I see the real increasing need for understanding of innovation and what is needed to do the exact job required. It cannot be simply left to chance and kept open, it needs to have a much tighter context in its delivery value. We will need a greater ‘tightness and alignment’ within our innovation activities and I need to support that.
  • I need to encourage greater speed, reaction in timing, help in validating risk for innovation execution, and what and where it can have the maximum impact, that so much more to deliver more effectively.
  • I need to convert more activity into supporting clients successful outcomes, that support the environment and the challenges presented.
  • My role is to simplify, to decode, to explain, to convert, to seek out and help in removing barriers to execution.

I seek to become the “innovation translation point” for those challenges.

There is a huge need to understand innovation, to be clear, to know the impact of your actions, to have relevant timely solutions that delivers the support on your needs and challenges.

How we set about tackling the issues and challenges we will be facing in the year ahead will be crucial to ‘seeing beyond’ 2013. Knowing where and what you can offer as clear in tangible benefits and outcomes through the solutions you provide will simply need sharper translation points.

Translation for that right delivery need, more than ever, especially as an external innovation adviser becomes essential to stay focused upon.

One challenging resolution I need to keep in 2013. Have you made yours yet?

The weak influence of strategy over our innovation activities

All too often strategy is not influencing the behaviours and outcomes around innovation, it is simply allowing them to be left to chance. Innovation is often being ‘pushed down’ the organization for others to interpret and offer their answers. This lack of alignment and top leadership engagement is one of the main causes why many organizations seem to just simply ‘limp’ along in their innovation activity.

Then those in leadership positions start expressing their disappointment over final innovation results, yet the answers simply lies more often than not as in their hands to resolve. Top leadership in organizations needs to shape innovation and be more involved in its strategic design. We need to resolve this innovation leadership gap of misunderstanding. We need to explain what their essential place is and provide the strategic frame to allow it to be understood. Then the contribution for innovation might be ‘allowed’ to deliver far more on its potential as it achieves that greater strategic alignment.

The absolute need is for leadership to lay in the guiding principles for innovation, to make it a more explicit innovation strategy and framework. This then does not stop at this alone, it then requires a consistent re-enforcing through policy shaping, strategic guidance and the operational documents to support this. Innovation requires on-going leadership engagement.

As you might already be aware, I have suggested the Senior Executive Innovation Work Mat as a framing document to provide this leadership dialogue for that essential organization engagement. This simply gives a much-needed focus, many of the strategic delivery points, structures and guidance for managing innovation.

Innovation Work Mat Overview

A strategic framework to moderate and accelerate meaningful innovation

The framework or work mat moderates innovation and goes much towards reducing the multiple interpretations and the variety of initiatives often described or justified as innovative but significantly missing the strategic mark. I would argue that most within the organization and those partnering with them, would appreciate a greater understanding of the core concepts, principles and direction that their innovation activity should take. To understand what is valued, essential to defend, promote and improve. To clarify what is highly strategic to describe and ‘form’ around helps innovation to perform its required task of delivering new growth that aligns into the strategic needs.

By having this work mat approach you can frame a formal set of mechanisms and principles for innovation to rise in quality. For instance in articulating that the selection of high potential concepts are highly valued and prized,  and will certainly get a certain ring-fencing and special dedicated attention, does radically alter the innovation work-to-be-done within any organization.

Equally, many within organizations where innovation is left more ‘open’ do run the risk that there is an over-emphasis on idea generation. By placing the emphasis point further along the innovation value chain that it is the exploring the benefits that flow from ideas, not the ideas alone, can make a significant difference in improving the quality of innovation and reducing the belief that quantity was the important aspect.

If the leadership could provide a more comprehensive innovation framework it would make such a difference. If this could cover the guiding principles, the mechanisms and ways the top leadership views innovation for its contribution to the organizations strategy, it would certainly offer a clear statement of innovations importance. This view can then ‘cascade’ throughout the organization, searching out its connecting points, proving the essential value, the debates required and facilitates the contributions, so innovation activities can relate far more to achieving the strategic growth goals.

Outlining the strategic principles of the innovation activity is vital.

