Organizations are in a constant dilemma concerning innovation

Organization's innovation dilemma.The issue of “where does innovation fit?” is one of the most difficult ones to address in many organizations. It seems to fit uncomfortably for many.

At the top of our organizations they ‘require’ innovation but will often not want the potential disruption this might entail.

Yet the organization today is being challenged like never before, it has gone from managing the predictable business to responding to the unpredictable, more opportunistic and alert to change, a place innovation can fit within the need to respond to this different environment.

This is the final post in the series that has focused on the innovation work mat components

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Entering the zone of innovation uncertainty

“The future never stays the same as it is in the present”. 

Today we grapple with more uncertainty than ever before. For many of us this is the time of year when planning out the future becomes more ‘top of mind’. These are moments where we have to stop chasing the daily numbers, pushing the immediate projects that are in the pipeline and turn our attention to laying out our future plans. Sadly we often make a poor ‘stab’ at this thinking through process; we don’t get our thinking into the right mental frames.

The problem for management is anything discussing the future enters the ‘zone of uncertainty’ and this ability to often ‘read the tea leaves’ can very much determine the future health and direction of the organization. Ignore these shifts or signals and you are on the path to your own ‘destruction’.

Three Horizons Future never stays the same

Not only should we search for possibilities that extend and strengthen our existing core offerings but we should search out on a wider basis.

Often we make a complete mess of this planning out of our future.

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The fog surrounding innovation

I’ve been in a little bit of an innovation fog recently, I’m possibly losing orientation. I hear so much sound around me but it is becoming disorientating, I’m not sure where to tread.  Am I heading in the right direction, or going off on a tangent, away from much that is “the place to be”.

The more I read, the less I understand, yet the more I read, the greater my awareness of innovation and all the mountains we have still to climb. It is a never-ending journey it seems, yet I’ve found I have pressed the pause button. I need some time to allow the fog to lift but can I afford too?

There is this increasing intensity of innovation wisdom being produced daily, you can just get utterly and totally all-absorbed in all the nuances, all that advice. So much that is written is offering the ways forward on past approaches, highlighting where we are going wrong on past experiences, and in some cases providing the “cure all” simply all within one article based on their narrow view of the solution, set in a specific context. It can bring you to a stand-still but much more than this, it can all be highly dangerous.

Funnily enough, if you do stop and listen, even when there is so much swirling on around you, you begin to hear different voices; you begin to discern new sounds. Often those people who are alert to these faint sounds  like to group these under “weak signals” or “future plausible directions”.

“Futures studies is the study of postulating possible, probable, and preferable futures and the worldviews and myths that underlie them. What is likely to continue and what could plausibly change.”  (Wikipedia )

A little postulation for possible and probable futures has a long way to go in innovation.

I sort of like this. The key word for me is “postulate” suggesting (for each of us) that the assumptions – the countless words, the proffered advice –  all has grains of truth, and form a small part of the argument or theory of innovation – trying to make the business case for change. Are they or holding us in the past?

It is really getting harder to sift through all this advice, this deluge offered in the name of innovation to pick what is sound and valid and applicable to our needs expected from innovation? Much within these messages is actually holding us back. In truth, much of it should be totally ignored. It is missing the future, it is far to rooted in the past.

I often do wonder why innovation is so elusive and seemingly hard.  Should we simply agree to manage innovation as individuals differently, or should management recognize finally that innovation is actually different and turn their serious attention to it? We do need to allow those in the organization to think, to have time to personally think, to be creative, and to become fully aware of each of our own powerful contributions to all our future well-being through innovating.

The need for emerging fusion needs amplifying.

Innovation relies on engagement and exchange, on relying on people wanting to be involved. We need to cut through the chatter, blow away the fog, the swirling advice and go back to basics, otherwise we continue to confuse. We are actually discouraging serious investment in all that makes up innovation as it seems, on the surface and in all the countless, often highly conflicting opinions, as just simply impossible to get our ‘heads around’ yet we do need a seismic shift in our thinking.

Where we do need to take innovation is in combining all of its fusion points that we have available to us. Those that can combine aspects of art, design, engineering, technology, social awareness and in all the different disciplines of science by coming together and coalescing in unique ways is where we will see the great innovations of the future, those that will tackle this set of economic, social and political problems pressing in on us. It is at the intersections spoken about in a terrific book that still occupies much of my thinking “The Medici Effect” by Frans Johansson that will give us in his words: “the breeding grounds of breakthrough ideas.”

What is very clear to me is the management of innovation needs to change to take on our growing set of global and local challenges in completely different ways. We do seem to need a new generation of top managers to blow away the cobwebs of 20th century management thinking.

The weak signals I seem to be hearing

I hear new sounds that give me hope on innovation emerging out of its “dark age” of our crude attempts to fit innovation into existing structures that are no more “fit for purpose”. We need some more enlightenment through the evolution of innovation’s management and all it means.

