I wonder who is withering on the innovation vine?

Dying on the grape vine 1This week I tuned into the Pipeline virtual conference for product development practitioners and gained an encouraging feeling that innovation is progressing along nicely. Packed all within a day there was plenty of material ‘fodder’ to feed off of and learn from.

A really good conference but what quickly followed was a strong dose of that withering on the innovation vine.

I read two consulting surveys around innovation

I’ve been suddenly pulled out of my virtual bubble back into the harsh realities of where innovation really is. Just simply how innovation is struggling and that lies far more at the top of our organizations than below, those below who are simply trying to ‘get on with the job’ but with at least one hand (or even two) tied behind their backs.

I have been reading two sets of observations, one from Fahrenheit 212, the other from Innosight and my mood began to change. I’m suddenly back in reality where we have this huge gap between those ‘working’ innovation and those at the top simply not engaging with innovation or still failing to understand it or even failing to connect the dots.

That growing gap at the top in what they need to do to make the connections both inside and outside the organization to manage the changing landscape. One that still suggests we have this consistent failure to align the strategic and innovation activities and provide a more balanced orientation in the mapping to different horizon thinking that is needed. It seems perspectives are totally out of whack.

The Fahrenheit 212 Post on their recent observations left me perplexed.

PerplexedFirstly Fahrenheit 212 asked 100 chief innovation officers a set of questions around their getting their innovation projects to market. They claim that forty-five percent of respondents said fewer than 10 percent of their projects make it to market.

Fahrenheit claim that was an “eye-opener for understanding the challenges that innovation practitioners have,” where Fahrenheit was suggesting 60 to 70 percent of incremental innovations should be the success rate.

As this view came through the Washington Post under “Corporate attempts at innovation are overwhelmingly dying on the vine” I was not able to view the actual results directly or more of the thinking that went into this and can’t find any further reference on this on their website besides a Facebook entry. I’d like too.

Why? – well surely there are significant differences between projects being managed or piloted at the CINO level than passing through the organization as supportive and incremental? Yet until I can understand the context of these ‘statements’ it is hard to judge this piece of information and its real importance, presently it lies as a “oh yeah”. As a starting point what is judged as an innovation project from the CINO’s perspective versus the everyday innovation occurring. Are these numbers so “eye opening”?

The whole position and value of the CINO is certainly up for grabs and in a ‘forming’ stage. One really good point made as a quote by Jon Crawford-Phillips, a partner at Fahrenheit 212 was this: “The primary value of the chief innovation officer is the connectivity between the company’s growth strategy and the decisions and focus of the senior leadership team and the translation of that into an innovation agenda”.

Crawford-Phillips was recommending corporations don’t align innovation with their financial interests and suggesting establishing this. He comments: “There’s a strategic way in which they allocate resources to core innovation, and there’s clear metrics around the performance of core innovation and a clear understanding of the financial impact of that innovation on the company’s balance sheet.”

I struggle with what I should be getting out of this ‘report’ as Fahrenheit 212’s suggestions because if they are determining clear metrics in core innovation performance and a clear understanding of the financial impact on the balance sheet then it is no surprise innovation practitioners have difficulties in getting initiatives and projects through organizations. Can projects that are in themselves innovative be measured on the same metrics as established known ones?

The comments reported from the survey leave more questions than answers and has this set of observations really helped ‘advance’ innovation? Maybe more will emerge. It seems to fit perhaps with their Money and Magic message.

On the other hand Innosight and their Strategic Readiness Survey really is the actual eye opener.

Eye opener 1Innosight offer an executive briefing on their “Strategic Readiness and Disruptive Change” and this survey throws up some serious worries for me.

The report prompts deeper thinking on how organizations are really having difficulties in transforming themselves with all the disruptive change going on around us all. A real eye opener.

Innosight’s summary provides a good snapshot of the issues:

“Disruptive change is accelerating, driven by the rapid emergence of new technologies, the blurring of lines between industries, and competition from both traditional and non-traditional players. As a result, corporate lifespans are shrinking”.

“How does the shifting landscape affect enterprise strategy and corporate innovation efforts? To see how organizations assess their ability to anticipate and respond to disruptive change, we (Innosight) recently surveyed more than 800 executives across 20 industries. The results shed new light onto the challenges and opportunities that leaders face in crafting strategies to steer their companies in both the near and long term”.

Top-level findings included:

  • Fully 85% of respondents say their organizations need to transform in response to disruptive change – yet only 49% say that feel very confident or confident that their organizations are prepared for transformation in 3 to 5 years. That number drops to 42% in a time frame of 5 to 10 years.
  • Large companies face an even greater “strategy confidence gap.” 83% of respondents from companies with over $1 billion in revenue agreed with the need to transform, and only 36% say they are confident to do so in a 5 to 10 year time frame.

The confidence gap suggests that organizations lack both the long-term orientation and the tools to plot long-term strategy. The survey bore this out:

  • Only 12% of organizations have a formal growth strategy with at least a 5+ year time horizon.
  • The remaining 88% either have no formal growth strategy or it is shorter term.

This short-term bias has implications for the ability of companies to develop disruptive or transformational innovations—the kind that open new markets and attract new customers—and which typically require a longer-term perspective.”

What a difference a well-structured survey and report can make.

I would recommend taking the time out to read this report. It signals much of what is so wrong at present in the sacrifice of the future, even the eventual existence of the organization in years to come.

This report seems to reflect a broader trend that this frightening “strategic confidence gap” is a huge one, where senior executives are seemingly being increasingly caught up in the short-term demands.