Any strategic innovation framework needs to move well beyond offering just a set of indicators, it needs a far clearer articulation of what is valued, needed and will be well supported. For example by pushing and encouraging for the delivery of a few big bets shifts thinking radically away from incremental into more breakthrough in designs and concepts,. By offering a set of formal mechanisms for this selection of high potential concepts to be assessed, supported and effectively resourced would make a radical difference for many to make that mental shift in their innovation thinking. It prompts and provides the necessary stimulus.

Today many organizations presently find themselves locked in the innovation incremental trap. Real growth needs a more radical approach from innovation. Incremental innovation, often gives a very limited degree of security as others quickly copy or push this just a little bit further, so you are ending up chasing instead of making those leaps that give clear competitive space  where that ‘advantage’ can become a sustaining one.

Most of your innovation resources equally become locked within this incremental race, sucking up the innovation energies that should be ‘directed’ elsewhere. It is for the leadership to manage the risks of de-emphasizing that just simply  competing within the incremental race is not good enough. They provide the conditions that places a far higher emphasis on seeking out those innovation activities that will simply alter the race, radically.

Signalling a more innovation-orientated organization changes the dynamic forces within.

By having this more strategic and systematic approach does give a clear ‘signal’ that we need to be more of an innovation-orientated organization. A framework that is offering  the signposts and path finding points in vision, in proving the mechanisms for a whole innovation system transformation, in documentation, by engaging in constant discussions about innovation and its alignment to strategy, you move from ‘aspiration’ into gaining that ‘attraction power.’ You offer a fresh dynamic stock for innovation to feed from.

That would be for many, a strategy that is innovative itself. The frames intent, it’s very nature, is that it promotes excitement, growing identification, the chance to debate and offers that clarification so it can significantly provide the support to the people involved in innovating the ability to execute in a cohesive way their innovation activity. It provides the framing opportunity for that elusive alignment that is often missing in today’s organizations.

Achieving innovation alignment to strategic goals should be our aim in 2013

If we can achieve this innovation strategic alignment in what we do in 2013, we have significantly advanced innovation’s performance for leading us onto a greater growth track than where we find ourselves at the end of 2102. Perhaps that place where we are doing the disrupting and not simply reacting to be the ones always being disrupted is not a bad place to go, but it does need leadership and framing.

Journeying across the darker side of the innovation moon

When you decide to make any trip, you need to have some sort of roadmap to navigate yourself by. The difficulty is when you decide to step into the other side of the often known, into the lesser known or completely unknown sides of innovation, where there seems to be no decent roadmap, the enjoyment is partly in setting about it and trying to create it, to piece it together.

I wrote about the dark side of the innovation moon in mid-2012 and why it should always make us curious. Within my blogs that I’ve written here on this site I have kept coming back to its initial stated aim of “building the DNA of innovation” This has become a real journey of ‘stated intent’.

My journey of the past 18 months

For me, in the past eighteen months or so, I have achieved much of what I wanted in ‘advancing’ awareness of innovation, mine as well as others, for those that cared to read my ‘wanderings’. I wanted to wander and explore innovation, go where it takes me, sometimes follow a whim , pursue an avenue of enquiry or rely on the known facts and see if they ‘stand up’ to examination, to analysis, to actual practical application.

While I’ve also travelled on this investigative journey I have equally had to stay ‘grounded’ in the work that allows me to make these ventures. This grounding is the work I do with clients in advising, coaching, mentoring or consulting on innovation. It often is from my exploring comes the very source or triggering points, that many need to have explained, to help them in overcoming their problems or roadblocks.

Often these conversations determine where my next foray will take me in my explorations. I am just always uncomfortable when there are open issues left over from these engagements, that I felt I did not have the best answers when asked. It makes me want to go and find better answers. It is in all honesty, a never-ending quest if you have an enquiring mind. Innovation is always restless and constantly evolving, so we also need to be. So I have to certainly be.

So much within innovation is hidden, it is implicit not explicit, it relies on the people element for its generation and that is so often reliant on gathering a set of experiences to translate this dispersed knowledge into all the necessary connections to make something different, something new, something that is needed in the market place.

Exploring the lesser known regions of innovation, amplifying the known

In my travels I’ve explored much of the less understood sides of innovation. I have set about to try to explain them. I’ve tried to relate them to the aspects of everyday innovation, give those novel and logical frameworks or some method and structures to approach them, so they can be integrated into this work. Some have worked better than others.

