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.

So much of innovation is piecing together many fragmented pieces, strands of knowledge that can be unstructured, can be very ambiguous, yet requires sound judgement. Innovation builds on shared experience and the quality of its interaction points. The more we learn to collaborate, the more we begin to share experiences, the more we achieve a growing common language. We need to bring together increasingly the parts that growing specialisation, our limited grasp of all the complexities that can influence a decision. We need to constantly reconcile incoming information with our own language of understanding, so we need to strive towards improving the common parts surely?

We all have different meaning and interpretations.

Each organization has specifics in meaning that can often end up in results that break down and so deliver results totally different from their original intent.  We think we communicate well but those that receive this often apply different interpretations that confirm their personal views, they often apply subtle nuances and variations, and it is within these different readings we can suffer costly errors, extensive delays and wrong end results in final product or service delivery. We suffer significant inefficiencies because we don’t pay enough attention to ensuring the correct meaning is well understood, we simply believe our way of thinking is the only way it is conveyed to be understood, and as we all know, this is often far from the reality.

We need to seek explicit language and context to allow innovation to do its final job, of delivering a valuable new contribution that builds on the existing and meets new market and customers’ needs or the jobs-to-be-done.  Innovation becomes highly constrained if we fail to find that common language, that common purpose, the understand of the right context and ended up providing something that was not as good as it could have been or completely off track on the original insight . It somehow got lost in translation. Translation is one of those keys that can unlock innovation and partly why the work mat is constructed the way it is.

Our reasoning for specifically highlighting common language and context

The reason we called the Work Mat, the Executive innovation Work Mat was that innovation suffers when it does not have total, enthusiastic support and senior leaders real involvement. The leaders of organizations have the ability to drive innovation across and down the organization, they can build the connections so activities, teams and individuals can identify and gain in their innovation confidence. Today, many leaders fail to understand their vital part in this process. We want to change that.

It is really only at the top you can provide the best framework and design for stronger facilitation, understanding and negotiations to occur around the innovation activity. In organizations innovation must increasingly become totally aligned to the strategic goals. If you want to achieve this, executive and organizational engagement to deliver on this strategic intent needs an overarching framework.

The outcome we believe comes significantly through the work mat. It can be cascaded down the organization once the top team has worked through its seven essential parts and are satisfied that they do provide a compelling story on innovation. Then equally it can come back up the organization, so it allows for the further identification and a greater ‘dynamic’ engagement of its connected parts, as the framework continues to achieve this executive and organizational alignment, through its constant encouragement and support, as its central tenet.

Common language is a constant dialogue and exploration

Any innovation common language needs working upon. It needs to be current, relevant, accurate and highly visible throughout the entire organization. It also needs to be allowed to grow and flourish. A common language equally allows for a knowledge repository to potentially prosper. I refer you to my previous thoughts on where absorptive capacity fits within this, in its steps of acquiring, assimilating, transforming and exploiting but this needs a clear structure and commonality to it, to gain its lasting benefit.

In any common language we need to master the knowledge to exploit it and extract what it can offer. We need to appreciate always its terms, its definitions (and limitations) and the related performance values to improve our performance and achieve others understanding of our meaning. The more we practice and move towards a common understanding of innovation, we are actually moving towards clarifying and reconciling, as best we can, within the constraints of what common language or context offers. We give innovation a greater chance to succeed. A common language enables greater transparency, clarity in accountability through its definitions; we achieve greater collaborative dialogues and meet more concurrence than without this move towards a common understanding.

Why should we have a common language for innovation?

I was reading an article from Raj Kumar, a founding director at AIM Knowledge Management Systems, based in India on one of his hack blogs within MIX. Some of his points are specifically valuable and I can see apply here in discussing common languages and seeking common cause and “played back” in my way.

Knowledge more than ever plays its part

In a McKinsey study they argue we need more knowledge workers more than ever. We are all increasingly dealing with increased ambiguity and having to apply increasing levels of judgement and draw even more on our experiences far more. To meet this we need increasing knowledge interactions. According to one study 70 per cent of all US jobs created since 1998 require judgement and experience and these now make up over 40 per cent of the total labour market in the United States.

I would support this knowledge need. The quality of the required interactions needs to reduce our own often fixed ‘mindset’ and understanding and be open to exchange and understanding. A common language within innovation can, and does, cut out potential misunderstandings and improve process, assumptions. We can move quicker and be ready to explore generalizations, for finding within these a greater range of more specific opportunities. We can achieve this by having some greater confidence and trust in how we all share and see ‘things’ that draws often the disparate parts together.