They seem to have scarce time to re-equip themselves, let alone their organization, for the changing landscape and are simply ‘kicking the bottle down the road’ and taking the pay packet that goes with short-term performance. Surely this has to change? Is it so bad?

This report is indicating it is really bad.

I liked the heading to each part of the executive briefing from Innosight as they do summarize the challenges that need to be faced and resolved.

  • The Confidence Gap: The Desire – But Not the Ability – to Transform
  • A struggle to Keep Pace : A Sense of Falling Behind the Market
  • Strategy Shortfall: Growth Plans Focus on Near-Term
  • Process Shortcomings Undermine Long-term Planning
  • Technology and Changing Consumer Preferences Expected to Be Most Disruptive
  • No Lack of Ideas, But Difficulty Getting Through Innovation’s “First Mile”

The last heading is a clear nod to the topic being explored in a new book. Recently Scott Anthony , Innosight’s managing partner, wrote a book “The First Mile: A Launch Manual for Getting Great Ideas into the Market”. That first mile—where an innovation moves from an idea on paper to the market—is often plagued by failure, in fact, less than one percent of ideas launched by big companies end up having real impact. The ideas aren’t the problem. It’s the process.

Gaining value from consultants insights if it enters the public domain

Thought leadership viewWe should get solid value out of research or insights from any consulting research if it is published. So two of our leading innovation consulting companies, Innosight and Fahrenheit 212 approach knowledge sharing in different ways.

Innosight provide a good depth in their report, although it is perhaps light on final takeaways and conclusions, whereas Fahrenheit 212 reported comments are just, well, simply ‘light’ and lacking the depth I would expect from them. At least their survey should link into their own report. This I simply can’t find.

I finally reflected on what makes good thought-leadership from consulting practices
Take a look at this from http://www.sourceforconsulting.com/whitespace/

What makes good thought leadership?

“The clients of consulting firms are inundated with information and analysis from every direction. Unquestionably, the vast majority are binned or deleted instantly”. So what are the factors likely to attract attention,  Sourceforconsulting.com suggest the following:

Differentiation – will the potential reader pick up and begin to read this piece of thought-leadership? (If it is actually available even!)
Appeal – does the writing style and presentation encourage the reader to keep on reading past the introduction and beyond? Where do they go from this?
Resilience – will the reader feel confident in what they are being told? Whether a client buys into the idea a consulting firm is trying to put across depends on the evidence.
Prompting action – ( I kept all the guidance within this section in, as it is relevant to the two reports I have focused upon) Will the reader do something because they have read this report? Good thought leadership takes the reader beyond the ‘that’s interesting’ stage – it gives them the tools and inspiration to identify issues in their own organization or to begin to address a pressing concern. We ask whether the next steps for the reader are clear. We also check that the material isn’t a poorly disguised sales pitch which would undermine its credibility and chances of prompting action.

A tale of two both working innovation consulting.

Two innovation consulting firms offering up their insights and I feel the one from Innosight is simply much further down the thought- leadership path, in its linkage of its practice and report around disruptive change. It ‘calls for’ and ‘prompts’ action.

Perhaps Fahrenheit 212’s report should have been rooted far more in what it does, that is identifying, developing, designing and implementing profitable new products and services and then framing this within their survey remarks, as this is the space they play in and by all accounts play well. It would have made better sense to me.

I think we all need to think about why innovation might be withering on the vine. We all need to ensure the contributions we make, into conferences, summarizing reports, writing blog posts or being engaged in innovation activities, as consultants or practitioners that we do not lose sight that innovation is still struggling to make headway in the ways it should, with the appropriate messages getting delivered effectively and sometimes we all often miss that ‘line of sight’ on that.

Any thoughts on the observations from the reports or what they contribute into our thinking around innovation?

Alignment is needed everywhere

Alignment of Innovation to Organization's Strategic Goals

Alignment of Innovation to Organization’s Strategic Goals

Working in most organizations you spend a disproportional amount of time on looking to achieve alignment. This can range from aligning your meeting schedules to the bigger strategic issues by gaining agreement on the way forward.

 I would bet you that working on alignment is certainly one of the main tasks that is sucking up a large part of your working day. Interesting enough the higher up in the organization you go, the more you have to seek alignment. Gaining alignment is actually very hard.

In corporate life we are constantly attempting to also link organizational goals with our own personal goals. To make this alignment, it requires the difficult aspect of achieving common understanding of all the parties for the specific purpose you are requiring, so as to achieve a consistency between ‘agreed’ objectives and the implementation of these across those involved.

In pursuit of alignment

We seek alignment to many things but three are critically important to us as individuals. Firstly alignments from others to our creative activities, both in those that contribute to the strategic objectives and those personal ones in the work we do. Secondly, we always need to work on how we set about the way we communicate if we want to achieve anything within a team or our organizations. Thirdly, alignment becomes essential in how we execute, is it going to be heaven or hell or simply nicely in the middle, well done? We just can’t avoid alignment, yet we seem to do a poor job of this when you ask, why is that? We constantly talk more about misalignment.

Part of this reason we see more misalignment going on around us is the magnitude of this constant change that is swirling around us, coupled with the incessant pressure for new sources of  innovation is causing us increasing anxiety to work on the knowing/ doing gaps more and more. Alignment remains one of our best answers to communicate the ‘need to agree and do’.

Achieving alignment, arranging all those planets to be in line, can provide the much needed impact to a whole lot of what we do. Alignment also needs that other magic word of ‘objectives’, that specific need to always set clear objectives between ‘us’ to gain this essential alignment.