When you arrive back to a certain point, you take stock, you reflect, you judge what has made a contribution or not, what still needs explaining more. Don’t get me wrong this is not a one man quest to explain innovation but it is borne from a real belief we do need to push the boundaries of innovation.

We do need innovation to enter the mainstream of our everyday thinking, to be something we feel naturally comfortable undertaking, as part of our make-up for our growth or prosperity. I often feel those that ‘see’ innovation that listen and engage, still make up the minority. It is those that don’t understand innovation, and I feel this is the majority, including most of our leaders, who simply pass over it, these are the ones we must find ways to draw into our circle of influence.

Presently those that are not fully picking up on the value of innovation are happily assuming others are fully active and totally switched on to all that makes up innovation potential. We need to get them involved. They have not fully realized they are as essential to contribute to a sustaining future, based on innovation solutions, so we can collectively tackle growing societal problems. We need to move ‘many’ from being the problem to being ‘engaged’ in mapping out the innovating future so innovation can fulfil its latent potential .

Drawing in the vast majority so we all become innovation savvy

The sad truth is, until we bring innovation up in each person’s thinking, we stumble along. The joy of any investigative journey that you undertake, is that you meet fellow travellers along the way. I am blown away at all the creative and thoughtful innovation thinking going on but sadly, still have to ‘put up’  with that not so imaginative thinking that goes equally under the guise of innovation writing.

I’m not just talking about those tired old lists of handy, instant solutions to follow that conveying that promise that this will help you to master innovation, but the many trivial comments that are just beyond twitter length. These often do not serve innovation well, or for the person grabbing at them feeling that if they clamber on board, they can float along quite safely. How wrong they are, they are simply drifting along, most probably moving further away from their real objective.

We all need some form of roadmap or blueprint I feel for innovation and life

We do need our roadmaps, our blueprints of innovation. They are essential when we decide to undertake a journey. If you don’t have the essential of a compass, spare food and drink, warm clothing, good walking or mountain shoes then you should not venture out into the mountains. I am more than fortunate, to live in an area surrounding by mountains and you give them a certain respect, I think innovation deserves that as well.

So I have taken stock of this journey I’ve been making in the name of innovation. I’ve written about 120 articles (blogs) in this time, applied the learning wherever possible. Some of the results have been highly satisfying, even gratifying, others upon reflection simply did not work out as well as they should have done, I felt they did not get the ‘resonance’ I had desired or intended.

Clearly I set out in my search and have ended up eighteen months later, very clear on one absolutely basic point for innovation. If we do not come together and gain a common language for innovation, not as a throw away buzz point, but as a unifying point, we will never be able to teach and transfer innovation to all the others that have not bothered to pick up on understanding the innovation language.

Why is a common language for innovation important?

Innovation has so many pockets of confusion and traps to fall into for adding to our inefficiencies. We still see so much fragmented energy, plenty of differences of approach and potential misunderstandings. It often saps the very juice of innovation. Organizations have plenty of unproductive capital, even when they hack away at all the undergrowth. Resource allocation required for good innovation remains patchy, under-served and often starved. We all become increasing busy at fixing what we have, trying to understand those hidden costs, spent energies and lost opportunities.

Until we arrive at a more uniformed approach to innovation, improve the management of innovation and its development within our systems, structures and processes we stay stuck in constant re-invention and duplication. Seeking a common language allows us to form ‘stickiness’ in value, it becomes the glue to align the parts that make up innovation and forms the whole we seek.

Reflecting on a journey, translating it into clear outcomes

I think I should stop journeying and focus down in the future just a little more. There are real focal points of need that will be required for us all to live through in 2013. Having available possible solutions, providing some objective advice (hopefully) so as to discuss and demonstrate these for clear points of impact can be more beneficial at this time. My journey needs to become more based on an ‘expedition’ to deliver even more tangible benefits and outcomes to all that care to engage.

Moving into 2013

So 2013 will be for me, one that becomes a ‘converting and driving’ of many of the areas I have been investigating in the recent past. Exploiting and extending, experimenting and exploring.  It allows me to extend further in that constant sense of renewal I always feel we need to have when one year closes and another one beckons.