Possibly I do hear the growing sounds of a new age of enlightenment concerning innovation that is presently confusing and confounding me. It is being mixed in with much that is old, of past value. Perhaps we all need to become more discerning. But we do need to push the advancing of numerous new theories, experiment more to learn new ways because the way innovation is presently structured in organizations is simply not working, as well as it can do.

Maybe if we can gain a new momentum for the management of innovation so we can lift the fog, mine, and I bet yours, if you pause long enough. Until then I think this fog will drift in and out until there is enough behind the reforming wind to allow us to ‘advance’ again. It would help me gain more of the “true north” I need again in my innovation orientation.

So I have to cut out all the extraneous noise and begin to strive even more for the way out of this current fog. Where is that compass of mine? It points towards the future of innovation, which is so very different from the past, where so many seem to be trapped and suggesting our answers still lie. How wrong they are, I must follow those ‘weak signals’ to lead me out of this current fog, ignoring much that is stuck in the past.

The essential innovation vision

In a recent leadership study on innovation by Capgemini Consulting, one of the studies top line concerns was the lack of a well-articulated innovation strategy, and then beyond this, a lack of organizational understanding of the linkages required.

It is amazing how many organizations lack a clear innovation vision and an explicit set of statements from the Chief Executive or their designated C-Level Officer on innovation.

One great visual paints a thousand words

This visual I came across some years back, and for me, it is outstanding in providing the feedback loops that go into developing the right innovation vision. To get to a definitive end point of having an innovation vision you are faced with some complex challenges. These are well shown here. Each influences the other and constantly loop back, making hopefully an improving vision success.

The critical feedback needs for constructing an innovation vision

The different challenges seen in this terrific depiction, provide the sort of dialogue and efforts that needs to go into ‘crafting’ the innovation vision. It is hard, thoughtful work. Lets look at each of these a little more.

The Time Challenge

We get caught in annual planning cycles that often leave little time for ‘considered’ opinion and debate. The annual plans all come in a deluge and this is plainly wrong. Creating a vision needs a lot of time to consider all the aspects. The ‘time gap’ seriously impacts the visions success and clarity of purpose

The Diversity Challenge

Not only within the same board room do you have a diversity of opinion, you have that up and down any organization. Getting the views first out in the open, then managing the conflicting aspects and dealing with the ‘polarization effects’ all is difficult. This is where a dedicated focus, a Chief Innovation Officer, can really make a difference. To get people to talk about the vision, what it should stand for, what needs to happen leads eventually to a greater clarity.

The Relationship Challenge

Managing the relationships both within and outside the organization when it comes to the right thinking on innovation is hard, converting doubters, drawing out differences, improving the quality of any conversations around innovation (ideally with facts not conjecture) and raising the enthusiasm to engage is crucial to moving towards the right vision

The Vision Cap Challenge

There is a reality to what and where you are and the perceived gap that need addressing honestly. This  is something we tend to be very poor at, is, holding a ‘creative’ tension that can stimulate and create a vibrant and exciting innovation vision. We try to dampen the divergence in opinions far too early so we can (quickly) got to convergence. This ‘keenness’ to take away the ‘creative’ tension tends to replace it with potential set of ‘destructive’ ones and this often creates much of the beginnings of the barriers to innovation. People resent not being well listened too or allowed time to develop their arguments.

The Vision and its Success

If you get people to ‘freely’ talk about innovation, its importance, its impact and can ‘paint’ the future in broad brush strokes, they achieve a growing clarity and enthusiasm and that often missing critical component a sense of shared identity.

Innovation is complex; it deals with formal and informal mechanisms. There is an awful lot to constructing a solid innovation vision but believe me, it is even harder to understand the right components that make up the innovation strategy, so it does eventually become a well-articulated innovation strategy. More on this to come at a later date.

What’s hot and what is not in Innovation currently?

So what is hot, what is not in innovation at present? Any thoughts?

What do we need to remind ourselves about as we go about our ‘daily’ innovation business?