Delaying decisions can help

Also although this can be open to interpretation we often do need to delay decisions until the latest possible time to improve the chances of this being right. Does that fly in the face of innovation? No, if you are seeking greater understanding, not for the sake of it but for its value to improve, adapt and increase the potential of the innovation activity. The more you are informed, the better chances of a good decision that leads to a better result. We are being increasingly asked to make better and bigger judgement calls and this becomes one of the reasons you need a clear innovation organizing framework, through the executive innovation work mat  (link to white paper) that encourages, supports and guides your decisions.

Collaboration platforms need a soul or DNA to be valuable

Kumar also brings out an important point that struck me hard. We constantly seek out improved collaboration tools, we push people to self-organize to drive interactions and populate the collaborative platform but he argues this is a form of organization blindness. The tools we provide are in his words, “akin to sign language”, they do not (yet) bring in the loops of learning, the rich DNA to foster meaningful collaboration as the (present) format ignores much of the conduct and make up to get to a certain point.

He suggests meaningful collaborations are made up of purpose, goals, vocabulary, their assembly, the focus, the product, parsing (the context), the audience and finally the driving energy. We need to capture all of these within any common language for innovation so we have its context, goals and engagement clear. Kumar believes IT is getting closer to aid this.

His compelling energy framework has interesting potential

I like his “compelling energy” framework, made up of compelling adoption, pursuit of truth, communities involved, contemplation time lines, teamwork and trust, commitment, innovation, good governance and seeking a culture of excellence. I’ll leave you to read an extensive discussion on this compelling “hack” of Kumar’s.

He defines within this framework part on innovation and suggests you set up innovation by need definition, thought-evolution and breaking of moulds – that does sound ‘compelling’ to explore more and a basis for a new mind change to move us from incremental to greater innovation advancement and breakthroughs. I’m thinking over this.

A bedrock for sustaining innovation is a common intent, language and context

Common language is the bedrock for how we set about innovation. It cannot be silo driven, unless you want stilted results with incremental innovation as likely, the best you can achieve most of the time within this ‘constraint’. How we go about our communications, what and who you can connect with and your level of innovation engagement, do matter significantly. It is the ability to find common identity, a real unifying sense of purpose that sends positive signals to all involved and those interested parties, often external to your ‘inner’ innovation process, to engage fully.

A common purpose for innovation, set within clear guidelines and a framework, as we have proposed through the executive innovation work mat, gives innovation that clear ‘voice’. It allows us all to gather around a consistent language of innovation as it places more on the context of why, where and how you want to manage innovation, and can conduct its different parts in a certain ‘fluidness’ that gives shape and meaning to innovation and all its critical inter-connected parts that make up the Work Mat.

Please note: All the executive innovation work mat hyper-links are pointed to different aspects or papers that might have value in exploring this area further.

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.

Twenty critical questions to be resolved for succeeding in innovation

Some time back I compiled a list of those critical areas that I felt need addressing for innovation to have a chance of success. Going through them again today and in light of different insights picked up on the way, I added more of a descriptor to each. I certainly think these reflect the struggles within innovation that need working upon constantly, so it has a better chance to succeed.

This revised thinking I feel has upgraded my own focal points as areas I will be exploring even further in my work in the period ahead.

What do you think? Do you think the list is missing something?

My upgraded thinking on the 20 top innovation aspects to master and resolve.

1. There seems so much ongoing difficulty to identify the real opportunities for innovation as there is often no structured approach to this, or even worse a poor recognition of any well formulated strategy, so allowing so many opportunities to fall through the gaps.

2.   Not generating and managing ideas that deliver real growth, mostly due to a lack of any effective decision-making process, organised governance and structure to manage this.

3.   A on-going failure in not effectively seeking out external insights in clear ways and lacking a capturing structure to achieve this, so simply restricting the real awareness of the external environment to the necessary person internally within the organization.

4.   The inability to draw down from a diverse set of networks, partners, systems and people and then connecting them in a ecosystem to acquire, transform or exploit this new knowledge for new innovation.

5.   Not setting the appropriate focus on innovation activities for value creation and making those critical points explicit enough within and across the organization, so leaving it too open to personal interpretation and fuzzyness, resulting in often disappointing end results.