Any ’journeyman’ always welcomes those moments of recuperation before that need to go back out and ‘push out’ on the next adventure. Certainly for me innovation is certainly that, full of excitement where you can be enterprising and intrepid, thoughtful and determined.

I just need a ‘touch more’ of the enterprising to come out in 2013 as my stated intent and be more focused on those impact points we are all in search of. Tackling the issues, challenges and problems where I hopefully can contribute clear solutions too, one way or another.

So my goal is to be “the innovation translation point” for providing the needed impact and focus by supporting and delivering different solutions to the challenges we will be facing in the year ahead. Simple huh! Why not set a challenging target?

Please enjoy your Christmas and New Year celebrations, I certainly will.  Thank you for all your time that you have invested in reading my thoughts, its highly valued and greatly appreciated.

Can we overturn built-in innovation legacy?

Often organizations are weighed down by legacy. This comes in many forms; in its culture, in its history, its core markets or products, in its systems, structures and processes built around innovation practice.

Today, we are confronted with a very different global market place than in the last century. National borders and regulations built to protect those that are ‘within’ in the past have rapidly become a major part of the ‘containing- restraining’ factors that are rendering many previously well-respected organizations as heading towards being obsolete and not in tune with today’s different world where global sourcing determines much.

They are increasingly trapped in declining markets, starved of the new capabilities and capacities to grow a business beyond ‘traditional’ borders, so this means they are unable to take up the new challenges that are confronting them. They see themselves as reliant on hanging on to the existing situation as long as they can, often powerless to make the necessary shifts, failing to open up, finding it increasingly more than difficult to find the ways of letting go, of changing. They are trapped in legacy.

Legacy can choke an organization in so many ways to limit expansion.

How can we break out of this and rethink? When we begin to investigate legacy to cut lose and design differently, it begins to infringe, it challenges, it simply attacks what has taken often years to build and those most involved become defensive and fit to hang onto what has been established, as it feels familiar. It feels like ‘their’ legacy is being destroyed and what they have fought hard to gain know needs protecting. Most organizations never feel fully capable to address legacy, they even will deliberately design duplication into their operating model, they will recognize they are far from optimal and more often than not, live with the consequences. In today’s world this is a real mistake.

The world is changing; you can’t afford to keep heads buried in the sand like an ostrich, although that’s actually a myth of when ostriches are faced with attack by predators they bury their heads. New global adversaries are altering our landscape and forcing us to become increasing competitive, forcing us to often reluctantly alter our established ways. We can’t afford not to refresh and renew on a constant basis. We need to not just adapt, become more agile but we must think through what, where and how we manage. We need to build a more dispersed network of connections within our organizations to gather and synthesize knowledge that have potential value and future worth.

Today, innovations new knowledge lies elsewhere

Increasingly we need to open up our organizations to different learning, experiences and knowledge. The growth of open innovation has been part of that. Equally we are recognizing increasingly, that basing everything in one central place is becoming severely limiting. We need to adopt a more genuine openness that increasingly relies on a collection of dispersing and gathering points, where knowledge obtained has been closer to its markets and customers to provide greater potential of discovering future value. Places where you have been able to gather these understandings and begin to quickly ‘translate’ them across a dispersed, highly connected networks of expertise, that can work on transforming this knowledge into new revenue opportunities that meets that identified need before others do, often set in 24 x 7 time to achieve the result.

Any journey starts with ‘letting go’

Control gives comfort; we constantly design this into the system. The larger we are, the greater the controls built into the system it seems but somehow, controlling for control sake, does need replacing; we need to let go of more than we realize to reduce the constraints placed on our business. We need to replace ‘command and control’ built up over numerous years with something different.

We need to begin to ask a range of strategic questions that question our legacy, so we can be released to move forward.

So what do these strategic questions cover?

I can’t do justice to all the avenues of this strategic inquiry but I can offer some of the most critical that will inevitably fuel others in your own specific situation.

Taking as an example an existing organization, caught increasingly in declining or stagnating markets, who are forced to address many important issues in designing into the organization, new, more diverse capabilities, that have significant ‘legacy’ issues running through them, let’s take a look at some of the most important ones to address.