Understanding the complex linkages within alignment

To get closer to achieving alignment for innovation, as an example, we need an overarching strategic design, to reduce the ‘disconnects’. Innovation needs constant alignment. One essential need is to provide a well designed strategic plan that will allow the connections and  reconnects needed. so as to allow innovation that greater freedom and scope to contribute into the growth organizations leaders are demanding to keep us all ‘still on track’. We need to seek out alignment through clarification, through talking to each other, to working explicitly from the ‘same page.’

Yet good intent is not good enough as I have outlined before “However, even when executives understand the linkage, they may fail to understand how to ensure linkages between corporate strategy and innovation actually does lie with them to be communicated throughout the organization.  When executives simply request innovation and delegate the decisions and definitions to business line leaders or executives outside the boardroom they are delegating the growth and future of the organization to others

We are constantly fighting the failures within organizations for achieving alignment

There are so many failure points. For instance how often do you see those failures to translate the strategy of the leadership’s thinking (often those vaulting high-level ambition ones) into offering the additional leadership guidance to achieve these? This lack of guidelines or framework reduces the potential for alignment, it stops turning ambitions into specific actions that allow these strategic objectives to be translated into specific realities, that others can really identify with.

We fail if we don’t have the abilities to translate and communicate those objectives throughout our organizations to gather around and work towards achieving makes significant difference. Leaders leave strategy far too much in the abstract. They need to consciously work on the design principles and downstream choices. I have offered the “choice / cascade integrated innovation model” to help in this.

We also fail to communicate when conditions in the market place show signs of real change, we stay aligned to old objectives, we don’t dynamically adapt our strategy and thinking. We allow it to remain static, locked into old, out of date thinking, missing the essentials of new knowledge to flow through adaptive learning.

Then we fail when we simply struggle within ourselves, we can’t personally or organizationally adjust quickly enough. We still find great difficulties to really learn how to pivot in larger organizations or in our personal learning, yet this is becoming essential in today’s world, to adopt to rapidly changing conditions. Take a read within Steve Blank’s postings on pivots, maybe as a start here on a critical aspect of managing today.

Then we can fail because we struggle to align organizational capabilities with our strategic and innovation growth objectives. We are constantly battling fatigue, resistance and ownership. We fail to often take the dedicated time and consistent focus to build our capabilities to establish new ways of working, to regain those creative energies.

We then really fail if we can’t convert strategic intent, this ‘strategic enthusiasm,’ into a clear translation of fresh but sustaining investments into those that can help change our organization capabilities to learn and deliver afresh but with renewed vigour . We need to align our desire with clear intent, purpose and objectives.

I’ve written about innovation failures before, it starts at the top, if you need further thinking in this area  take an additional  read but the critical point here, is recognize and then work actively on all the potential failure points that are stopping your aligning.

Once you recognize these and what they are potentially doing to you, you can address them and remove these blockages to regain the essential alignment necessary.

Overcoming potential failure, alignment might come through more dynamic linking.

To achieve a more dynamic linking we need to find new ways to translate strategic ambition into clearer downstream choices for our innovation activities. I believe we need to offer a more explicit design from the top of our organizations to guide and frame innovation, one that offers an outline of actionable design principles.

The design needs to be specific enough but without prescribing all the details. It is amazing on how much knowledge does reside within our organizations. If it doesn’t, well it is getting easier and easier to go specifically outside the organization where you will find more thoughts to stimulate the potential answers, but I’d tend to place the caveat, as long as you understand the context but these ‘answers’ can show up in so many totally unexpected places, particularly if you wear different inquiry lenses.

We need to translate the organizations innovation ambitions by providing adaptive frameworks to build within. Finally to sustain them there is the leadership need to provide all the necessary ‘capitals’ for building the required capabilities and the capacities to be understood and established, to achieve innovation alignment.

Putting together alignment and objectives needs a specific design

The alignment within the use of the Executive Innovation Work Mat

The alignment within the use of the Executive Innovation Work Mat

I’ve argued that the adoption of the Executive Innovation Work Mat does offer a terrific framework for achieving this triple alignment of 1) communicating strategic ambitions and goals, 2) aligning the conditions to allow innovation to be put to meaningful work and then 3) working towards building the necessary design of capabilities and capacities to execute around these plans.

By working through a better understanding of the innovation ‘parts’ that make the whole we can translate our executive intentions by engaging and then communicating through the work mat so innovation can become explicit to all. You come closer to organization and personal alignment. You create the conditions for more explicit outcomes, aligning activities within the overarching frame of a desired culture, environment, governance and processes that flows through specific contexts, better communicating channels and choices.

You move closer to alignment because you are all working within the same overarching innovation framework creating the common language, gaining the appropriate context and all communicating on this- you are moving closer to alignment.

The Executive Innovation Work Mat can be summarized as a place for real beneficial alignment

  1. The framework can create cohesion and consistency of innovation purpose that will reduce many existing barriers and uncertainties around innovation
  2. The framework itself will generate work flows that links, become more dynamic to explore and promote the holistic needs for innovation to work. In innovation skills, capabilities and competencies needed. They become more cohesive, coordinated and focused.
  3. As the framework connects, in its understanding and as its impact grows, we certainly can ‘see and believe’, our confidence builds. Both formal and informal areas are addressed in parallel, growing all-round identification and alignment.
  4. It can reduce present tensions and increase the dynamics within innovation in dialogues, framing and identifying with the organizations innovation goals
  5. You can begin to align compensation and incentives into your abilities to generate the innovation activities that provide the impact the organization is looking for. You can understand and measure innovation impact far more through a well-designed framework

We do need a unified view of innovation design and I believe to ‘arrive’ closer to alignment there is a clear, perhaps a compelling value proposition that a well-designed innovation framework, like the Executive Innovation Work Mat does offer.