6.   Not having a clear alignment to the Corporate Strategy for innovation, often missing the connections between formal and informal mechanisms needed for managing innovation.

7.   Having poor implementation that fails expectations as the ‘need’ of the end result was left far too vague or compromised somewhere between discovery and delivery.(see 5 also)

8.   Failing to recognize and build innovation capabilities across the organisation that deliver the appropriate mix of skills and experience by often not appreciating the significant differences between the types of innovation necessary and their unique characteristics to execute through these.

9.   Building the competencies to further strengthen change is based far to much on existing organizational cultures that focus on effectiveness and efficiency, failing to recognize this is often in conflict with innovation, that is requiring a far more open ended, adaptive approach.

10. Having different expectations and behaviours across the organisation, divergent opinions and significant disconnects of self-interest and petty politics that override innovation intent.

11. Continually having changing priorities and conflicting responsibilities by not successfully managing the conflict between short and long term needs that are required to be managed in a more structured, thoughtful way.

12. A lack of concerted effort to encourage collaboration across and outside the organization I would suggest is limiting organization design in flows and effectiveness for innovation success.

13. Diverse systems that restrict the flow of knowledge sharing and don’t capture and share those aspects that would, if overcome, would trigger fresh insight and growing awareness of valuable alternatives.

14. Inadequate understanding of consumer and customer needs as the front line engagement process is not alert enough or trained to discover these, or often don’t have a system in place to report these back in the knowledge and incentive that these are seen as important by the customer.

15. Localised innovation that does not engage the whole organisation and continues on a silo basis, pushed by local managers as their pet projects, starving more critical ones and not being well picked up due to a lack of a comprehensive innovation portfolio management system.

16. Largely being reactive to competition and not being proactive, due to this constant struggle to fully understand the external environment and failing to anticipate those future trends and where they fit in their implications for the organization and its innovation focus.

17. Lacking a leadership perspective of the “ideal” culture and climate to inspire innovation and really appreciating what real differences do motivate people at the different levels for them to participate and actively engage in innovation activity or simply not.

18. Not having enough time, resource and resolve to grow innovation activity, as innovation and its appropriate management has not been fully designated as a clear function, with designated accountability, well resourced and integrated within and across the organization.

19. Failure to exploit the know-how and IP within the organisation and explore its potential with partners, so its potential can be fully exploited and commercialised instead of often just left ‘gathering dust’ as simply a protected patent not being exploited.

20. No clear and distinct measures and metrics to drive the innovation process effectively across the organisation and for the individual to relate to, that aligns the efforts with promoting and exploiting innovation as part of everyone’s responsibility.

The implication of this list or even simply parts of it

The effective tasking of innovation activities today cannot be left to chance; it has to be designed into the organization from top to bottom. By not having designated people fully involved and accountable for innovation is likely to inhibit growth. Having a well designed innovation structure and governance is essential but still not well understood

Having an honest conversation at board level is a good starting point.

Reflecting on this twenty points alone and being open enough in addressing them can make a dramatic difference between success and ongoing disappointment. Leaders or those tasked with innovation need to have this honest conversation, if they come up short then they need to ‘reach out’ and seek fresh external advice on how to resolve these gaps so as they can quickly understand their gaps.

Gaining a deeper understanding does make a real difference

I would argue executives should not be afraid to ask. Having a deeper understanding can often come from a dedicated focus often not possible within the confines of one organization. The external advice offered can help move them towards a more successful innovation management structure to succeed in those innovation efforts and go closer to match their desires and growth goals from innovation. Sometimes it is well worth reaching out for fresh perspectives and even, a dose of reality.

My arguments for a common framework needed for innovation management

Following the release on Monday, April 25, where we published a Collaborative Innovation Reference Model by Jeffrey Phillips of OVO Innovation and myself, Paul Hobcraft of Agility Innovation, I would like to put forward some further opening arguments for proposing the broad adoption of a common framework for the innovation management process.

You can read more about its background here and you are welcome to participate.

Why innovation does needs a common reference point?

When you don’t have a common approach to something, in this case the management of innovation, you can have considerable pockets of inefficiency and a high level of ineffectiveness to deal with. Your organizational energies become fragmented as you constantly deal with differences, gap issues & misunderstandings that result in much hidden costs and ‘spent, unproductive’ capital. Resources are not focusing on advancing innovation; they are often spent on fixing what you have. By not having a clear common approach that everyone understands you fail to establish a common language. By not adopting a common set of innovation reference points you can remain often unproductive, consistently readapting, re-working and plugging gaps that could be better invested in managing the many aspects of complexity you always find in a better thought-through innovation management structure, one that focuses on advancing your activity.