  • Legacy issues must be a significant ‘part and parcel’ of what needs to go, separated out from what needs to be kept and modified, or simply kept in place as it is strategically essential to the well-being and functioning of the organization. Managing legacy out of the innovation system, can be highly liberating.
  • Where do you hold your core knowledge? – Is this centrally, perhaps in a home market or do you reflect on how you are going to disperse this across a more decentralized organizations. What has on-going value, what does not and can be dispensed with?
  • What does it take to diversify your knowledge? Pushing knowledge to new centres needs carefully re-designing. You do not want to end up having even more islands or silos of knowledge; you need to think through carefully a more integrated (global) model. It needs to build in my 6F framework of formality, flexibility, facilitation, form, function and focus. You need to take out what is irrelevant.
  • Taking any decision to ‘attract’ and ‘disperse’ knowledge you must set about building the competencies, confidences, trust and network to bring this together. This ‘gelling’ needs lots of communicating, collaborating, and consistent feedback mechanisms that are well-built into any new system. Don’t try and adapt old structures methodology to a radical change, it needs redesigning from the bottom up. Get rid of as much of the legacy as you can.
  • Redesigning a new culture becomes essential. It needs to be an adapting one, one that places demands on all within the networked system, it needs an overarching set of innovation culture and environmental principles. It needs clear governance structures and well thought-through innovation processes and systems that allow innovation knowledge to flow where it simply needs to go. Again absorptive capacity principles are important to design and build in here. Don’t overlay practices that were based on being closed for ‘command and control’, design new ones that allow knowledge to simply flow and open up, in structures that can ‘encourage and compliment’
  • Any ‘system’ has constraints. As you rid yourself of some, others quickly fill the space. It is how you manage constraints will determine you ability to make transformational change. The devil they say always lies in the details, and as you configure and design a new integrated model you have to constantly examine these trade-offs. There is lots of divergence and then convergence needs to be within the thinking this system through. Taking a whole lot of old practices out of the system is essential as they have no value or place in any new dispersed network. It simply works differently.
  • When you are integrating in new ways requires certain like-mindedness of the people within the dispersed network. Building new teams that are spread out is hard, dedicated work. The recruiting, retaining and reallocating can make or break any new initiative in how they work together. Working within dispersed teams is demanding due to the make-up of cultural, education and time differences. You need increasing reliance on collaborative technology, creating as many face-to-face opportunities as possible but more importantly having projects where  it becomes the unifier and common identifier. This unifies far more the cultural differences and tensions by focusing on the project outcomes itself, personalities are supplanted by the higher goal and motivation of working on ‘meaningful’ work . Tough as it may seem, root out the blockers, dispense with those not prepared to work in teams.
  • Costs accrue for a fair time in any starting up and transferring of knowledge, before the benefits really ‘kick-in’ and accrue in greater innovation capability. The working through the design of a new integrated but dispersed structure, in its logic and its make-up of the parts that will contribute into building increased innovation capacity and capability all need to ‘add up’ to larger than within the existing design. Don’t delay this potential by weighing it down with inadequate commitments and lukewarm understanding. Commit to a radical redesign and be realistic on when the (higher) returns are likely.

Managing complex knowledge and dealing with codified knowledge

As you learn to manage increasingly outside one central resource, you quickly come up against one of the biggest challenges within ‘dispersed innovation’. What is needed to be put in place for you to capture and translate knowledge that can give increased value and (eventual) commercial benefit. Clearly that is the goal of any significant change in design but acquiring, assimilating, transforming and exploiting knowledge comes in many different ways.

Partly this depends on your industry and how you have allowed knowledge capture to evolve.  Certain industries need to manage their knowledge differently. For instance the chemical, automotive or electronics industry have built up over many years significant ‘codified knowledge’ that is simply necessary to have in place. Other industries like consumer goods, pharmaceutical or the healthcare find it much harder to codify as they have a much more complex knowledge that requires greater understanding of differences to exploit each market.

This is not universal in its practice but knowledge should be valued, recognized and treated, partly in traditional ways but I would argue, it can be broken down in radical new ways where old constraints (legacy again) can be challenged in light of advances in technology, regulation, protection, intellectual property reinforcement, than in the past.

There are huge implications in the managing of innovation knowledge. The incentive to learn, absorb and translate knowledge is its unique value to you for ‘new to the world’ outcomes.

The essential need is to design for agility, flexibility and leveraging.