I certainly believe this can move you closer to spending less of your day working on the negatives of bad alignment into generating positive innovation outcomes, simply because you do have in place an aligning framework that works on dynamically linking all the parts, one you can gather around.

I can’t promise it might not make you business day any shorter but it might make it a far more positive experience,where you are aligning  your contributions and expertise into a specific innovation design, where innovation activities do link into organizations strategic that is needed and achieve this often elusive alignment we all are search for, far more than we want to acknowledge.

I’m more than happy to explain the approaches taken in the Work Mat methodology for Innovation’s overarching design, if interested.

Framing innovation around four management dimensions

Julian Birkinshaw, the London Business School Professor for Strategy and Entrepreneurship wrote in his book “Reinvention Management” about the failure of management. He is a strong advocate of reinventing and broadening out the awareness and need for a more disciplined and up to date practice of management

Working through a kind of contingency theory of management

Julian points out different situations demand different kinds of management. To be effective, a manager needs to adapt to the demands of the situation. Managerial behaviour is mapped on four dimensions: bureaucracy-to-emergence, hierarchy-to-collective wisdom, alignment-to-obliquity, and extrinsic-to-intrinsic motivation.

The principles of emergence, collective wisdom, obliquity and intrinsic are newer ways of thinking about management. I must say I like these as I do his framework as a really good way to think about the approach we need to explore that fits with the strategy and the way we want to develop a business and its environment.

Innovation needs to exploit all the ‘opposing’ principles across the four dimensions

Taking Julian Birkenshaw’s thinking about this framework, my intent here is to offer it up as a more than valuable way to think about where and how innovation links into the management and direction of an organization, and what might ‘block’ it. To recognize the assumptions and beliefs on the ways we can work can help resolve some of these barriers to innovation.

You need to explore across these often opposing dimensions so as to build the business case for innovation that fits closer to the organizations accepted routines or recognize those that need to be challenged for broadening out the potential of innovation. Recognizing how any innovation fits is partly appreciating these dimensions for the type of work and approaches needed to be managed, otherwise it can lead to growing frustrations.

The first set of principles is about managing across the activities, how they are coordinated.

The opposing ones are bureaucracy where more formalised rules, job roles, procedures and formal guidance tend to dominate. To a large degree the emphasis is on predictability, where initiatives can be stifled and you have less creativity and flexibility. It reduces autonomy. It might through this ‘bureaucratic constraint’ limit innovation to being more incremental as the outcome.

The opposite one is emergence, where there is a greater push for independence, higher autonomy. This will tend to led to potentially higher innovation that can become more radical, distinctive that allows for individual breakthroughs. The ‘feeling’ of independence tend to generate stronger team cultures but can become a little more chaotic and ad hoc to bring together in cohesive end results.

The second set of principles relates to how people are making decisions within the organisation

Many organizations ‘suffer’ from a heavy emphasis on hierarchy where authority and power dominate decisions. The higher you are, the more you are perceived as possessing greater expertise, or thought to have. There is a recognition that  the clear pathway to the top works around clear accountability, handling decision-making and the organization of work in clear, distinct ways, striving for greater predictability. The downside of this ‘clarity’ is that it does block initiative, stops a lot of upward communication and can easily affect morale, if managers are not really listening, just feeling they are the only ones capable to make the decisions.

The alternative is working towards a greater collective wisdom where people get drawn in to contribute to decision-making and feel it is a collective ‘problem solve’. This allows for the potential for having more knowledgeable people, valuing more their views and where you strive to meet this higher engagement and encourage a clear sense of identity. There needs to be that constant ‘listening’ across the organization to gain greater insight. The downside is this can take a longer time for decisions to be made and works against you in times of crisis or where time pressures are critical to meet. You can become more inwardly focused to achieve this ‘collective’ decision necessary and this requires a more demanding set of skills to manage well. Building on collective wisdom makes for greater potential for innovation.

The third set of principles relates to how people set and pursue goals.

The argument of having a clear alignment is that you are consciously working towards common goals set by the organization. The value of this sense of common purpose within teams across functions is that you can pursue a ‘tighter’ strategy that needs that significant coordinated action. Innovation tends to require this. The problem can often be that this can have is the over-emphasis on key performance indicators, to measure this alignment progress, can become counter-productive. Often as  innovation is based far more on many intangibles this search for a constant measuring can become a problem. This is where I have argued the value of the Executive Innovation Work Mat approach comes in, to actively seek alignment from having to work this out differently, where innovation is needed to  more central and clearly aligned.

The opposite is obliquity, the encouragement of deviation from a ‘given’ set direction, by encouraging more individual goals, that can be intuitively working towards broad overall objectives set within the organization.  Again by offering a well-articulated and well-communicated innovation strategy that can be delivered in an organizing framework through this same Innovation Work Mat approach you can loosen certain controls and indicators, then promote the ones that allow greater ownership within the Strategic Innovation framework, that guides more than directs. The balance has to be struck on coordinating efforts, clarifying issues through governance and engagement throughout the organization, one that is well communicated, actively reducing distance and bridging many disconnects surrounding innovation, that can happen with too much obliquity.

The fourth set of principles deals with how people are motivated within organizations

The higher emphasis on extrinsic motivation or form of reward is often the preferred route for organizations. It focuses on the ‘harder’ aspects, those quantifiable, mostly tangible outcomes that give clear measure of results. There is though the darker side of extrinsic motivation by threatening the holding of reward unless certain measures are not carried through. Organizations find extrinsic measures far easier to implement and monitor, yet increasingly we are feeling more dissatisfied and less engaged as they don’t tap into our inner motivations as much, as those that ‘just’ satisfy the general needs.