Simply Jeffrey and I believe that the innovation space needs a common starting point – a collaborative reference model.  Certainly many other large and successful industries have common standards – the IBM PC, for instance, or common accounting protocols in financial services or a host of others that have significantly advanced that industry or service.  With these shared and transparent frameworks, clients can gain knowledge, have a growing confidence and understanding by recognizing the value of having something in common and the opportunity to leverage from this. Organizations focus should be on advancing innovation activity not constantly adjusting and adapting to different ‘standards’ or approaches.

Today innovation management advisory firms are mostly small, loosely organized, some highly specialised, that have a flourishing complexity of activity but often spend inordinate time reinventing many aspects of innovation management that are not necessary and serve little value for the client. While client’s requirements for structuring innovation are often claimed as unique and distinctive, they are in many cases, actually not. What they really want is to acquire a common, repeatable, scalable innovation structure that allows them to manage their distinct innovations on a consistent basis. The understanding of the innovation process is basically common. Until this point of difference between what a client wants, a common, scalable process and the providers wanting to offer their own versions, innovation in general will face numerous disadvantages in not advancing, as it is not formed around a basic set of common standards.

Why argue for a common approach?

The benefits of using and developing a common approach are numerous. They provide confidence, reliability and comparability in the market place. They also help to build and place the focus, cohesion and critical mass into building more efficiency and value into the process of innovation.

Common approaches can accelerate the advancement through clearer applications of technology and leading practice, and focus on the ability to reduce the transaction costs along the whole innovation value chain. Using a common language for information sharing, or developing more common thinking, can still allow individuals to gain a competitive advantage in the appropriate place, in their innovations advancement.

Developing further from a common framework can alert customers to the features of a product, service, technology or process improvement, to consider for adoption. It further optimizes and builds from this common point. Having a common approach can actually offer the choice of connecting to an increased number of partners for building connectivity/compatibility between different collaborators. It becomes a multiplier from this ‘common’ application, it lifts the standards.

Adopting a common innovation framework has numerous advantages

Clients in partnership with advisors can build from this basic common platform of understanding by the more effective use of applying people with the right skills and capabilities to focus and accelerate the job-on-hand: the need-to-deliver innovation consistently to final clients needs. If consultants, advisors and practitioners can demonstrate that their solutions are based on a common framework they they set about the creation of their differentiation, based on their unique skills and points of value-add, not hiding behind the need to fire fight and plug gaps, or sometimes add to the mystery that unclear aspects of innovation management or incomplete advice can generate. It degrades efforts in our view.

So what are the advantages? What value do common approaches bring to an industry?

This lack of a common model creates uncertainty for potential corporate innovators, who must decide which innovation method or approach seems the most appropriate or valid. In the absence of a common starting point or framework every solution considered seems equally reasonable until you arrive at a point where it is not doing the job you had wanted. A lack of a common approach creates different levels of uncertainty because there are many competing methods and tools that all seem reasonable, often with vested interests in the models proposed but it is the supporters of these different approaches who benefit from the advocacy of their approach, not the management of innovation.

We believe that creating a common innovation model or framework will have a significant number of benefits, for innovation practitioners, for companies and for innovators.  It can become the common reference point to build from. It can be used repeatedly to refresh and validate changes in thinking and can allow us all to move on from focusing on the process of innovation to the leveraging of the innovation process- a huge step in our opinion.

Specific advantages that a common approach to innovation can provide

  • Transformation of ideas to a marketable concept

The accepted of recognized concepts and emergent thinking gets ‘pulled through’ to market by their incorporation into this common approach at increasing rate. The use of appropriate measurement allows the concepts to be defined and quantified so that the suggested common approach is widely understood and accepted. It accelerates by increased adoption.

  • Networking and access to experts

Access to recognized experts through association to prescribing to a commons approach can be extremely beneficial to an organization, in the development of their own innovation approach, as they will gain a better appreciation of the state-of-the-art in other organizations, across industries and compare more with their competitors. You also gain in growing benefits from the collective expertise of the community that subscribes to this and in their combined knowledge or expertise, in that it brings a multiplicity of partners together that might not have had the same opportunity in a fragmented market. Smaller and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in particular can enhance their status, and can gain a marketing advantage in growing specialization, expertise and knowledge advancing.

