We need the engagement platform for translating big data learning

Knowledge BuildingBig Data is knocking very loudly on our door, how are you going to let it in and manage it?

How can we liberate that creative energy we have within our organizations, how can we achieve higher engagement?

How can we learn, share and transform the knowledge that is all around us, simply flooding in? How can we translate the data flowing in with the knowledge insights and innovation outcomes expected? How are we going to unleash the creativity that goes with new knowledge?

We need to actively encourage connected minds for value creating opportunities and knowledge sharing for innovation to flow right across all the organization. All the raw data needs connected and engaged minds.

“For this we need to think about installing a modern engagement platforms that has knowledge and learning as its beating heart”

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Building Collective Agility for Innovation

Collective Agility PostAgility is important to me. For me, agility and innovation have needed to always go together. I named my company Agility Innovation Specialists and at its core, we state that the value of this focus can offer a real “intensity in innovation” that we believe reflects today’s world of need.

We encourage you to disrupt the accepted, to constantly challenge the current ways and push into uncomfortable territory. We suggest you seek out customer’s unmet needs, unexplored opportunities to give a new diversity to any thinking, and then we set about accelerating these ideas to fruition. Those all need abundant and constant agility.

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Learning favours the brave

Knowledge and learning 4The challenges we are facing today seem to be coming faster at us, more complex to decipher and then re-evaluate how we should respond. To achieve faster response we certainly need to educate the organization more than ever.

We need to absorb more, we need to encourage learning more especially to pursue innovation. We need to actively set up learning ways within our organizations to establish their abilities to recognize the value of new, external information (knowledge), to assimilate it, and apply it to commercial ends.

Innovation within the organization needs not just greater recognition of its vital parts, but also of its status as a value enhancing and organizational life-changing event that we need to move towards increasingly in more organized ways. Innovation needs to be recognized as a clear discipline, a new expertise that is as powerful as Marketing became some decades ago.

Seeking out knowledge that feeds our innovations

Knowledge and learning 3The more we embrace change and recognize innovation demands more of our time, the more we seek out knowledge that ‘feeds’ innovation. And the more we ‘push’ for learning, the greater chance we have of thriving in a challenging world.

The expectation ‘bar’ needs to be raised from those practicing innovation, I feel the constant need is for those working within innovation they have this real need to raise their game significantly. Innovation needs organizing but it also needs a better understanding of its contributing parts.

Learning and Education should always start at home.

The earlier we learn, have open interactions and form linkages, the more we will be ready to advance innovation into what it must become: a discipline highly valued for what it contributes with in terms of wealth and growth potential.

We need to find the determination to underpin the capacity for innovation, lying within us all, and that comes from knowledge and education through collaborative learning. So what is your capacity for innovation really like within your organization? Is the learning required for innovation set up in structured ways or left to individual learning and experimentation?

Do either structured or informal ways feed back into the organizational learning system to benefit others? Or is the knowledge gained just left ‘resident’ in the person, not being put to that greater use?

Knowledge exchange is the way forward but we need to avoid the easy paths.

Knowledge and learning 2Organizations need to move well beyond their lazy reliance on best practice comparison and they need to find better ways to explore emerging practices. But that takes many into the realm of increasing uncertainties, and most people and organizations are not trained for this exploration and experimentation.

It is easy to copy but we often fail to recognize all the contextual factors that went into making it that one specific organizations good practice, and I guarantee these are not yours!

Best practice has their comparable uses but it is your focusing on the good and emerging practices within your own organization is the area to focus, for learning and wanting to improve into those that make your practices really work. Then applying, experimenting and learning from novel practices that provide growing confidence in creative thinking.

Also give some thought for next practice, those practices that prompt reinvention. They start such totally fresh thinking, they challenge existing paradigms and move you towards considering new business models.