The tougher aspect is to offer up more intrinsic motivation. This tends to become more individual, it recognizes your specific part in doing a task, activity or project well. Intrinsic motivators are arguable far more satisfying but harder to manage. Often the debate can hinge on perceptions of the job being done between the parties. Innovation needs to search out these intrinsic connections through recognizing individuals need motivation but these can come from again, providing a well-designed innovation framework to work from. It is of more importance to establish clear innovation goals that are far more ‘touchable’ and pertinent to our own working domain.

We need to work far more on  constantly evaluate innovation returns on each person’s contribution within their immediate space, using measures and metrics that are attuned to their  personal innovation activities, certainly beyond the ‘simple’ and broad ROI’s set by organizations. Sadly innovation doesn’t get measured this  personal way, yet it can be and is needed to be for a more ‘connected’ identification of what can make up collective success.

Applying your thinking to these dimensions and principles for innovation to thrive

The important points to remember here in these different dimensions is that you need to recognize the differences and what it might mean; you need to work through choices about how the work of innovation can be done against how it might end up getting done. The principles offered here is not just simply a clear one or the other, a right or wrong, it depends on what you want to achieve and the level of engagement you are wanting from innovation.  Also how it can be best suited within the organization.

If your current situation tends to be more one sided than the other, then this might limit innovation engagement or choice, it might limit motivation and creativity. In using this four dimension framework you can begin to have a dialogue across the different dimensions. You can begin to discuss and become more active in making conscious change as they potentially might be inhibiting innovation’s contribution. Clearly any moving from one principle to the other side needs to always link the innovation outputs to strategy and the environment you wish to create and that is a broader collective challenge, of managing change for innovation so as to improve its contribution, by exploiting fully across all the dimensions in thoughtful ways.

The ability to align resources and direct the focus of the organization is the role of senior executives. Innovation success starts with vision, engagement and commitment from these senior executives and then working through all the combining elements that make up innovation, so it can integrated these into a clear innovation framework that clarifies where innovation needs to strategically fit.

I have said it previously here: “Today, we face a different type of performance – one that is not ‘just’ dependable but one that is often unpredictable, one that seems perhaps more suited to innovation that outsmarts others in unique ways. We need to be predictable in performance but we need to deliver unpredictable innovation that wows our customers and the markets to achieve this.” Achieving on this aspiration requires active, engaged management, working actively across all aspects of the innovation process to achieve this end of the wow!

We do need to constantly ‘work’ across these four dimensions of management practices and process offered by Julian Birkinshaw in his book, for greater innovation understanding. We need to be equally fluid, flexible, aligned and constantly agile.Watch Julian’s view of why Management is being more challenged far more today.

For me, especially where innovation is concerned, is that we need better organizing frameworks to manage within organizations to ‘extract’ the value within our people’s contribution by providing frameworks and the right environment to allow  innovation to work well. In defined ways, well thought-through, with engagement from the top and across all management, that is being constant and fully aware.

Figuring out a different strategic alignment with innovation being central.

Strategy as we have previously known it is officially dead. Strategy is stuck! Competitive advantages have become transient. We are facing situations where advantages are copied quickly, technology is just one constant change, and our customers seek other alternatives and things move on faster and faster.

In a new book written by Rita Gunther McGrath, a professor at Columbia Business School in New York and one of the world’s leading experts on strategy, she has been exploring the changes rapidly taking place called  “ The End of Competitive Advantage: How to Keep Your Strategy Moving as Fast as Your Business

 “Strategy (in the past) was all about finding a favourable position in a well-defined industry and then exploiting a long-term competitive advantage. Innovation was about creating new businesses and was seen as something separate from the business’s core set of activities.” “Sustainable competitive is not just ineffective, it’s actually counter productive” says Professor McGrath.

She rightly states:“Think about it: the presumption of stability creates all the wrong reflexes. It allows for inertia and power to build up along the lines of an existing business model. It allows people to fall into routines and habits of mind. It creates the conditions for turf wars and organizational rigidity. It inhibits innovation.

It tends to foster the denial reaction rather than proactive design of a strategic next step… A preference for equilibrium and stability means that many shifts in the marketplace are met by business leaders denying that these shifts mean anything negative for them.”

Innovation needs to finally emerge in a new form.

Innovation cannot be separated from implementing an effective strategy, actually it is becoming far more central. Yet our leaders are constantly failing to recognize their essential role they must play to allow innovation to realize its place within the goals and needs of the strategy. They will be in denial by failing to build the innovators organization to manage this  new transient advantage. One that is highly flexible, agile, built around a constellation of emerging business principles that builds upon the ethos of imagination, exploration, experimentation, discovery and collaboration (Steve Denning).

A new structure that has as part of it one that promotes independence, diverse thinking and seeking out individual contributions. To achieve this innovation needs to be fully embraced as a clear competency that does need to be professionally built and certainly well-managed; it needs leadership’s total engagement for establishing new principles, practices, attitudes, values and beliefs that become central to the new way forward to deal with this new transient advantage suggested by Professor McGrath.

Today the rhetoric outweighs the reality for innovation and we need change!

Survey after survey of our leadership within organizations talks up innovation

  • * Over 70% of CEO’s surveyed constantly named innovation as within their top three strategic priorities
  • * 93% of surveyed executives said the long-term success of their organization’s strategy depends on their ability to innovate
  • * For almost 90 percent of CEO’s, generating organic growth through innovation has become essential for success in their industry.
  • * Also over 70% of the top executives identified themselves as the primary driver of innovation

Yet innovation is failing, reality is constantly hitting home in poor results.