Some of my top of the mind quick thoughts:

  • Innovation is not the preserve of the (selected) few but the domain of the community. Driving this message home yields a real upsurge of new, often exciting activity that you would have missed out upon without engaging the broader community.
  • This absolute growing need to move on from the reliance of symbolic projects to justify innovations existence. Stop dipping your toe in the water, just jump in and get wet. Get everyone involved and wanting to contribute.
  • Recognizing innovation is traversing functions, entities and boundaries faster than ever. Find ways to get out of the way to allow it to flow where the energy goes and then ‘attempt’ to capture it for the good of all.
  • Open Innovation is moving out of the R&D Lab and moving very fast across an organization for a more Open Enterprise approach. Keep breaking down those barriers of resistance to allow this openness to further take hold, expand and contribute into your everyday thinking.
  • Collaboration is formed at the hip with Co-creation. Making sure you are extracting your fair share of value from all these exchanges.
  • Design is certainly coming increasingly to the fore and working through how and where it fits within the innovation mix and valuing it for its ‘added’ worth.
  • The combining of great design and appropriate functionality giving your customers what they need and feel good about is a powerful combination to achieve.
  • Platforms and ecosystems are emerging to manage complex innovation challenges and knowing where and how you can fit into these to extract more is essential.
  • The power of social innovation and linking your product to societal needs Scaling becomes important to expand this out.
  • We need to “reconnect to dominant economic activities of the larger society”, add a ‘higher’ purpose into our innovation activity.
  • The bottom of the pyramid thinking is really ‘hot,’ very relevant in today’s more cost conscious market conditions.
  • Reverse innovation and its ability to be rescaled to adapt across different markets is equally a valuable source of growth within organizations. We do need to learn from others on what is actually possible so a product can enter previous untapped markets.
  • There is a growing hope we are in the final death throes of the organization, of moving even further away from the linear process of cause and effect that has dominated much of the 20th century thinking.
  • Innovation needs to respond to the market and the needs. It does need to be more ‘frugal’ or matching more closely the pockets of your consumer. Equally there is always a wish for something to ‘wow’ us. The two ends just need understanding more to get right.
  • For me, the one that stays always top of mind is setting innovation in its context so this can be understood by others so they can find their ways to contribute.

I’m sure you have some that are important to you. Just remember to keep them in focus as we go around our daily work, or least we sometimes forget.

Clear trends are shaping the future of innovation

In the last week or so I took a step back to look at the emerging trends around innovation. It certainly seems to have a bright future but its management is growing in complexity. It now needs a deeper understanding than ever. Are we achieving that?

My viewpoint on observing different innovation dilemmas:

  • Innovation used to be about product, technology and R&D but it is far more now about value and anything that carries value. It is about creativity and entrepreneurship and it is even more tied to a clear vision today than ever, so it does become a vital part of the culture of the company. Innovation and its potential value generation have certainly broadened out in options and needs even more to be tightly integrated with the strategy- how different types of innovation are aligned is really critical. I think many organizations are failing badly on this alignment recognition.
  • The growing appreciation that richer opportunities are to be found across the entire value chain by how we manage and view this. Making the strategic choice of what should remain in house as a contributor to the core and which can be outsourced to specialists better equipped and more focused on that part. This is making innovation far more complex and will challenge everyone but it can be very liberating and more rewarding providing the value can be recognized and leveraged effectively …in faster and more relevant innovations that deliver from the core or adjacencies or through others better equipped to add their value. The key to outsourcing is resolving the questions of can this be effectively coordinated on who manages what, and who owns what, and how it is exploited, for the added value and impact this can offer each party.
  • There is a clear recognition that defining real value lies more at the customer point and not within an organization in the R&D lab, as has been the past practice. Getting the customer involved as early as you can from discovery to delivery- the end to end of innovation- extracts greater potential value. There has been a growing shift for innovations to meet exact customer needs and also discover their unmet needs and then working back to developing the solutions. This increased customer focus will continue by making them more central in any web of co-creators and co-creation activities that needs to be undertaken around innovation discovery and its final delivery.
  • External parties are seeking more involvement in a ‘joint’ innovation processes and the development process as early as they can. Partners are becoming increasingly reliant on each other to become a critical contributor or component provider to resolve more complex problems. Understanding these mutual dependencies is important to be recognized and actively managed in new collaborative ways.
  • We have seen some really dramatic shifts in research techniques to know more of what ‘pulls’ and ‘connects’ with consumers. Customers are also looking to become more engaged and involved in their products and services, in what they expect and wish to be associated with. Managing these dynamics and often the emotional mix is hard and often frustratingly complex, to decipher and interpret.  The new work is to be positioned as the ‘orchestrator’ of these dialogues across the organization and in drawing in through collaboration with the partners, by constructing the conduits and business platforms where the flow of exchanges takes place where new concepts evolve.
  • The shift in emphasis to the customer makes a really compelling case for increased emphasis to be made on trend spotting, scouting, aligning and recognizing behavioural changes so as to make insights a real core of your business, more the source of those ideas than leaving ideas simply emerging from within an organization. Stringing together an often diverse set of signals calls for higher capability in pattern recognition and appreciating more about complex adaptive systems and the part they play. These are where dynamic networks of interactions and relationships merge and adapt differently, so individual and collective behaviour changes as a result of the experience, leading to emerging new opportunities to explore.
  • There is an increasing need to manage a diverse group of collaborators across a common process. Often these parties might not want or need the same end-result but do need each other to ‘combine’ for a given result. This will benefit their individual businesses and add new dimensions in this collaboration space, to then deliver different outcomes than the existing solutions in place today fail to do. There is a real value of combining and working through a common business platform, to achieve individual and collective aims and equally, enhance the total delivery experience (Delivering Applications around Android are a good example here or Apples developer platform). Platforms bring together developers, providers and customers that can scale or contract accordingly and if well managed can drive business strategy in dramatically new ways.
  • Building a more robust ‘activity system’ into managing innovation, beyond just simply pipelines and portfolio’s needs thinking through. It requires a more open logic model to be articulated and built around so as to allow for more early ‘open’ thinking, exploring and investigating multiple options. Far too often an idea is screened out far to early and not explored in a wider context of ‘seeing things differently’. Equally the lack of flexibility of concepts simply moving through the innovation system with a one dimensional end result of ‘just’ product without exploring the value of services, or even combining them, can miss huge growth opportunities .
  • The value and growing appreciation about exploring different Business Models has increasing value. Providing the necessary space to explore emerging opportunities with new business models is becoming a must for accelerating growth through innovation and experimentation. Showing that increased willingness to separate and develop more ‘spin offs to encourage the concepts to flourish is more frequent from larger organizations that will increasingly challenge the young upstarts. By showing more commitment to separating off exciting new concepts to bear fruit quickly and to be allowed to more highly focused, so as to deliver the ‘seen’ result will allow larger organizations to be more nimble and responsive than in the past. This growing willingness is altering the competitive landscape even more.
  • 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. What is required is to re-equip marketing executives with new skills in design appreciation, research expertise, deeper customer engagements and an even stronger voice at the C-level to drive innovation through its different avenues of opportunity (service, product, social, business model generation). Innovation needs to be a core capability within Marketing, not just given a cursory understanding or working through a narrow view, it needs deep appreciation of what and where it can provide this growth.
  • The recognition that adopting someone else’s best practice is not the ideal way to go, it has been the ‘lazy man’s’ solution for far too long and really does need even more rigorously challenging. Defining your specific emergent or good practices that fit your culture and context are clearly better, adopting blindly others is not, yet still far too many do this. Your context, your culture, your resources are uniquely different and other peoples ‘best practice’ is not the right starting point. Somehow best practice needs a radical overhaul in what it provides and what it can inhibit. Far too often adopting best practice can be a disaster. Emergent practice should be the watch world.
  • The art of spending wisely today is even more vital. The choices between experimentation, trial and error internally and learning from external expertise for understanding innovation needs to be worked upon. There needs to be a better appreciate of each other’s contribution. It still seems not be well managed, far to ad hoc and not well thought through. Admittedly external expertise has often failed to provide innovation leadership and the deeper thinking that internal expertise on its own simply cannot deliver. External advisors simply took over and then left at the end of their consulting engagements, leaving much simply not embedded within the organization.
  • Contracting hands-on consultants should be seen differently from using external knowledge providers-they offer a distinctly different service and for me, the difference between consulting and advising. With growing complexity innovation specialization has increasing value, often this is not sitting on the teams bench, it needs bringing in and being valued for what this can give in greater appreciation. Greater external expertise needs to be injected into the innovation equation of many organizations for deepening individuals, teams and organizational understanding of what innovation can provide in its different potential. There is today even more of a business case for a deep innovation dive with external facilitation to graps new understanding and latest developments from a party that is 100% focused on the subject. The internal executive is often left badly equipped to recognise innovation’s complexities as it seemingly doesn’t fit their lens of the world and due to this organizations can discount much to their peril in the longer term.

There is a lot evolving in the name of innovation, all very healthy but all very challenging. Innovation needs to be treated as a critical discipline, to be built up, to be called upon where necessary. It is often not as well understood as it should be, on how it often works but it needs establishing far more within the fabric of each organization. It should be treated no different than the IT specialist, the accounting specialist, the strategic advisor, PhD researcher or sales specialist, innovation has a critical place and needs clear representation at the top table.

Place more trust in the specialists that have innovation as their expertise, internally and externally but give this the necessary ‘head room’ to be understood. It is time innovation as a recognized discipline should be fully embraced, ambiguities and all! There is a new wave of emerging innovation practice going on.

The forming of new structures- the business ecosystem of innovation federations

At present we are seemingly in a state of flux, we are learning to move from linear innovation models into more dynamic ones that are increasingly forming around innovation ecosystems.

Our whole understanding of innovation is changing; we are evaluating and changing our existing focus from closed (internal orientation) into open (external orientation) thinking for accelerating and improving our innovation performances.

Regretfully we are not yet fully equipped to manage within these new innovation ecosystems. We need to give the factors an increasing focus and lead into a better emerging theory of leading or good practice.

Measuring innovation in different ways is becoming important

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