Organizations constantly anticipate risk by reducing all the variables within risk and play safe with just being incremental. Is that wrong? No, as long as we have our reward systems geared to short-term performance, while we measure leadership success the way we presently do, and the shareholder just expects consistent dividends as their part of the equation and is quickly mobilized to force change if it does not meet this immediate aim, we head down the wrong path.

We are not sustaining our organization and we are not advancing ourselves either, we are destroying much in our current approaches. We do need to focus more on the competence-enhancing not competence-destroying aspects.

We need to re-balance the “risk and opportunity” to push our use of new knowledge into fresh innovation that ‘advances’ on the existing. To recognize the difference we need to encourage knowledge to be ‘freely’ exchanged, and then provide the environment to encourage a re-educating on ‘seeing and exploring’ new possibilities that allow us to grow.

Shifting the knowledge needle takes real commitment

Knowledge and learning 1Can we recognize that choosing the tougher pathway of building our own distinct capabilities, learning block by learning block, is the right one to follow. This allows us to build capacities that are ours, seeking out the knowledge to build the absorptive capacity that acquire, assimilate, transform and exploit, so as to give us greater chances of finding new innovation that is valued and allows us all to grow and gain from this dedicated learning.

I can’t change our prevailing system but I can point to alternatives and suggest we have other options, ones pursued by the few, which are more visionary and brave and often disrupting the accepted. These are building on novel and unique practices, extracted not from others best practices but from emerging practices learn by deliberate design and our own personal experiences, formed within our organizations unique view of the ‘take of and place in’ the world.

Finding our own way relies mostly on us to find the answers. We grow by seeking out knowledge as it feeds our minds to find our unique ways to contribute and share.

Absorptive Capacity, Knowledge Management and Innovation

Source : Haas Leadership Initiative

Let’s start with some defining statements. Innovation is totally dependent on becoming aware of external ideas and the knowledge that is need and translated. We can ‘fall over these ideas’ or we can find ideas or concepts through explicit search. Then to translate these and turn them into something new and different we need to have established some sort of diffusion and dissemination processes. Having this established as a sustaining system provides an essential source to building organizations capabilities and competencies.

The more we work external knowledge the more we potentially enhance and multiply its value from a single idea into the potentials for multiple innovations. Having a systematic framework can be dramatic for generating new knowledge and gathering ideas for new innovation potential.

Throughout this post I’ll link into previous posts that you might like to explore but this is not necessary.

The issue is how we set about adopting and adapting new knowledge.

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Seeking a new middle management’s innovation perspective

It is often claimed that the middle manager seems to the ones holding back innovation. I tend to subscribe to this as well although I feel the circumstances and ‘blame’ might lie elsewhere, more than likely further up the organization. Irrespective of where the culpability lies we do need to change this perception through altering the current dynamics.

The general argument goes that the middle manager is so pressured to focus on the delivery of short-term results that all their efforts are centred far more on delivering ‘just’ an effective organization, that drives out any excess or leeway, reduces variation, constantly dampening down potential risk and uncertainty that is in direct conflict with what innovation required.

By the middle managers obsession with constantly chasing efficiencies alone, there is little ‘slack’ for innovation and new learning. Their measurement is often based on this efficiency and effectiveness emphasis and not on generating innovation.

Resources are often in conflict when it comes to innovation. They are being stretched far more, pushed hard on being involved in multiple tasks and with the prevailing mentality to keep their focus on generating the immediate short-term results. This not only squashes out opportunity to explore, it is actually squeezing the middle managers ability to build a more flexible, responsive organization. Innovation is in direct ‘tension’ with much that is being undertaken at middle management level.

This does result in working towards a well-tuned and efficient operating system but it seems one that is not capable to allow innovation to move from a collection of ad hoc activities into one that builds progressively that more sustaining innovation structure, establishing a deepening set of capabilities that this requires.