  • * Despite increased business investment in innovation, only 18% of executives believe their company’s innovation efforts deliver a competitive advantage.  Source: a new Accenture study (May 2013)
  • * The “absence of a well-articulated innovation strategy” was identified as the most important constraint hampering organizations from reaching their innovation targets, in a study published by Capgemini Consulting in April 2012
  • * Almost 60% of firms surveyed admitted that they have no explicit innovation strategy ( a joint Cap Gemini and IESE study)
  • * Only one-third of the executives report innovation is fully integrated in corporate-level strategies (McKinsey Quarterly, 2012)

Then you go deeper into organizations current position on innovation

The formal management of innovation is largely overlooked and to quote these statistics from an Innovation Leadership Study in March 2012:

  • *Only 30% of respondents agree they have an effective organization structure for innovation
  • *45% do not have a well-defined governance structure for innovation
  • *40% lack clear roles and responsibilities for innovation
  • *39% state they do not have an effective decision-making process for innovation
  • *49% are not having a well-defined process to prioritize and allocate time and funding to innovation projects
  • * 54% of those surveyed indicate they do not have a formal KPI system for promoting innovation

Innovation comes to a screeching halt because it is not totally integrated and fully supported from the top and embedded into the core of organizations. Innovation is failing to deliver on its potential. Can you imagine all that invested time in innovation, on tasks, products, concepts, ideas that fail? There is real waste  if innovation is not fully aligned to the strategy.

If these constantly don’t align to corporate strategies, someone somewhere should be concerned, I mean really concerned. Perhaps as “mad as hell” and we are not going to take it any more. Something has to change or many of these organizations will not exist in the future .

The great disconnect at the top of organizations for innovation is in plain sight for all to see.

So we must see there is a huge gap that does exists between what executives want, and what the business believes and is knowing what is actually going on.  Innovation for its needs actually lie in the senior executive own hands:

  • Executives need to demonstrate that they want and need innovation
  • They must become more engaged and outline (in some detail) their expectations
  • They must create a framework or structure to ensure it exists

Innovation success starts and stops with senior executives. 

They want innovation success but they consistently fail to understand their part within the innovation need-to-succeed. Only senior executives can:

  • Communicate and develop the innovation vision and work towards actively reducing the barriers it faces within their corporation
  • They need to bridge the existing culture with one that promotes innovation, where both short-term need and long-term sustainability are equally encourages and worked upon
  • Influence and encourage the breadth of skills and capabilities needed in innovation to be given the appropriate focus for its organization to successfully innovate
  • Establish the environment and then create and support the incentives where innovation can flourish effectively.
  • Work constantly at ensuring the conditions for success is well-communicated and the clear goals and expectations are articulated.
  • The top executives must understand the investment required for innovation and provide the adequate resources and funding along with clear directions
  • Actively seek alignment of the innovation activities into the strategic needs they see as critical to work towards
  • They need to set the innovation strategic agenda and provide a robust and clear integrated innovation framework like the Executive Innovation Work Mat, for example.

The sad, sad truth is that many of our leaders still cannot get comfortable with innovation.

Many of our present leadership of organizations are actually uncomfortable with innovation; they want to keep it on the periphery of their thinking.  It disturbs much of what they have worked all their careers upon, honing a highly efficient and effective organisation that minimises the risks, reduces the surprises and works away in a highly predictable and steady way.

They often lack any real depth in innovation experience and training. They are fixated on the short-term, often to the detriment of the longer-term opportunities due to tenure and their incentive metrics.

Today the senior executive loves to get fully involved in the urgent needs of the day, moving constantly from one operational oversight meeting into another, spending decreasing time on the important. The pressures and demands placed on them to respond, to react, to comment on day-to-day events, are growing in priority to be seen as ‘being on top of these’  but are they losing the longer-term perspectives and detachments needed for designing organizations differently? To meet rapidly changing challenges and actively working upon new organization designs to give a new fitness and intent? Often these seem rushed and reactive to threats or poor results.

The larger the organization, also the greater the disconnect is happening between themselves and their employees and this is creating increasing growing barriers to understand the pulse of the business or stay tuned to market shifts. Organizations are losing any competitive advantage as they are failing to see a huge change taking place before their eyes as they remain rigid and fixed, locked in the past. Internally alignment is becoming harder. Advantage is only short-lived, yet our organizations are totally encumbered by out of date designs and structures.

Organizations are being challenged far more today and their relevancy needs radical redesigns and stepping back and designing these is becoming critical. The core of our organizations needs to shift towards more agile, adaptive and innovative designs.

The need for a real alignment of strategy and innovation

Innovation stands in service to strategic goals such as growing market share, differentiation and disrupting adjacent markets, serving the consistent changing and demanding customer needs by spotting these and then exploiting them rapidly and effectively.  Creating clear goals and linking/aligning innovation to those more agile strategies is a vital role for CEO’s and senior executives.  Senior executives must establish the manner in which innovation fits within the strategic context established by goals, vision and strategies.They cannot abdicate this role. Change is hard, so is innovation.

However, even when executives understand the linkage, they may fail to understand how to ensure linkages between corporate strategy and innovation actually does lie with them to be communicated throughout the organization.  When executives simply request innovation and delegate the decisions and definitions to business line leaders or executives outside the boardroom they are delegating the growth and future of the organization to others. They are killing the true potential of innovation as it remains unaligned. This cannot continue, we need to bring innovation into the boardroom as core.

