Moving innovation into our core – Part three

Not fit for future purposeThis is the third and final part of this series on the rethinking within the management of the innovation system.

Part three- Technology will drive innovation change.

We are in need of a different sustaining capacity, one build around innovation as its continuous core; constantly evolving, adapting, learning and adjusting, in perpetual motion.

We are heading for transformational change

Digital technology and the cloud are offering us a radically different conduit to achieve a new engagement process within our organizations. Innovation is going to be very much caught up in this transformational change.

Technology and data will be innovation’s catalyst for change.

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Moving Innovation into our Core – Part Two

Papering over the innovation cracksA three-part series on rethinking the management of the innovation system.

Part two, recognizing the broken process we currently have.

The innovation process and the structures build into our organization certainly need to be changed.

I outline here different barriers that require change to bring innovation more into the core of a business.

Today, we are needing to build greater agility and responsiveness into our innovation design to counter for a more rapidly  changing market, sensing changing conditions and to ‘seize’ breaking opportunities. . A new combination of speed, flexibility, networking and focusing on adapting and fusing the skills and capabilities needed, will require changes in our innovation work.

Our current structures and processes for innovation are holding us back and will continue to not deliver the expected results needed today or the future, giving real growth and sustainability. We do need a far more radical approach to a solution for managing innovation inside our organizations.

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Moving innovation into our Core- Part One

Innovation at the CoreInnovation has sat outside the core of organizations central systems for long enough. Arguably this lack of being a core central focus holds the deeper understanding of innovation back.

A core that could offer up the sustaining value and contribution innovation can make, into the growth and future well-being of organizations and having available the level of resources and commitments it needs. Today innovation seems to be falling short in delivering on its promise. Why?

A three part series on rethinking the management of the innovation system.

Part one, building the business case of needed change in how we manage innovation.

Those constant top level concerns need finally addressing

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Seeking strategic and innovation alignment conversations

Alignment of Strategic Innovation ConversationsInnovation stands in service to the strategic goals of our organization, or it certainly should!

The first thing is you need to have a solid, thoughtful conversation around the type of strategic emphasis you wish to achieve from your innovation activity, how will it support the organizations strategic direction..

These can be aligned to general strategic needs such as growing market share, differentiation and disrupting adjacent markets, serving the consistent changing and demanding customer needs, or by honing the delivery process, by spotting those and then exploiting them rapidly and effectively. All these become alignment conversations.

Creating clear goals and linking / aligning innovation to those, gives a more agile top-level strategy dialogue as a vital step before you get into the actual innovation concept – delivery stage. Senior executives must establish the manner in which innovation fits within the strategic context established by goals, vision and strategies.

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Seeking common cause through innovation

Although it is simple to state, creating a common language for innovation is very hard, demanding work. To begin to create it, then to gain a broader identification with its make-up and then to build upon it requires some dedicated time and effort, but above all, it needs recognition of its importance to obtaining a sustaining innovation entity.

Yet there is incredible sustaining value in achieving a common language. In the work that Jeffrey Phillips and I have been undertaking we see the Executive Innovation Work Mat  and its seven connected parts we really saw language, context and communications, as central to any innovation initiatives to work towards.

The Executive Innovation Work Mat

Languages unites us or divides us

Language can have the power to unite us or potentially divide us. Developing a language to unite us in our innovation efforts goes some way to reduce disagreements and egos, that can block success. To create an environment for innovation, to offer within a set of governance, process and functional structures, to build a culture responsive, we need this common cause, this central innovation language, our clear unifying context.

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Preparing Ourselves for Innovation Standards

There has been  going on for a good few years, the continued debate around finding and adopting a set of standards for innovation. I blow a little hot and cold on this, this is not dependent on the time of day but the very “force” that is pushing any agenda along on this. Far, far too much of those that push for standards have often very narrow agenda’s, where this fits their commercial purpose but often you gain that feeling that these are not as aligned to the broader innovation communities as they should be.