Although organizations claim to be innovative often the very people that we are expecting to manage the ‘dynamics of innovation’ within organizations, the Middle Managers, are seeking the very opposite, doing everything possible to keep the environment as stable and consistent as it can be. They are taking away the ‘vital essences’ that innovation needs – a fluid, agile, open, diverse and flexible environment and putting consistent constraints and barriers in the way in their pursuit of efficiency and predictable effectiveness.

So how can this change? How can we move the needle and tilt it more towards innovation becoming more central without inflicting a more radical overhaul, one that is unlikely to happen in most existing organizations.

Let’s turn the existing core competencies needed for middle managers on their head and offer a new mix of primary, critical and core capabilities that are the measuring point for the MM’s new core competency set that provides for a clearer  innovation focus as essential to master.

1.       Core competences need to be changed – we should flip the requirements

We all recognize that the dedicated middle manager holds the organization together. They are often the glue that connects the organization with the leadership and enable the ‘forces’ to flow, yet do they allow this for innovation?  In traditional Chinese culture qì (also chi or ch’i) is an active principle forming part of any living thing. Qi is frequently translated as “life energy”, “life force”, or the energy flow “and innovation is the same vital need within organizations.

Let’s flip the thinking

Flipping the thinking on capabilities around for the Middle Manager

Flipping the thinking on capabilities around for the Middle Manager

  • ·         Primary becomes the base not the pinnacle. What they do in efficiency and effectiveness remains as their primary capability – you don’t alter this, it is too engrained. This can only change over time and through their inner awareness and recognition that innovation needs to be embedded, alongside the existing ‘fixation’ on efficiency and effectiveness. Don’t try to radically change, make progressive step changes. Efficiency and effectiveness clearly remains the inventory repertoire of solid capabilities so as you set about to build a new platform, based on innovation, it layers and interlocks
  • ·         You target selected critical capabilities to learn and explore. You provide the MM a clarity of the new and emerging critical capabilities they need to build up. These are the capabilities that will provide the greatest impact for competitive advantage, not internal but external in all its orientation.
  • ·         At the top of the pyramid is the core capabilities they need to have. This cluster of capabilities is centred on the critical capabilities to make innovation main stream, to be a daily part of their thinking, their make-up, their intent to ensure happens. These differ according to the role, area of focus and contribution.

2.  We need to focus the middle manager on different learning concepts

Peter Senge and his learning organisation concept is helpful in establishing an innovation learning organization. His five main characteristics are system thinking, personal mastery, mental models, a shared vision and team learning. In summary these are:

Systems thinking – the idea would be to introduce a distinct innovation system thinking approach that needs to be in place within their organization. Overtime it will help measure the performance of the organization as a whole, and of its various components, and the organization shifts in the very ground for middle managers has to manage within.

 Personal mastery – the commitment by an individual to the process of learning is known as personal mastery, so it is therefore important to develop a culture where personal mastery is practised in daily life, based on clear innovation capabilities and capacities needed to be practised.

Mental models – the assumptions held by individuals and organizations are called mental models and these are seemingly, stuck more in the efficiency and effectiveness ones at present. To become a learning organization, these models must be challenged.

Shared vision – the creation and constant development of a shared vision on innovation and its place within the organisations activities, to make it a core and so create that essential common identity and sense of purpose. This sharing and identity gives real focus and energy for learning and exploring what ‘makes up’ innovation.

 Team learning – the accumulation of individual learning constitutes the last aspect, into team learning. The value of the middle manager in bringing people and their contributions together is vital, this is done in innovation efficient and effective ways through increasing experimentation and shared learning to explore and understand the aspects that work and can be honed more.

The emphasis in learning needs a more radical shift in encouraging boundary crossing and openness and seeking out a more networked, relationship environment that draws in increasing external perspectives to compliment the internal knowledge already built up.

3. Then we need to work the innovation learning ‘muscles’ through the three learning loops

Reinforcing loops 1

Reinforcing loops to strengthen the innovation change management  (Peter Senge)

So the middle manager has to begin to think through a new agenda for innovation change and the organization has to ‘fully’ provide the necessary support and structure for them to move towards this (radical) change in their managing within the middle.

