Exploring and amplifying innovation

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

Some have worked better than others. I believe we do need to constantly push the boundaries of innovation, experiment and explore to advance the management of innovation and its understanding.

Getting innovation into the organization mainstream

We do need innovation to enter the mainstream of our everyday thinking, to be something we all feel naturally comfortable undertaking, as part of our make-up for our growth or prosperity. Presently those that are not fully picking up on the value of innovation are happily assuming others are fully active and totally switched on to all that makes up innovation potential. We need to get them involved.

Those that have not fully realized they are as essential to contribute to a sustaining future, based on innovation solutions, so that we can collectively tackle growing societal problems. We need to move the ‘many’ from being the problem to being the ‘engaged’ in mapping out the innovating future so innovation can fulfil its latent potential.

Drawing in the vast majority so we all become innovation savvy

We do need our roadmaps, our blueprints of innovation, our common points of understanding. They are essential when we decide to undertake any journey in our lives. If you don’t have the essential of a compass, spare food and drink, warm clothing, good walking or mountain shoes then you should not venture out into the mountains, you give them a certain respect; I think innovation deserves that as well.

If we do not come together and gain a common language for innovation, not as a throw away buzz point, but as a unifying point, we will never be able to teach and transfer innovation to all the others that have not bothered to pick up on understanding the innovation language.

Why is a common language for innovation important?

Innovation has so many pockets of confusion and traps to fall into for adding to our inefficiencies. We still see so much fragmented energy, plenty of differences of approach and potential misunderstandings. It often saps the very juice of innovation. Organizations have plenty of unproductive capital, even when they hack away at all the undergrowth.

Resource allocation required for good innovation remains patchy, under-served and often starved. We all become increasing busy at fixing what we have, trying to understand those hidden costs, spent energies and lost opportunities.

Until we arrive at a more uniformed approach to innovation, improve the management of innovation and its development within our systems, structures and processes, we will stay stuck in constant re-invention and duplication.

Seeking a common language allows us to form ‘stickiness’ in value, it becomes the glue to align the parts that make up innovation and forms the whole we seek. It can offer a different viewpoint on our future, one that challenges us to evolve and explore. It helps provide a sense of community, a common sharing, a common purpose.

Journeying across the darker side of the innovation moon

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

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

My journey of the past 18 months

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

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

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

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

Exploring the lesser known regions of innovation, amplifying the known

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

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

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

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

Drawing in the vast majority so we all become innovation savvy

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why is a common language for innovation important?

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

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

Reflecting on a journey, translating it into clear outcomes

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

Moving into 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Re-ordering the organization’s genetic code for innovation.

As we enter 2012, what really disappoints me is that we still have not cracked the innovation DNA code sufficiently to embed this within the organizations genetic principles, structures or systems for completing an everyday innovating business. Why is that?

I see no reason why innovation cannot be a clear (integrated) management discipline, shared, taught and fully aligned with an organization’s strategic intent and execution. It needs to have a set of molecules that carry the ‘genetic’ innovation information in logical and a comprehensive arrangement, of its separate elements. These need to be strung together like all living cells by a set of clear rules. The code order defines the sequence, the “alphabet” of the organizations ability to innovate. Well that is how it should look if we want to allow innovation to enter the present DNA of an organization. Innovation cannot sit outside or be run in parallel but it needs to form part of the essential organizational code.

I am convinced innovation can be implicitly understood but I still feel there is an awful lot of conflicting advice being offered that must leave many confused. Let me add to the confusion!

We really do need to break down the existing code of organizations DNA to ‘implant’ innovation within the building blocks. I feel we have four intervention points to reorder the thinking.


1.Decision Makers & Our Rights

An organization rises or falls by its decisions. The people placed in the decision making roles determine what should be going on and what, who and why this (set of) decisions are right for the direction and health of the organization. This is where the vision, the mission, the strategic intent ‘kick-in’ and innovation needs to align to this to achieve the aspirations needed and hopeful growth. Innovation needs to be deeply embedded in this, it needs to be seen, understood on its part it must play. It needs the other part here, the transferring of the rights- the right to think, get involved and where and how they participate in creating something. People need to be invited in.