  • Competitive advantage

Developing a new common approach for the innovation process in fresh thinking is a way to apply pressure on competitors, whilst gaining a competitive advantage. It enables an organization to ‘raise the stakes’ and alert consumers to the latest feature, insight or knowledge advantage. Common solutions actually ‘push’ the industry to improve its game, raise its standards and increase value to clients. Due to the potential of reducing costs associated by taking a common approach, the use of commonality also allows for growing price competitiveness in the market- not a bad thing.

Using standardized approaches reduces the amount of research needed at that early stage so investment can be made more in its advancement. It directs activity to more forward looking advancement of innovation management. It can also reduce much of the present duplication and legacy issues from past efforts that are often resident in uncertain situations. Finally in the part,  it increases the purchasing power of the interested parties to evaluate far more on this common platform accreditation, with growing confidence on common criteria, alongside the value adding points of differentiation to meet the work that needs to be done through new innovation.

  • Network effects

Today the network effects in adopting a common approach typically increases with the number of users sharing and feeding off of each other in learning, knowledge and experience. This more ‘open’ sharing effect accelerates collaborations, connections and knowledge disbursement.

Network effect markets will become increasingly attractive targets for companies who can position their own proprietary technology (technology that is protected through IPRs) as the technical standard in that market, to improve upon the common approach to help in its management and execution. Having a common approach provides an essential building block for collaborative platforms for different parties to work together in more ‘open’ innovation environments for their mutual goals that is increasingly being recognised today as less likely to be achieved by working in isolation.

  • Quality and reputation

Organizations today are demanding better quality, depth and expertise in what they adopt. Adoption is more likely if it is backed up by accepted common approaches that are recognised by the broader community. Alternatives will increasingly become harder to accept with their growing disadvantages of not being party to the potential of sharing around the commonalities recognized as standard, within this more common adopted approach to innovation management practice.

  • Growing international and global recognition

Involvement accelerates across global organizations by adopting these set of common approaches to innovation. Through subscribing to international common approaches standards and practices throughout the organization’s global innovation activity, this will give a common language, clarity and greater line of sight. Operating on a common approach agreement, gains in the longer term for collaborative ventures all working through the same common approach or platform. It aligns to better efficencies and potential leverage in different ways.

  • Variance is significantly reduced.

The number of different approaches to solutions is reduced by adopting a more common set of solutions, due to increased optimization of the process. This is known as variety reduction. Variety reduction leads to economies of scale that can lower production costs and therefore investments. Variety reduction would help along the whole innovation value chain. It can lower core adoption costs allowing organizations to concentrate on the features that are most important to their innovation needs, thereby leading to a sharper focus on what is critical for their specific innovation delivery. It promotes greater creativity by providers of solutions by focusing on the positives and building from this more focused approach to demonstrate competitive advantage.

So to summarize

When relevant common approaches do not exist then organizations remain uncertain and weary, they limit their investments resulting in inadequate application and understanding of innovations true value. Investment made without a consistent approach have high levels of inefficiency cost built in and the market remains unhealthy as there is this consistent under investing occurring due to ongoing uncertainty.

When relevant common approaches can be established organization confidence increases significantly, risk is more quantified, there is a growing understanding of the common approach by a broader audience and increased funding is more available for forward looking investment. The health of the innovation market benefits from this potential cycle of increased investment. It builds upon a stronger platform not lots of fragmented pieces.

Benefits and key takeaways:

We believe that creating a common innovation model or framework will have a number of significant benefits, for innovation practitioners, for companies and for innovators, actually for the whole innovation community that believes in innovation as the most significant enabler to growth and renewal.  It can become the common reference point to build from. It can be used repeatedly to refresh and validate changes in thinking.

Paul Hobcraft of Agility Innovation who can be contacted at paul@agilityinnovation.com or Jeffrey Phillips of OVO Innovation who can be contacted at jphillips@ovoinnovation.com for discussing this concept further through the suggested models provided as a starting point.

Principle Source of Reference and Guidance for structuring the specific advantages: Standards and Intellectual Property Rights: A Practical Guide for Innovative Business by Matthew Clark, published in 2004.

Paul Hobcraft, Agility Innovation Consultants, 8th May 2011.