The value is the middle becomes our connector for innovation

Middle managers tasks should increasingly become more about performing the role of connectors and facilitators, not the guardians and gatekeepers for the decision makers.  Their work should include the encouragement that everyone is engaged in innovation work, for each person to constantly go back and check against this integrated innovation framework to work out their place to relate to this and become aligned.

The middle manager carries through connection and identification. Making sure everyone has a ‘sight-line’ and identification into their contribution for any organizational innovation framework so they stay well-connected and engaged.

Communication and relationships becomes the key. We need to find that new high ground for middle managers to be seen as the real connectors and enablers and not the current view as more often than not the blockers on innovation.

All we need to do is convince the top they need to provide the Innovation framework for this to work and that can come through the form of the Executive Innovation Work Mat no less.

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.

A No Better Moment

When you have some sun on your back after a long period of those winter months, you just always begin to feel life is so much better going forward. Life seems to reawaken within. I often wish we could capture the ‘sense’ of spring and what it promises to bring from this change of season. Those of us who witness the change of seasons are so lucky.

I’ve also been reminded recentlyabout the phrase offered by a number of leaders to explain a positive encouraging shift after a tough time, it goes like this: “we do see some green shoots that are offering some early signs of growth and recovery.”

Spring captures that growth moment. It is often talking to us of renewal. Innovation needs that capturing opportunity as well.

Freezing the moment to listen

Tell me why are we so notoriously bad at not learning from our past downturns? We still fail to talk to each other, to spend the time to reflect, to learn, to adjust, and too observe. So much is “brushed under the carpet.”

We still can’t find a common language of understanding within organizations, or dealing across organizations. We just simply end up spending a ridiculously large part of our time “talking at each other, or across each other” We lose so much time, energy and opportunity.

We are simply losing so much time in the innovation debates

Innovation is challenging, it is complex, yet we chose to ignore so much of what is available to us to ‘spot’ new possibilities, resolve those unmet needs or improve on what is offered to help in our daily needs.

There is no better moment than to stop and rediscover how to listen, to truly listen. Just stop for one minute. Innovation is calling for a common language, a common understanding yet all I hear is the consistent throb of different views, making it difficult to interpret what is right, what is wrong.

With there being so much conflicting advice being offered in this innovation space we ‘freeze’; regretfully not for the right reason, to enjoy the moment, to learn from it, to take something positive away to improve our lives but more than often we become even more unsure and stop listening. We shut out many of the sounds because they conflict, they are jarring and not as they should be, in harmony.

The search for a common language

I’ve argued, as have others, we need to find a common language for innovation. Alexander Osterwalder in his opening to his concept of the Business Model Canvas always starts by posing the question on Business Models “We lack a common language” as everyone see’s the business model differently, if at all. The brilliance within his canvas approach is that it offers a unique way to bring everyone onto the same page. We need to do this across more of innovation’s activities- to bring everyone on the same page.

I see the canvas approach taking hold in many different ways. I’ve read about the Enterprise Canvas, the Business Architecture Canvas, the Lean Canvas, and recently the Business Case Canvas.

I watch with growing interest the approach taken by Paidi O’Reilly, along with some of his colleagues in Ireland, who are presently working on the development of their view of an Innovation modelling software tool. It offers up at its heart, an Innovation Model Canvas, for moving from generation to commercialization.

I’d come up one level on what I’ve seen and read of Paidi’s work and argue we need an Innovation Structure Canvas as well. One that articulates the innovation environment we would wish to operate within. Something that ‘frame’s’ innovation from that firms perspective so we can keep going back to this overarching ‘innovation canvas’ to confirm and test where we are going to see if we are achieving the climate and environment we agreed .