If we are in a world of transient advantage as Rita Gunther McGrath suggests, she also clearly states: “Innovation needs to be a continuous, core, well-managed process rather than the episodic and tentative process it is in many companies”.

Identification comes from the top and from our customers

This new innovation core can only be led and fully integrated from the top, aligned fully into the strategies, organizational design and the goals. In rapidly changing market conditions where advantage is transient then we certainly need very different designs within our organizations to respond.

It is absolutely time that innovation comes fully into the board room and driven from the top. Innovation needs to be recognized fully as the key to more prosperity, more growth and added value – achieving that is the mandate of the board and this requires an explicit integrated innovation framework, no less that reflects the changing reality of the era we are in. Then others can simply get on with the job of responding by delivering the innovation outcomes that are constantly aligned to the needs within the changing landscape and demands placed on all, to read, react and respond differently and this needs total integration from top to bottom through an overarching set of integrated frameworks.

A different alignment is required.

Alignment is just not the internal need any more; it is having clear external alignments as well; in knowing the customers needs and reacting to these faster and with clear competitive intent, aligning with others on different platforms and collaborations.

Having an innovation geared organization that has clear goals, principles, values and attitudes that is working towards a consistent range of organizational possibilities. One that is ready to capitalize on breaking opportunities, aligned to exploit these. Then having in place the capabilities to build rapidly out on these to exploit these through new learning, new insights and growing connections so extending the possibilities even further.

A constant evolving strategy perhaps, one that will give the organization a new more demanding competitive advantage, that is built on anticipating and managing constant change, never standing still, always evolving, being in perpetual transition.

A different ‘sustaining’ capacity built around innovation as the continuous core, constantly evolving, adapting, learning and adjusting. In perpetual innovation motion.

Traversing different horizons for transformative innovation

Irrespective of the organization, we all struggle with transformational innovation. So often we are simply comfortable in our ‘business as usual’. We gear performance to the short-term, we put the emphasis on the current fiscal year, and we support the core business in numerous ways, usually with lots and lots of incremental innovation, so the results are realizable in this year.

We are sometimes comfortable or confident enough to move into adjacent areas, to expand and feed off the core but these are less than transformational in most cases. This space is the one we are the most comfortable to work within, this is the horizon one of the three horizon model approach outlined to manage innovation across a more balanced portfolio of investment.

In summary, the three horizon model for innovation is actually a reasonably simple idea: with Horizon One (h1) being the current business focus, Horizon Two (h2) being more the related emerging business opportunities and Horizon Three (h3) being those that are moving towards a completely new business that can have the potential to disrupt the existing one.

The complexity lies underneath this simple idea, you need to manage these different horizons with completely different mindsets. You need clear well-structured ways to extract the real return from managing a comprehensive innovation portfolio based on knowledge, experience, intelligence but exploring plenty of the unknowns about the future and openness to get you there, as ready as you can be . Its necessary today.

The seeds of destruction lie in horizon one

Within our ‘business as usual’ attitudes lies the seeds of destruction. Today there is a relentless pace; we are facing stagnation in many maturing markets. We place a disproportionately high amount of our resources here to defend what we have and what we know; we actually subvert the future to prolong the life of the existing. We constantly look to make it more efficient and more effective but this is in the majority of cases just incremental in what we do, both in innovation and our activities. These are often simply propping up the past success instead of shifting the resources into the investments of the future.

This is why the three horizon approach has real sustaining value because if we don’t have this longer-term, transformational perspective we are just prolonging the existing until it gets disrupted by others. This is where the working across different horizons for ‘thinking’ through innovation does need different tools and mindsets and these should be based on (h1) see and operate, (h2) adjust your thinking frame and solutions, (h3) more evolutionary. Each has different techniques to explore as I’ve previously outlined in my navigation guide to this approach.

Clayton Christensen has written about this theory of disruption in his book “The Innovator’s Dilemma”. Professor Christensen then went on to write extensively on this and one further book “Seeing What’s Next” co-authored with Scott Anthony and Erik Roth develops this disruptive theory into how the future will unfold and how to make wiser choices on these insights. The three horizon connecting approach is an excellent methodology to use to help in managing these wiser choices.

The hardest part is to traverse across into horizon 2 for new ‘breaking’ innovation

We do need this longer-term perspective and we do need to traverse into the future in clear thinking through steps (or horizons). Our horizon one does begin to decay faster today than ever, it does not fully cover off the strategic fit we want and can begin to lose its dominance over time. We need to manage this transition, not let others manage it for us.

It is how we manage this transition becomes so critical. We need to exploit developing trends that are emerging (h2) and begin to tune into possible options in the future (h3).  Within these options will emerge the winners and become the more dominant systems or solutions that we should be moving towards, even from today. Some of these only have faint emerging signals but they need to be brought into the innovation portfolio activity to explore, often in novel ways.

The horizon two is beginning to address some of the current decay arising from the core within the existing activities (or system). Here we have the highest tension.

The Collision Zone (h2) of the Three Horizon Approach

The Collision Zone (h2) of the Three Horizon Approach

The discussions that centre on often conflicting views of the future, compared to the existing realities and those providing the returns for today’s business. Often we can detect change but we consciously ignore it. This is the place where the disruptor’s are at work, existing or new competitors, working at displacing your products and market positions. They look to be more agile, they might have greater entrepreneurial ways, they are ready to explore emerging practices far more than the established leaders, they look to leverage different business models and are certainly not handicapped with legacy and mindsets stuck in the past. Increasing competition is today’s certainty.