There is a need in any framework design in building a new integrated innovation network that it needs to have agility and flexibility. It is more than likely that in the past design, the legacy within existing systems needs radically dismantling and redesigning to reflect the multitude of changes happening. These need to account both internally, in making a new structure for crucial decisions, based on dispersion principles but also on the external, in how you will be reacting to competition and the challenges being presented in changing market conditions.

Increasing knowledge dispersion, shorter cycle times demanded to meet and respond to ‘breaking’ opportunities requires you to effectively manage these across your network in speedy response cycles, having in place a highly focused management and clarity of what is important and needing to worked upon. Even harder strategic choices, evaluating what gaps are needed to be filled in capability constraints, the ability to project and build a new collaborative culture play significant roles in any design and managing across this network.

Any new design has to carefully reflect on overcoming existing obstacles as well as anticipating and  accounting (as best it can) new barriers. You consistently are working towards the maximisation and leverage of this new dispersed knowledge and what it can collectively bring  in its contribute into that ‘greater’ competitive advantage than the old system was able to achieve.

Balancing legacy and new designs

The whole legacy issue needs those certain degrees of reciprocity, a moving or paring back initially to then move (significantly) forward. If you can’t understand the clear reasons why it is crucial to change the organizations ability to innovate across a more diverse network then simply don’t do it.

To make such a commitment, to make this sort of move, to a dispersed integrated innovation network requires huge commitment, in its sustaining and management of a growing complexity. But it is often absolutely essential to make these commitments in rapidly changing circumstances and global challenges to seek out innovations potential that lies across the globe. The more you are networked and closer to emerging opportunity, the greater chance to translate this (quickly) into new innovation value to meet different  and common market needs.

We all  have come to recognize today, that “all knowledge does not reside within one place” and how we set about dismantling and redesigning our organization for tapping into global innovation knowledge will determine our future place in any competitive race, the one we all are seemingly caught up in. Don’t let legacy be the reason to hold you back.

Innovation failure starts at the top

So who do you think form the group that are the most likely candidates for innovations consistent failure? It may surprise you to know that most fingers point straight to the top of the organization as the main cause for its enduring failure.

I don’t think this is sour grapes of the people working away on innovation daily, that the ‘finger of failure’ is well and truly pointing upwards. There is more of an innovation knowledge gap at board room level or even just below this, than many can imagine, that is the plain reality. They often simply have no real clue on how innovation really works and what their essential role is in connecting all the different parts necessary to align this into the organizations overarching goals, objectives and strategies.

Let’s simply select the top common causes of innovation failure.

In a recent survey I was reading*, it provided a set of results about the common cause of innovation failure. The survey was asking participants to check all that applied and although there were 30-odd possible reasons the top ten that stand out as head and shoulders above all the others are nearly all down to the simple failure of innovation engagement in its leadership. Failure lies at the very top on why innovation fails.

I know I keep ‘going on’ about the Executive Innovation Work Mat and its value but let’s look at these top ten contributors for failure that is occurring in organizations just like yours. The Work Mat approach tackles these and lots more but those that are the cause of failure, the leaders in organizations, do need to understand it is them that are the reason for this. So the top ten causes of innovation failure then tell me the root cause, a lack if innovation leadership.

The top three failures

The three main reasons for failure have been given as 1) unrealistic expectations from top management regarding resources and the time really required in achieving innovation, then 2) the lack of resources allocated in budget, people, infrastructure and 3) far too much focus on products and technology and ignoring the other options within innovation, such as service, business model, platform collaborations etc.

Each of these is without doubt for me a top management failure. They either don’t have a real clue of the complexity of innovation, starve it of its essential resources or just want to stay well within their comfort zone of existing product and technology understanding. This reluctance to push innovation, to extend capabilities and provide it with the right capabilities ends up in these continuing failures. Equally not to explore all the types of innovation available does not make sound business sense. This shows a lack of real involvement, comprehension, understanding and engagement.

The next three failures

In our next three the one that is so constantly described as limiting innovation is 4) that people or teams operate in silo’s instead of broader collaborative approaches, 5) the wrong personnel are in place to make innovation happen and 6) that classic of classics, a poorly defined innovation strategy and the goals to achieve this.