We also need to combine forces

If we could learn to capture,  articulate and explore what we want to achieve on this “Innovation Structure Canvas” we can really begin to talk to others in a shared language. Open innovation, collaborative innovation is fraught with misunderstanding. Whenever we engage with others we must work hard at overcoming differences of opinion, if we want to engage them in our venture.

Structuring our conversations firstly around this canvas perhaps is a good way to test and validate what is in there, shown on this one page canvas so we can gain far more quickly from the other person’s reaction in smarter ways. They can identify or challenge what we want to achieve and we all can achieve and go to a deeper level of conversation by sharing this common starting point.

Steve Blank argues we all need to get out of the office more and test our hypothesis. Innovation is uncertain, it is often made up of guesses and hunches, of sparks of ideas and the more we can ‘show’ its potential value, the more others can relate and improve on that concept. Steve has a customer development process based on two distinct parts- search and execution.Creating a right environment for innovation is made up of a constant ongoing search and execution also.

Business the world over is in search of growth, more today than for a long time. We are ‘emerging’ from a severe downturn, a shock to the world’s economies and one thing recently struck me as a gap to fill, to build a bridge across a divide.

Seeking each other out

Large organizations are desperately searching for ways to change, to adapt to the new circumstances and challenges happening. The problem for many is they simply don’t know how too, the more they try, the more it seems complex. They often lack the real courage to rip up the existing business model and all that supports it. They presently are searching for the how too so as to navigate in these choppy waters of change.

Small organizations are seemingly more nimble, less burdened with heritage, legacy, superstructures that weigh you down and they can see so many breaking opportunities on where change is happening. They are closer to the ground from ‘seeing it’ to ‘reacting to it’ quickly but so often get held back for the lack of the very resources large organizations have, often in abundance, to mobilize and capitalize once they are set on a course.

Now is a good time for both large and small to find their ‘complementaries’, to recognize that have value even more to collaborate together. The large organization might have to moderate it ‘predatory’ behaviour though, the small organization’s fear of ‘David and Goliath’ and worried their ‘single shot’ is not going to make the mark does need careful and consideration in managing.

They both need to find new ways to combine, so the ones that have resources work with the ones that have the ‘sharper’ pulse of seeing opportunity, and this combination of ‘creative juices’ and ‘appropriate resource and energy’ are combined for mutual gain far more in collaborative, mutually sharing ways. Not in the old ways of simply ‘acquisition’ that so often tended to destroy the very entrepreneurial essence that gave the success to the venture.

The back of a napkin

Great ideas are often captured on a napkin, on one page. We need to find ways where that initial capture of a great idea, of a real reason for instance on why ‘we’ should combine forces, needs some capturing mechanism.  The concept of the one page canvas can be the place to paint our vision but in a structured way and the initial meeting place for innovation to come alive for all those that choose to go there.

A road map that ‘speaks’ of growth, of differentiation, of operational and execution excellence and customer potential/ acceptance as the necessary building blocks, of how to achieve it, so others can ‘see it’, challenge or improve upon it because they are “speaking the same language.”

By the way check this out: the Napkin Academy on http://bit.ly/HrYhKX

The pressing need is in finding a different ways to talk a common language.

If we do want to move beyond our past ways to manage, top down, bottom up, we need to engage far more people, across a far more diverse marketplace of interested parties. We need to draw them in, to seek their participatation and understanding, within our innovation canvas design, so we are all on this same page.

We might want to extend the concept of the canvas across business in even more novel designs than the Business model canvas so we can quickly sketch, to discuss and to listen to all those who chose to want to engage, who equally want to share and seek out fresh opportunity.

Innovation might be made of many things intangible but it can be captured. We need to allow it to be seen, just like those first ‘green shoots’, so it can be nurtured, improved upon and fully shared in common understanding.

Just like spring, we need to ‘trigger all our senses’ for  the need to grow, to talk to each other in a common language and appreciate how we are going to ‘set about’ innovation by achieving this new growth that can only be really achieved in a different way of shared understanding.