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.

What is your capacity for innovation really like?

In a series of articles I’d like to explore the value of knowledge and education for innovation.

Part one –  an opener to innovation change

How do we advance the learning needed for innovation? In my last article I wrote about the need to prepare ourselves for some forthcoming standards for innovation. In a number of  earlier articles, I have also written on a range of contributing factors that will advance innovation in its learning and adoption. In this series I want to go deeper – an emerging treaty for innovation advancement.

I have to be clear here, I am becoming increasingly frustrated by the seemingly lack of advancement in our understanding of innovation. Today we have a real challenge, all of us, in boosting our capacity for innovation. We need to achieve this ‘boost’ as the outcomes we can gain and are required are both economic and social in the potential value. We need to move beyond the existing and tackle the blockages to the preferred, when it comes to innovation achievements.

We face many challenges within a highly competitive world

As we seek out fresh opportunities, locally and globally, we are becoming increasingly challenged. The world is highly competitive. The key driver to meet these ‘twin’ challenges is innovation, not just for the short-term results businesses are so obsessed about but the critically important need to simply find the pathway to sustainable development through re-occurring innovation activities.

Sadly today we still marginalized innovation, we rely on incremental activities to pull us through the short-term and seemingly just keep putting off the longer-term. Much of management within organizations is mortgaging the future for today’s immediate gains. I loved this thought, although it may not contain much original thinking but it does offer what I felt reflects on this point: “we are simply kicking the innovation can down the road.”  This needs desperately changing for these economic and social reasons that are increasingly looming down that same road. Innovation needs to be better understood in what constitutes it and all the different ways it can be applied. We do need to understanding it better for its significant contribution potential to what we need to solve as social and economic problems.

 The role of education and learning for innovation

The role of people within innovation can never be overstated. They make it happen, everything else is their enablers. We do need to understand what makes innovation truly work through increasing the comprehension of “combining” its many myriad parts. Innovation skills need an innovation friendly environment and we need to reform much of our existing approaches to innovation as practiced today.

Actually we need to really speed up our reforms and we need to achieve a clear consensus of what better frameworks and activities can deliver this. Of course I would offer a shameless plug of the Executive Innovation Work Mat to be part of this, why not? I do believe it is part of the emerging solution. In my opinion the work mat helps educate, frame and to learn from in it’s combining the critical aspects, so as to improve on our existing performance and build from this.

It is increasing recognized we are all in need to follow the lifelong learning track, as organizations are increasingly insisting on increasing human performance yet constantly reducing the ‘bodies’ to assist in this. We need to keep relevant or we also become caught up in this marginalization if we don’t and have a poorer potential in our future.

Technology can’t stand alone, it needs actively working.

Organizations are presently mistaking the promise of technology alone and this will not work; it needs people, their knowledge and experiences to apply the technology. Far too often we are not finding the time as increasing complexity is layered onto dwindling human resources. We are adding more pressure into the system by taking out the very solution we need to keep in place and utilize far more, that is our people.

We are pushed to keep up and to stay relevant; we have to bury often our personal grievances because if we surface them, then we might get singled out in the next round of often mindless people cuts. We do need to reverse this board room mentality and cutting out the diversity of opinion that should be valued not thrown away. We need to make our performance potential to be stretched even more, encouraging and sustaining these different opinions. We must find ways to break into this ‘boom or bust’ mentality in board rooms by reducing the very friction that stimulates greater innovation thinking.

So how can we achieve this? Openness, trust, partnership, valuing diversity is ones that readily spring to mind here. But more importantly we need to build an innovation road-map to scope out the innovation landscape and the dynamics.

Building real education into an innovation road-map

One place to start is to design a more comprehensive road-map of innovation made up of its integral parts. The more innovation is seen and the people that enacted this are recognized, not buried in plain sight, the more it will be valued. The more we see ‘it’ and what it contributes the more people become essential to their place within this mutual value proposition we need between the organization and its employees. The overarching plank of offering education on innovation is the real ‘glue’ as this is where the value of knowledge is central, in my view, to the way forward.

Knowledge, innovation knowledge, is made up of an awful lot of different things and this is where the real education comes in, front and center in developing new practices, in training, in educating, in translating this knowledge into lasting value. The more people are valued, the more they become ‘sticky’ and the more they use their knowledge, then it becomes mutually re-enforcing as their organizations grow to appreciate their worth. We need a new social contract between organizations and the people they employ and that should be on mutual appreciation of the ability to translate knowledge into new value-generating outcomes together. The more we identify the educational parts, the more we appreciate innovations complexity but then we can equally see the rich potential in the rewards that become achievable in taking this new route. Education leads, it provides the appropriate focus and this we can derive the training and knowledge to be applied, so we can improve results and innovation outcomes.

Knowledge Exchanging is our way forward.

Organizations need to move well beyond their rather lazy reliance on best practice comparison as they actually need to explore emerging practices far more but that takes many into a different realm, the realm of increasing uncertainties, and most people and organizations are not trained for this. They anticipate risk by reducing all the variables within risk and play safe with just being incremental. Is that wrong? No, while we have our reward systems geared to short-term performance, while we measure leadership success the way we presently do, while 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, we are destroying. We need to focus on competence-enhancing not competence-destroying. To know the differences we need educating on recognizing what makes up the difference.

I can’t change our prevailing system but I can point to alternatives and suggest we have other options, pursued by the few, which are more visionary and brave and often disrupting the accepted.

We need to start by reducing ambiguity.

One real key for the few seems to be the ability to reduce ambiguity, in the concepts, in their visions, in their focus. This reducing of ambiguity improves the chances of a successful outcome that everyone involved can understand the challenges, relate to the possibilities and constantly tracking back to this vision to obtain and advance the evidence of its possibilities and potential with a meaningful contribution. They do this mostly through knowledge exchange.

I’ll discuss this and what this means in the next article, then we will delve deeper into how knowledge is ‘made up’ and can be delivered to achieve a greater openness, convergence and capacity for innovation to take hold and thrive through its mutual dependencies. I’ll cover the ‘coupling’ within the innovation system, convergence and the dangers lurking in innovation. I’ll delve even further into where absorptive capacity builds our knowledge capacity and a pathway to apply fresh learning so we can all innovate better. Finally I’ll explore further on how we need to recognize the layers within innovation that do need to shear against each other to generate positive innovation tension and ways to find the space to allow innovation to grow differently through an innovation learning process.