Each of these again is a top management failure. They fail to understand the value of building up the capabilities for broader collaborations; they constrain the very essence that gives their organization its growth by holding back or not pushing for the best people to be engaged within the projects, or just fail to connect their (often) lofty strategic goals with the innovation activity that can deliver on this. Again, simply failures of top management to address and resolve these issues are the root cause.

Then the last four within the top ten

The last four within the top ten again start with 7) a lack of innovation strategy, and then 8) where the emphasis is placed in far too much on idea generation and not on execution, followed by 9) a lack of involving external partners and lastly 10) poor management of the innovation process.

So again a clear set of management failures. By not having a clear overarching innovation framework in place that links innovation to strategic alignment, which communicates innovations value and its value position and then the failure to put in place all the critical factors of an innovation process to make sure that innovation, has the chance to work.

Surely this top ten list of causes for innovation failure does become fairly worrying to anyone involved in growth, wealth creation and building and wanting to belong to a healthy sustaining business?

Depressing outcomes and on-going failure

For me, I simply can’t understand why our leaders are simply not listening to the constant stream of innovation failure messages that get written daily. Of course, I hear you say “it is simply because they are too busy”. Oh come on, lets stop protecting them. My argument straight back to this is “if a leader or his team does not focus on the clear ways to grow a business and make this happen and this must come primarily through innovation, then they should not be leading”. They should not be focusing on just making organizations efficient but on being increasingly effective through innovation.

How can they be leaders of organizations, claiming they are keen to grow and expand, if they do not get fully involved in providing the appropriate framework for innovation to thrive? This is a strategic leadership failure.

I can only assume they are simple not understanding that they are the primary cause of innovation’s failure within their organization, they are the main culprits in this. Will this change overnight, of course not?

Somehow or other, those within the innovation communities, both within and outside organizations have a job to do, a message to deliver to the leaders. They need to get across this failure message lies within the board room, not outside it and its needs addressing.

Deliver just one message today please.

We need to deliver this simple message – “as long as you as the leader of the organization and those immediately around you fail to understand what ‘makes up innovation’ you deserve to fail, and more than likely, fail you will”.

Why not just give the leaders of most organizations an early Christmas reading present- you can download it here- it explains the connected part of the Executive innovation Work Mat that forms the strategic framework for innovation to connect across organizations. Then we might begin to reduce this list of common failure points significantly. I do hope so, otherwise what’s the point?

* The survey was conducted by Stefan Lindegaard under his post Organizations and Failure: Why Don’t We Learn More?  I think he is looking within the organization more, whereas I see failure ‘sitting’ far more at the top of the organization.

Forming the unified view on innovation design

Although we are seeing a number of cases where innovation in its structures, functions and design are evolving, we still have not achieved the mainstream recognition of innovations importance within the boardroom. In many organizations it still lacks a clearly separated ‘voice.’ Its present voice tends to be fragmented within its parts represented by the separate functions providing their narrower view of innovation.

You still have marketing, research, financial, strategic development all offering their unique views of what and where innovation can contribute. This often ‘fragmented’ approach reduces the promising breakthrough effect of innovations potential contribution. By not having this comprehensive and cohesive viewpoint articulated at board level by a fully accountable person, the Chief Innovation Officer, innovation often stays locked up in one position or another. No one is stepping in and unlocking its full potential from a holistic viewpoint, totally responsible for innovation by structuring it, for adding real scale, giving it momentum and growing sustainability but more importantly driving it throughout the organization from the top board room perspective.

What this ‘combined’ voice can really bring too many present and future growth orientated discussions is real strategic alignment  significance; it can transform discussions and significantly influence directions the organization can take and where to allocate its resources. Yet innovation still struggles to be fully accepted as a fully functioning discipline and expertise needed in the boardroom to focus innovation on providing real sustaining growth, fully integrated and aligned across the whole organization for its value potential.

The exploring going on around innovation

Many organizations still are exploring how to approach innovation and you can see plenty of experimentations and I’d say interim ‘bridging’ solutions. We are making some progress within innovation for its function, location, financing and ownership, as these have shifted more towards the top of organizations, yet they still lack that final unifying catalyst, of appointing a chief innovation officer for many, and innovation as a strategic activity being pulled together in a unifying strategic innovation framework.