There are two camps- the ones that relentlessly drive towards standards and those looking to have a more “open” view looking to ‘simply’ achieve a common language.

Are standards the real drivers of innovation?

There are seemingly many ways to innovate and is it just a little simplistic to standardise innovation and reduce it down to a set of basic common parts? Innovation comes more from evolution, revolution, radical and disruptive forces being applied, will these benefit from having innovation standards or be constrained. Would ‘standards’ be like the basic diploma like an architect for instance, who is taught the theory of the basic principles but who can see well beyond and challenges those existing boundaries and accepted norms, and in so doing pushes design into a new future but still draws down from this their initial ‘qualification?’

Innovation often arrives from the need to rapidly respond to crisis, it can need to bridge and move across disciplines and concepts, it might emerge from the intersection of ideas, concepts and cultures ( The Medici Effect reference) or it can draw from business, science, art and politics. How do you attempt to standardise, let alone capture for these?

Do standards get simply boiled down to that “de-facto” factor that we all have to have to ‘qualify’ for procurement tendering, being able to attract funding or just being that piece of paper to get past the gate-keeper of the high morals and necessary standards? Do they draw in more, or exclude the best? Do they level the playing field or simply reduce the surface to one where it becomes muddy and no one can effectively play upon? Does it trigger a whole new industry of certifiers encouraged by the state or funded by the EU to establish “standards” at a cost? When they become mandated what really happens?

Clearly standard setting is a dry affair, it becomes caught up in technical issues, it gets bogged down in these ‘vested’ interests yet standards do have a potentially strategic importance to advance innovation beyond its present ad hoc organization.

Today innovation is caught in a silo itself

Today, innovation is locked in silo’s, it operates to support individuals not the broader community. The label can often be attached “buyer beware”. Today anyone can state they are the authority on either a model, concept, process etc.

My innovating friend Jeffrey Phillips suggests “there are a lot of people jumping on the (innovation) bandwagon selling the latest snake-oil to profit from a lot of (this) confusion”. He argues “innovation is still part black art” and full of ambiguity. He suggests standards move from “folk wisdom to wild claims to organized documented fact.” Finally Jeffrey suggest “we can no longer guess at whether or not we make profit” and “all good thinking can be codified so we can provide clarity of work”. Do you agree? He believes it is incumbent on innovation practitioners to begin to agree on standard innovation.

The other side of the argument lies in innovation having just a common language

Creating a common language, perhaps an open sourced taxonomy to start with, will unite the many stakeholders. Without a common language emerging perhaps innovation eventually becomes abandoned. The current disagreements, individual interpretations often have ego’s caught up in the stakes. There are a good number of present day innovation guru’s that might need to go back and relearn innovation and where it presently is and possibly heading.

We do have more unstructured innovation knowledge than structured to resolve many issues surrounding innovation. Often advice glosses over the understanding the individual context and applies those ‘broad brush’ strokes to anyone who cares to listen.

It is also true that innovation practitioners often chose to ignore or not enquire deeply enough about the circumstances or reasons why innovation is needed, they simply apply their standard solutions and often clients are caught up in the hurry to move on.

We are often also caught up in a certain “fixation”, in certain dogma’s, mindsets and biases that have negative consequences. The expert plays on the very ambiguity suggested earlier because often the knowledge is so unstructured. Unstructured knowledge leads to unstructured interactions that then leads to less than ideal end results, more disappointment than enlightenment. Innovation, I contend, is still unstructured knowledge waiting to be reorganized to the ‘greater benefit’.

So we should ‘rush’ to seeking out a common language? A common language for innovation promises greater depth in meaningful collaborations

Renee Hopkins stated recently she remains convinced that one of the biggest impediments to innovation and collaboration is this lack of common language to describe what we are doing. She suggests it will remain “slippery and mysterious concepts as long as we don’t use the same terms the same way”.  She doubts though that “we will all simply use language in a consistent way observing common definitions, since that would be contrary to the messy evolution that is language”

So are we doomed to wallow in the here and now of individual interpretations of innovation meaning and not feel we need to break out of this pit of frustrations, inefficiency and misunderstandings associated today with innovation?