Horizon Two needs a totally different mindset.

You need to see H2 with different metrics, with different perspectives, with more open minds. This is not easy. This needs to become the meeting point or “the space for transition” where you begin to let go of just protecting your core and open up your thinking to experimentation, prototyping, exploring different business models and begin to figure out how these will impact your existing core, to become more agile and adaptive than you are in the existing system or structures

These horizon (h2) concepts being explored  really do need ‘ring fencing,’ so you can protect these from all the ‘vested’ claims that your horizon one focus will continually demand to keep, so as to bring in the results in this calendar year. It is a real fight, these ideas or nascent concepts ‘give off’ negative results, they are still a mix of the tangible and intangibles where you can’t get the ‘hard’ fix on the ROI, on their real market value or potential.

Many executives ‘defending’ the core will ‘attack’ or hold back any release of their resources to help these emerging initiatives. It is a ‘hard-nosed’ reality.  It needs a very high level and conscious set of decisions coming from the top to determine these new moves. Do not believe that when most executives ‘just’ react and shrug their shoulders regarding h2 as a natural, everyday occurrence, it is far from not. Many have to come ‘kicking and screaming’ to supporting emerging activities. Far too much ‘invested’ interest comes into play. They see this more as a threat not an opportunity. It is not their sand box so why should they ‘play’.

The Conflict Sapce of Horizon Two

Horizon Two- Where policy and strategy are played out in the Three Horizons

The tensions are not just visible but played out in many subversive ways.

Just take performance metrics, if these are solely structured on the calendar year, are you realistically expecting a dilution of focus as their compensation is totally caught up  in this. Horizon two poses a real challenge within any management of our organizations. If it provides current small bases of volume, no real meaningful profit from the investments made it can be a hard sell across the organization.

Projects that focus on the future work mostly are based on ‘best’ assumptions. Sadly it is often executives expect to see the same ‘hard’ metrics being applied as the existing business. We ignore significant differences and  this is a huge mistake. So you get these clear sense that many are sceptical or pay lip service to the products of the future as the thinking, judgement and value orientation are at such odds with the existing measures and metrics they apply to run today’s business and how they get judged.

Often we then impose a set of metrics to compensate for this resistance.

This allows for a sudden rush of promising new products entering the market, of chasing and competing for those same resources as the ones focused on the core. The push to validate, explore and experiment might make the situation worse. You introduce waves of inefficiency into your highly tuned supply chain, you detract from selling and competing in tough market conditions and you then hear that comment “we took our eye off the ball”

This new ‘push’ for establishing the rising stars ends up that most of the promising concepts never really cross the finish line of moving from ‘interesting’ to main stream. The core also starts to suffer from these multiple distractions and eventually ‘innovation’ gets a bad rap. Many promising ideas get starved or killed off from emotional reactions.

The demand from supporting horizon two products or emerging concepts demands managements serious attention to getting resource allocation, response and focus into ‘actively’ managing this very real and tangible ‘innovators dilemma’.

Managing the rising stars or future potential one is hard in existing structures.

The concepts that emerge from horizon two will include the rising stars of the organization and will, over time, become even the new core business. These are a mixture of step-outs from today’s core, or extensions that have come from the adjacency work consciously being undertaken or are truly emerging as new activities that need new depth in capabilities and time to build.

These all have the potential to shift the organizations revenue base and challenge today’s cash generators. These need careful ‘portfolio and resource’ allocation. These extend the organization from your existing into new competencies, new markets and new challenges. Just please don’t use the same measures or metrics when you mix H1 and H2, although there is a huge temptation because it is just simply easy.

Horizon two is where you work through your future options

This is where you try out, experiment, explore. This is the transiting point (my space of transition) where you work through different dilemmas and paradoxes to shift the organisation through this horizon two to position it for the longer-term future. This horizon is a real point of disruption to be well-managed as you navigate from shifting resources from today’s core to that third horizon, the predicted future where ideas and proposals are still forming.

Horizon two actually ‘claims’ more time and attention than on the surface it deserves but this is the wrong mindset,  it simply needs too. This is not about supporting the ‘existing’, this is working actively on the ‘preferred’ as it is working to reduce current shortcomings, injecting new life and vigour into the present to offer a broader sustaining future.

Horizon two investments should be challenging ‘business as usual’ and should contain many of the catalysts for renewal, for the future growth. It is renewing the ‘fitness for purpose’ through innovation taking you along different pathways to the long-term successors of your business.

Horizon two can be a powerful catalyst.

 It can alter the way you are currently doing things, in new business models, in new systems, structures and delivery. It points you to a new, hopefully preferable future, worthwhile to pursue and attractive. It refreshes, it can invigorate and this horizon holds the keys and transition path to realizing that vision laid out in the ideas forming in horizon three.

To battle the increasing pace of obsolescence, we need to not just see and operate in today’s world; we must look towards the future. We must break out of incremental steps alone in our innovation activities, they just don’t simply ‘cut the mustard’ any-more, they are simply not good enough, in our rapidly changing world where increased competition is appearing from anywhere. We need to build out new capabilities, capacities through new innovation competencies.

We not only need to envision our future and the part we want to play within it but need a clear approach to working through the challenges and tensions to achieving a real balance in our innovation portfolio that work towards the same goal of being a material part of the business.

That is managing innovation not just in today’s horizon (h1) but in traversing into the future with more breakthroughs (h2) and transformational innovation (h3) that is organized around the three horizon methodology.  Making that essential traverse through horizon two is the toughest part. It needs carefully managing to have any really sustaining pathway to the emerging future.

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.