Questions raised on a collaborative innovation framework

Yesterday, 5th May, there was an interesting exchange on #innochat relating to collaborating frameworks for innovation. We have a wiki on this http://cirf.pbworks.com if you care to take a look so you get the context and the suggested framework we are proposing.

#Innochat is a lively, informative and inspiring one-hour(ish) discussion on Thursdays at noon (Eastern US time). Usually the best way to follow along is to head over to TweetChat – sign in with your Twitter credentials and follow along and participate. Take a look at www.innochat.com and join in.

Jeffrey Philips @ovoinnovation and myself @paul4innovating have been suggesting that we need to organize more around a common approach to innovation and having recently published this we decided to put this forward within this discussion hour to learn more from many established innovation thinkers. The fact that twitter decided to go ‘whaling’, stalling and generally misbehaving to create some bottleneck in exchanges, it did seem to generate a lot of ‘chat’ and a great diversity of opinion.

The first question was: “Is innovation a cottage industry? If so, is that because of a lack of a standard approach” warmed everybody up that was for sure. The definition supplied by @ovoinnovation was “small players, different approaches that are not scalable, with no shared solutions”.

There were plenty of thoughts on this, with a summary of some of the more interesting ones shown here:

  • “Too much competition to have one model”
  • “Companies should have their own frameworks as companies would be similar in their approach”
  • “Diverse activities without common threads or themes”
  • “Does innovation adhere to common frameworks?”
  • “Cottage industry sounds like lots of hand weavers”
  • “Hand weavers being replaced by factories”
  • “Cottage implies less professional”
  • “There is lots of adopting and applying (to innovation)”
  • Cottage maybe, not all take on ongoing formalized approach to innovation”
  • “Innovation contains artisans”
  • “There is lots of adopting and applying”
  • “Common starting point but (perhaps) different ending points”
  • “Main reason why Innovation is so important to services companies is because it’s easy to commoditise, and easier still to copy”
  • “Custom-tailored frameworks are needed”
  • “We still don’t have a common language”
  • “Not even a common language for strategic plans”

For me coming out of this ‘opening’ exchange was some real concerns.

My thinking that came out of this was “protect the known’s, reject the unknowns”. It struck me what an awful lot of reinventing of the wheel or in this case the innovation process, still does seemingly takes place. Is this either productive or value-adding for the clients who are looking for sound advice? It suites many providing advice to do this, as you come back to one of the very salient points made yesterday: “easy to commoditize, and easier still to copy”, so you offer a custom-tailored evaluation process and provide a variant, wrap it in some mystery to offer, in all truth a custom-designed solution.  So why not go with one from the very beginning to frame discussions, to establish a common framework and then explore options to advance on this? Instead it seems ‘we’ move on, look for the next one, repeating what is already actually established as common. I think we should move on from this and advance by providing a common, generally accepted innovation framework, as the starting point.

Yes, from what I read, nothing convinced me that we are NOT still in a cottage industry for innovation and surely that has to change?

Frameworks or Standards

Another part of the discussion was around frameworks or standards.

The conclusion was we lacked a framework and it is problematic. Adopting standards remain to be seen, as this can have many constraining factors. Lots of exchanges were around the use of the word ‘framework’ and there seemed to be a consensus of the better use of ‘guidelines’ would be helpful. Well at least it is right perhaps at the start of anything to suggest guidelines maybe. The other observation was “structures must be extremely loose, any framework very light”

Did the discussion advance the topic?

From my perspective it did. Within one hour a fast and furious exchange the issue of lacking a common innovation framework was raised as a real constraining issue, it got a number of people certainly interested to become more involved. So I’m hopeful as we push the argument about having a more organising framework or guidelines for innovation we might achieve the level of advancement we do require within innovation thinking.

One tweet “Innovation within parameters” summed it up nicely. Some advancement would help by framing innovation more on a common platform or around a set of guidelines. We certainly gathered more involvement and interest within the innovation community and will continue to argue for the establishment of some common approach.

Frameworks provide confidence, reliability and comparability, by working from something common surely? All we have to do is find a common starting point and that seems that it is not going to be easy, by all accounts of the exchanges that took place yesterday. Still we will push on, as the advantages certainly outweigh the concerns of protecting the ‘knowns’ and ‘easy to copy’ and differentation can be found and better demonstrated further down the innovation value chain.