I believe we should be optimistic and embrace both camps in parallel

We have a choice, we stay still and innovation simply dies out as a real force and morphs into a variety of different butterflies to light up our world going forward or it becomes the homing beacon for wealth and creation it is suggested that it can be. To achieve this it does need to be ‘nailed down’ to find solid ground that all can feel is sturdy and unshakeable to begin to build stronger structures upon.

Innovation ‘speaks’ of future survival but it needs a more robust framework that does deliver on that promise of being sustainable, repeatable, having long-term structures that drive understanding of where to go to begin to discover competitiveness and success. We do need to obtain some level of systematic management in all aspects to foster lasting innovation capabilities. This should be a combined language / action framework.

The emerging route that has been quietly travelled

In the EU, since 2008 there has been a constant level of activity around developing a consensus towards standards for innovation. Standards need to be consensus built, bottom-up structure. It needs to bring together all interested parties and they are often highly diverse. Yet a standard really is only a technical document designed to be uses as a rule, a guideline or a set of common definitions. It attempts to offer repeatable ways of doing something.

Within the EU there has been a technical committee working away under its reference of CEN / TC 389 for Innovation Management. They are developing standards under Innovation Management that covers in separate documents: creativity management,, innovation management assessments, innovation thinking, intellectual property management, strategic intelligence management and finally collaborative management. All of these are scheduled for very early in 2014.

There is one under drafting, I heard actually finished, waiting for sign off to be released in the next few months that covers Innovation Management- the innovation management system. Its project reference is FprCEN/TS 16555-1.

The EU Commissioner for Research and Innovation Màire Geoghegan-Quinn has promised to give this her full attention in 2013.

My closing thoughts and arguments at this time

In May 2011 I wrote a piece on this site under “My arguments for a common framework needed for innovation management” which you can view here http://tinyurl.com/8lh3jop and further strengthened the call with another piece recently “Identification sits at the core of innovation”, see here http://tinyurl.com/9ovekl2 . Both appeal for advancement, they push for solutions, we are crying out for these.

So I am certainly looking forward to the first release of a standard according to the EU. I’m not sure if I’m holding my breath in the greatest anticipation but I would just simply say “let the debate really begin” as there are so many benefits in creating both a common language within and alongside an innovation set of standards – it can be then built upon.

Like the Architect understanding the standard basics, they are wanting to push out and design, challenging the community, demanding better materials, better processes and application and this is the very time where I feel innovation desperately is in need of this fresh momentum. We can build far, far more from commonality than division.

From a buzzword to the imperative

I keep coming back to the leadership of innovation; we need to move it from the peripheral to a more central one. This is not so much in a leader’s desire and need for innovation, which always seems well stated, but in their ability to lead it, to have it not just in their mind but in their real follow-through, in action and attitude, in their deepening engagement and involvement to it.

“Leadership for innovation can’t simply be delegated”, so tell me how many times have you heard that one? Yet it always seems to be pushed down the organization when you look a little closer. Running a day-to-day business, reacting to the events, achieving the performance to maintain the momentum, planning the future is demanding but innovation is absolutely central to sustaining and securing the future but does it really get enough of the CEO’s time? I think it should figure more in their time but how can this be achieved?

I certainly don’t envy global leaders in trying to balance all that is crowding in on them, that is making up their daily, weekly and monthly agenda’s. Something always has to give and innovation is one of those malleable parts whereas other more pressing ‘demands’ are more real, tangible and definitive and  innovation gets constantly squeezed out at the top. Regretfully for many it does seem innovation ends up as important but not urgent for them to focus upon.

The management of innovation is the management of attention.