2. The Motivating Factors

Knowing the objectives, knowing the limits, boundaries and having clarity on the incentives to innovate are crucial. Knowing the underlying values, the beliefs and the encouragements for adding to the climate to innovate can motivate or destroy. Innovation needs not just objectives but a clear understanding of the degrees of freedom and encouragement being made available. This becomes the point of understanding a common language, knowing the policies and key principles to stimulate and further strengthen innovations role it plays. Motivation forms the decision- making body within the alphabet on our abilities to innovate.

3. Knowledge & Information

The intensity of knowledge, the flow of information ‘fuel’ the opportunities that need working upon. I’ve written previously on absorptive capacities (http://bit.ly/mV7zjP ) about learning to absorb new innovation knowledge and describe this part of the DNA need in some detail there. Also I wrote earlier on the need to move towards a more distributed innovation model (http://bit.ly/b38ixv ) describing the flows for gaining more engagement and deeper involvement. It is the consistent, open flow of knowledge and information in stronger collaborative platform ways that will be the spearhead and stimulation points for innovation to be valued and seen for its worth. The coordination and collaborative nature of innovation really needs to be engrained in any DNA and everything that looks like a silo, you need to have some form of ‘bunker busting’ way to neutralise this really harmful effect on any innovation organism.

4. Structure & Scope

Innovation is often very uncomfortable to embrace. It chips away at well established processes and structures. The power of established processes are the bedrock of organizational memory and the skill to ‘unpick’ those that hold back innovation (for growth) from those that unite the often difficult task of managing across an organization is really challenging. There are ‘points of conscious choice’ in what to abandon, what to loosen up and what to adopt. Having people who are skilful at recognizing the implications becomes vital. They need depth of understanding across the business, they need to seek a ‘power’ balance and they can’t afford to upset (too much) the regular operating rhythm unless it is seen to be a better way forward. Often innovation is incompatible with ongoing operations but usually needs just targeted organizational change.

What is critical in my mind though is that innovation cannot be isolated from ongoing operations; there must be a continued engagement and ‘creative tension’ between the two. What is clear you do need a formal, intentional resource commitment to innovation and its ongoing integration, it is most unlikely to be organic.

We need to identify all the innovation impediments.

To make any transition, to embed any different DNA you do need a management makeover. Often today’s approaches to managing can conflict. Innovation can be strangled if you try to simply embed it into existing parameters. There are inbuilt inhibitors that are deep and systemic. Bringing to the surface the current political and ideological factors is no easy task. Spotting what is more innovation friendly becomes necessary and this is why having innovation visible from the top, integrated in all decisions draws out the impediments. The antibodies need to be recognized to successfully overcome them and then put in place a DNA sequence that works that has innovation as more of the core.

“Relentless Innovation” by Jeffrey Phillips certainly helps.

Jeffrey has written a timely book, released in December 2011.  His basic argument is that today’s typical business model impedes innovation as the emphasis is still on efficiency (at any cost), alongside the cost-cutting for supposedly short-term gain. He terms this as “business as usual” (BAU) and it actively rejects the innovation effort, so much called for by CEO’s and needed for regaining growth.  He also points his finger at a problem that has perhaps been ‘hidden in plain sight’ that the middle manager is plainly not equipped to manage innovation, alongside all of their other activities; something has to give or be put into a new balance.

He believes he can achieve a ‘dual capability’ of achieving efficiency and innovation into a consistent set of capabilities that can become a core everyday discipline.  I would recommend buying a copy and I feel you will appreciate and identify with many of the arguments laid out by him, for challenging the way we are still running our organizations.

Making a shift needs a new innovation DNA alphabet.  

Innovation is a shift from those known, consistent, honed sometimes comfortable processes to unknown, unexpected and unusual ones. This makes anyone uncomfortable but if you demand really path breaking innovation you need to recognize your organization needs some significant changes to ‘allow’ innovation to be integrated into your existing processes.

To initiate this shift and integrate innovation, it does needs a new rebalancing to take place. A new DNA sequence where innovation reorders the genetic code of the organization between what Jeffrey talks about of balancing the investments made in efficiency with the new needs of placing innovation within the sequencing required for any organization today, to deliver a healthier model for sustaining growth in the world 0f 2012 and beyond.

Understanding the makeup up of the innovation DNA codes and where the parts fits within, and alongside, many of your existing practices is essential. We need to finally crack this code in 2012. Just remember to ‘invite’ people in who understand the consequences and impact points and can ‘graft’ the right gene into the right order for the synthesizing process this needs (for you) to be successful.