Some that have made this appointment are still working through the make-up of the function and how the ‘arm-wrestling’ works out between the existing groups making up their part of innovation and this new realignment can be hard work. Often, as the CEO lacks real innovation expertise to effectively arbitrate such an appointment, to design in the real accountability and appropriate weighting for managing such a critical component needed for growth, it does not have the executive strength built into the position to make it the pivotal role it should be. The role remains poorly understood in its focused value and contributions, and can be reduced to this in-fighting and trading, to make slower headway than it should.

Driving outcomes often required separate innovation functions.

Added to the lack of recognition of what ‘makes up a clear innovation function’ many organizations are still rather stuck in a silo thinking that innovation is only about developing products and services based on traditional functional lines. Innovation has evolved way beyond this product and service view only, or certainly should have done.

We need to explore making major shifts by thinking through different business models, working on a variety of collaborative platforms and ventures, having increased agility to explore, experiment and step far more out of the ‘classic’ core, into new adjacencies, or even investigate whole new ‘white spaces’ for business opportunities. Many are leaving this to others as they stay ‘locked into’ traditional viewpoints of what innovation contributes.

These significant changes on ‘how to innovate’ are creating organizational tensions that do need resolution as they are increasingly colliding against each other, like tectonic plates. These tensions are disrupting organizations and having a lot of internal friction that reduces performance, at this critical time when a unified approach to tackling external challenges would be better served by aligning the innovation view.

In some ways organizations are experimenting in different innovation designs but these still tend to be ring fenced, islands of experimentation that stay locked in their space and unable to be seen, strategically, for their (rapid) scaling opportunity due to this lack of a comprehensive, innovation view, from the top.

There are different designs being explored, often within the same organization. All serve a ‘given’ purpose but perhaps stay constrained by this lack of an overarching strategic understanding of innovation and its contribution to strategy and driving growth. We might be in real danger of dispersing innovation energy when we should be unifying it.

Diversity is made up of innovation experimentation.

We see today innovation centres, new-business development functions, separate emerging-business opportunities groups and selected incubators along with emerging-technologies business groups and even advanced-technologies or institutional collaborations. Each has a focused and valuable role to play but the cross-over values, the ability to drive cross collaboration and learning often lack that overarching coordination that only a dedicated top person can bring in bringing this together to serve the strategic purpose of the organization. Usually we also have the older established research and development centres, the marketing pilot plants and other more established and traditional avenues that product and service tend to work through.

I think we definitely duplicate resources, loose knowledge, constrain expertise and don’t get the potential innovation ‘horsepower’ out of the combining effect as and when needed. Can this change?  It certainly should to extract and unlock all of innovations true potential.

How we align innovation will decide many of our futures.

Alignment between the goals and objectives at the top of our organizations is still at serious ‘odds’ with what is being worked upon. We need a real strategic innovation framework. I’ve offered some thought on this in the past if you care to pick up on this as one starting point, in this article “The Overarching Proposition for the Executive Innovation Work Mat.

We are daily being faced by significant challenges in meeting our strategic objectives and where often innovation fails to bridge. Examples of this can be seen in the ongoing competition with short-term priorities from across the parts of the business as well as the difficulties of integrating different function’s objectives with those of the core needs.

Then there is still the poor business case or value propositions made often to corporate leaders, or that consistent dilemma of withdrawing funding from an idea that has not lived up to its promise and become one that drags and diverts away critical resources. All work against innovation delivering on its much-needed potential.

We are managing more cross-functional issues than in the past.

The more we engage with open innovation partners or begin to develop promising new business models then more we conflict with many established positions. This slows the real contributing value of innovation. These new challenges need a different type of boardroom representation, it needs a clear mandate for a Chief Innovation Officer, to bring the ‘disparate parts’ together and explore the broader potential that wider innovation can bring in all its potential forms.

A call for a new concerted effort for providing an overarching innovation design

Designing a new strategic innovation framework at the top of organizations helps close the many gaps we see today. We need to move from ‘disconnect’ to ‘reconnect’ and make innovation more centrally designed to meet today’s challenges, those that are cross-cutting, to allow innovation that greater freedom and scope to contribute into the growth organizations leaders are demanding.

To align innovation to the organizations strategic goals, we need to challenge many of the established practices and functions to allow innovation to fulfil its promise of being the true catalyst to growth.