The shaping of innovation- future directions

Rethinking innovation after a week where I have argued for a more common approach to innovation (see some of my recent posts )- as one that can be well structured and managed – I feel needs to be discussed next. I do fear if we don’t radically rethink innovation we are in danger of missing out on much that is coming towards us.

If we do not adopt and gain a clear understanding of (basic) innovation, its structure, process and differences in approaches we need, we will certainly struggle to move beyond the basics to the ‘promise’ of advancement that innovation should be offering.

I would like to offer some of the factors that I feel will be shaping innovation’s future; many are presently taking place but in pockets of expertise and experimentation, that we have to investigate more to understand the implications further.

What is holding innovation back?

Firstly we do need to provide some ‘bunker busting’ of the different silos of resistance:

  1. The internal functions that are presently closed off from each other
  2. The different management layers failing to communicate and talk to each other
  3. The inability to combine ‘multiple aspirations’ of suppliers, internal experts, clients and end customers on a common platform
  4. The continued weakness and recognition by middle managers of innovations value and worth.
  5. The need to break up those clusters of knowledge built by increased specialization, so the expertise can be more openly shared.
  6. Bridging the field, middle management and top executives understanding to narrow internal differences of interpretation.

Somehow we do need to break these pockets of resistence down to allow innovation to move on.

Spotting some of the trends that are emerging to challenge us even more.

  • Innovation is not the preserve of the (selected) few but the domain of the community.
  • The growing need to move on from the reliance of symbolic projects to justify innovations existence.
  • Recognizing innovation is traversing functions, entities and boundaries faster than ever.
  • Open Innovation is moving out of the R&D Lab and moving very fast across an organization for a more Open Enterprise approach
  • Collaboration is formed at the hip with Co-creation.
  • Design comes increasingly to the fore
  • The shift to ‘open’ workbooks that offer specific step-by-step guides, latest thinking to be shared and freely contributed too.
  • Platforms and ecosystems are emerging to manage complex innovation challenges
  • The power of social innovation, bottom of the pyramid thinking is ‘hot’
  • Reverse innovation and its ability to be rescaled to adapt across different markets is equally a valuable source of growth within organizations. Scaling becomes important.
  • We need to “reconnect to dominant economic activities of the larger society”, add a ‘higher’ purpose into our innovation activity. Scoping is equally important.
  • There is a growing hope we are in the final death throes of the organization, of moving even further away from the linear process that has dominated much of the 20th century thinking.

What are the implications of not advancing in innovation understanding?

  1. Innovation used to be about product, technology and R&D but it is now about value and anything that carries value; it is about creativity and entrepreneurship and it is even more tied to a clear vision so it does become a vital part of the culture of the company.
  2. We are going to have to learn to collaborate across the entire value chain but this is complex and often time-consuming. It will challenge everyone but it can be very rewarding…in faster and more relevant innovations but only if this coordination can be leveraged effectively.
  3. Defining value at the customer point and not within an organization in the R&D lab, as has been the past practice, is a significant shift. The increased focus on the consumers unmet, unarticulated or required needs by making customers central in the web of co-creators and co-creation activities that need to be orchestrated within organizations and their partners.
  4. We have seen some really dramatic shifts in research techniques to know more of what ‘pulls’ and ‘connects’ with consumers – and where more open innovation helps in delivering on this understanding. Equally customers are looking to become more engaged and involved in their products and services. Managing the dynamics and implication of this mental shift will be hard for many.
  5. The shift in emphasis to the customer and their unmet needs makes a really compelling case for increased trend spotting, scouting, aligning and recognizing behavioural changes so as to make insights a real core of your business. Understanding the true source of those ideas is a very different skill set than developing ideas simply  that are emerging from within an organization.
  6. The value of different Business Models to apply within any assessments of innovation is showing increased willingness to develop more ‘spin outs, to encourage the concepts to flourish.  Even in large organisations they are showing more commitment to separating out promising concepts to allow these newly identified opportunities to bear fruit and be more focused, so as to deliver the ‘identified’ result.
  7. The growing willingness to explore Business Model Generation as a deliberate policy  is altering the competitive landscape even more in the chase for growth. Establishing the right approach and business proposition design is becoming a must have skill in evaluation and execution.
  8. The constant ‘quest for growth’ will need an even deeper connection between Marketing and Innovation as they will continue to be two ‘twins’ as the strongest drivers of margin and revenue growth.
  9. The recognition that adopting someones elses best practice is not the ideal way to go, it has been the ‘lazy man’s’ solution needs even more challenging. Defining your specific emergent or good practices that fit your culture and context are clearly better. Your context, your culture, your resources are uniquely different and other peoples ‘best practice’ is not the right starting point.
  10. The art of spending wisely between experimentation, trial and error internally, and receiving knowledge from external expertise for understanding innovation needs to be brought into a better balance . Presently it is not, as external expertise has failed to provide decent thought leadership and internal innovation expertise has not been dedicated as it should have been on implementing the levers of innovation and achieving alignment within the organization. Greater depth of expertise needs to be injected into the equation to gain a deeper understanding of innovation management.
  11. Building a more robust ‘innovation activity system’ into managing innovation that goes beyond just simply pipelines and portfolio’s, needs thinking through. It requires a more open logic model to be articulated and built around.  Many people are contributing more insight today to allow for more early ‘open’ thinking. The pipeline needs a higher level of flexibility and diversity of end result options, and this needs to move beyond just product moving through the innovation system.
  12. There is an increased need to reposition your firm as a “fast discoverer” using rapid intelligence to built into this innovation activity system.
  13. External parties are seeking more involvement in a ‘joint’ innovation processes and development, they are increasingly reliant on each other to become a critical contributor or component provider to resolve more complex problems. There is a growing understanding these mutual dependencies are important to be managed better than at present.
  14. There is an increasing need to manage a diverse group of collaborators across a common process which might not want, or need the same end-result but do need each other, to ‘combine’ for a given concept to be realized. This new complexity of managing for different end results will be a significant challenge to identify and manage these differences across a common platform approach.