I find this an interesting observation. Achieving the management of innovation requires the management of attention was a view outlined by Andrew H. Van, a Professor of Organizational Innovation and Change back in 1986,where it was suggested for management that “the awareness of need deteriorates and their action thresholds reach a level where only crisis can stimulate action as they gradually adapt to the environment.”

I interpret this as Innovation does seems to get gradually pushed back, on the agendas of the CEO and perhaps even the organizations, if the leader is not being actively engaged consistently in it. Nothing has changed today; we still are not achieving this innovation attention.  It slips down their crowded agenda’s as they deal with countless issues running a business. If their organization is in that crisis then innovation will have certainly have grabbed the CEO’s attention but by then it is often too late. We do need to manage innovation more strategically.

How can we change this?

Clearly what comes towards the CEO in ongoing issues does not go away, it only seems to increase in pace and complexity.  Of course, we can call for the CEO to clear the decks and embrace innovation as central in everything they do. I think this call for his attention is not wrong but possibly naïve with what is on their plate to manage.

Where we can demand in their attention is in providing a deeper personal commitment and clearer insight into their understanding of the need to structure innovation to all its necessary alignment points, so it can deeply integrated with the strategic goals looked for. For that to happen it needs articulating somehow.

Influencing and shaping innovation

What I’d like to see is a way where the leader can influence and shape the core structures required for innovation and provide the building blocks for the organization to work within. Something that sets out expectations of where innovation fits within the growth plans and defines critical areas that are essential for innovation to link into the strategy and organizations vision.

Perhaps you can call this an innovation foundation document; perhaps you can take this even further and shape it in a more exciting, compelling format that frames the linkages and synergies between strategy and innovation, between innovation and capabilities, between culture, the environment, the process, routines and how it should all be governed.

How about a leadership alignment framework that articulates where innovation fits?

Something that addresses the critical aspects of innovation to gain a crucial alignment across the organization that provides the strategic underpinning to performance. Its aim is to promote the freeing up of people by taking away many of the debating points around innovation and replace these with a strategic framing recipe, one that looks for the organization to use it, work within it and operationalize it.  This can be dynamic in that it ‘cascades’ up and down the organization as a communicating tool, it also becomes the meeting point to work through, the common language mediation that innovation so desperately needs for all to identify with, as well as the place to offer improving and evolving leadership engagement and guidance.

Can we ask for more?

The leader’s role is to provide guidance, strategic guidance, as well as to offer inspiration and clarity to capture the real essence of an organizations desire to innovation. If we can secure their attention through this strategic framework then it becomes their commitment document towards innovation.

If we can find a clear way for them to combine both the articulating and nurturing they believe is desired for innovation, so it can flourish, as well as offer specific ways to drive and measure this, we are heading in the right direction. Then I think we achieve something important. We draw the organization in and build the innovation activities around common and essential focal points. As we ‘grow’ the CEO’s involvement and attention through this suggested mechanism, this will have a significant impact on identification, commitment and understanding that will resonate throughout the organization and perhaps become more empowering to all.

A goal and its realization

Achieving a framework that builds structure, outlines both the intrinsic and extrinsic aspects and offers the overarching common communicating language is certainly achievable. Something that is clearly articulated from the top,  then cascaded down the organization for it to be further ‘fleshed out’ within the organization, would immeasurably help innovation in the alignment to strategic goals and required attention.

If we can provide a framework that can align, that can engage, and can offer a common set of references to refer too, clearly provided by the CEO and his team, then this surely would be a valuable contribution? It would bridge that often missing element of conveying the top managements desire and commitment to innovation’s momentum. This will work down the organization to plug into and generate that much-needed identification, to energize innovation as the ‘force’ essential for growth.

I want to discuss this further in the weeks ahead as I feel we can gain some much-needed traction on this as there is a clear leadership gap on innovation, no question. I think there is a good solution. Innovation does require a constant communicating and guidance from the top and in providing an innovation alignment framework of how this all is interrelated, we can achieve the attention of management strategically and that could be a huge thing.