Some of the possible obstacles we need to resolve

  • The constant urge to keep trying to force change and disruption on the client with new products and services they find difficult to adopt in their “steady state” life or recognize as really necessary.
  • There is a movement that disrupting is the ‘only’ appropriate innovation solution to change existing market or segments. If this momentum is allowed to flourish and take hold the outcome for many firms will be fraught with many dangers. Managing disruptive innovation really does need deep reflection and clarification of the risks before anyone embarks on this approach.
  • The consistent difficulty of failing to create a listening culture around intellectual mobility and social platforms still lies within organizations to discover, transmit and transform ideas into competitive advantage. Managing this new source of intelligence is proving difficult for many to understand.
  • The balance and current distinctions between older techniques of more structured repositories, file orientated management, document based with the newer ones of browser-based, Web 2.0 approach that is more online often free-flowing, simultaneous wiki-like collaborations that many will have to become accustomed too is a tough area to balance.
  • The issues of achieving a strong strategic alignment by the innovation folks needs to be better understood and managed within organizations.
  • The right timeframe for innovation is what:  next quarter, next year, in three years, in what period? When is a corporation going to learn innovation does not conform to the annual financial calendar, it needs to account for this differently to allow innovations to move with its natural discovery to delivery cycle, not being shoehorned into a unnatural calendar that limits the original concept and compromises the potential result that could have been delivered for perhaps more game changing innovation if it was to be allowed the ‘right’ time .
  • The question still remains on when innovation will be totally embedded in the psyche of the corner office and that the C-level focus innovation really requires to move from emerging to established as a dedicated function.
  • The transformation of new concepts into concrete results that can be well measured is still a challenge to achieive. Innovation needs to show it can clearly make the growth contribution so often talked about but often difficult to  quantify. We do need to show the real value innovation brings in new wealth creation and growth for countries, organizations and society to advance innovations standing.

Innovation can be remarkable if we can embrace it fully

What is remarkable about innovation? It is highly dynamic.  It’s a task that anyone could do, given the time, education, clarity of purpose and the understanding of their contribution. Today, only a few people actually are allowed to work on innovation activities, yet the outcomes are ones that everyone wants and we do need to find ways to allow innovation to be part of each persons daily jobs . Having a sense of purpose to improve or change something through innovation is a powerful enabler.

Getting from where we are today, seemingly bogged down in many of the legacies of past innovation understanding, the reluctance not to adopt a basic common approach to innovation as a minimum is going to continue to limit all the ‘promise’ that is surrounding innovation. Recognising some of the above trends and the implications that are coming rapidly towards is like an express train that will speed pass as we are not yet fit to travel. We do need to rethink innovation fast or it will never achieve its real potential and we will be left simply standing on the station as the train rushes past.