Are we moving towards integrated software for innovation management?

Software innovationWhat is striking me recently is the upsurge in the software being specifically designed for managing innovation. The competition seems to be warming up in the more ‘standalone’ out-of-the box segment and the innovation tools being provided are certainly accelerating the innovation process.

The software being provided is going well beyond the simply mining and capturing of promising ideas. The solutions are moving into sound idea enrichment, evaluation processes and managing a portfolio of innovation in more holistic ways.

The providers here, namely Hype, Brightidea, Spigit, Imaginatik and a growing group of others have been significantly improving their ‘front end’ offerings to capture and develop concepts- They are increasingly turning their attentions to the ‘back end’ and support with greater focuses on governance, knowledge repositories, campaign cockpits, evaluation and dialogue exchange mechanisms. Mobility has also been a growing feature to capture innovation ‘on the go’.

Will we see Emerging Enterprise Solutions for greater integration?

Integrated Systems 1The change that we are beginning to see emerge is the growing interest in innovation management software from the bigger Enterprise integrators. In particular I have become more aware of the advances taking place in managing innovation from SAP, or the potential promise yet to emerge.

I have been working through a presentation made by Marco Cigaina from SAP’s Global Services Innovation group recently and felt the concept outlined was beginning to frame innovation and its management in a solid way. One that can potentially move software solutions into a structured, comprehensive and consistent set of concepts to build around for innovations application.

I’m not sure if SAP are advancing this as their innovation roadmap or it was just a conceptual framework offered by part of the organization to explore and contribute to thinking. I want to learn more as I think it has some potential.

They (well at least Marco) are calling this (at present) the Innovation Management Framework building upon applicable foundations of knowledge for innovation management and working towards an overarching execution model.

Judge for yourselves on this suggested innovation framework.

You can watch the video here, it is about 50 minutes offered up as a workshop from the SAP University Alliances led by Marco Cigaina. He has also written a book on this, go to here to find out more.

The Innovation Management Framework presented in this book and workshop articulates innovation management in a structured and consistent set of concepts and practices, and focuses on their concrete applicability to the objective of enabling and fostering innovation in established companies. It provides a sound starting point in my opinion.

Here is the Innovation Management framework.

Innovation Management Framework SAP Approach 1.pptx

The SAP Innovation Management Framework Outline

So what is making up the thinking that goes into each of these sections on what this framework seems to offer. For me it certainly feels to have advanced the potential for innovation to eventually become a fully integrated SAP solution

It has six aspects within this.

  • It starts out to build the innovation taxonomy and where a common language and the critical capability aspects begins to be formed. It is suggesting to frame around innovation capabilities, projects and outcomes and looks to focus on scope, scale, perspectives, impact and discontinuity aspects. It needs to build processes, methodologies, tools, business context, strategy and architecture for managing this for individuals, teams, organizations and networks. I like this as a higher level entry point.
  • Then they suggest you move through the enterprise and strategic needs and layer different aspects of the Enterprise, Strategy, the Business Model, the Business Process, the Solutions, Technology and competencies needed. This part, for me, remains a little thin but does attempt to capture the different levels of the enterprise need and strategy to link into and flow. I would argue my outlined Executive Innovation Work Map framework would be useful here to ‘flesh’ this part out further, plus other thoughts I feel can be built into this part.-
  • Then you move into processes and methodologies. The classic search and idea through to commercialize and monetize these. The structure of passing through evaluation and selection and then implementation is sketched out. The underlying structuring into research, ideation and creative methodologies, collaborative processes and tools, design thinking, IP management, Knowledge management, new solution development, project management to commercialization offers a beginning of a well- thought through phase to allow distinct processes and methodologies that can still cater well for different Enterprise needs.
  • Then the People and Networks to draw in systematically all the partners, influences, institutions, crowd sourcing, customers and lead users and they are highlighting company culture, open innovation and structuring this again into a taxonomy makes this a far more advanced approach to managing innovation today than what I have heard before. It reflects a more up to date view and the importance of people, their relationships and the networks you need to build and exploit for innovation.
  • The part that I particularly like is the Orchestration and Governance section. It frames these into vision and strategy, the governance roles, a section called the initiatives management one where portfolio management sits alongside venture management. The other key aspect I really like is the focusing on organizational learning where you manage through a maturity model and equally feed into the knowledge repository and finally with metrics associated with these to manage and monitor the innovation activity. I certainly believe orchestration and governance is badly undervalued by many organizations within their innovation approaches and this would advance the thinking and give orchestration and governance its place of critical importance by offering this component within any innovation framework. I’ve written about the role of governance a few times, as well as the importance of orchestration, so I welcome this more dedicated focus.
  • Lastly the Execution model covers set-up structures, analyse and design, planning, execution and evaluation steps. This is to be regarded as iterative in approach. Again, treating execution as a standalone step I think has real added value focus. I’ve learnt that execution is a rugged terrain full of as much a need for concerted leadership as the other parts within innovation and its management. One aspect is building a sustaining execution machine and is the final frontier in managing and delivering innovation successfully.

The really potential promise of Enterprise Integration

Integrated Systems ERP 2The other part of the thinking and certainly critical within any SAP solution would I assume, be any innovation system needs to integrate into other information systems and processes. That is the strong selling point of SAP, its focus on integration,although ‘the cloud’ might be challenging this and altering this possibly.

If SAP can achieve that ability to integrate this into being part of the Enterprise solutions then we do have many of the existing impediments to innovation adoption melt away. Offering an integrated solution would really offer innovation and its management a real opportunity to become fully embedded within our organizations.

As I said, I’m not sure where SAP are in actually realizing this Innovation Management Framework. All I can feel it has a real potential to expand and explore further as an overarching approach.

This potential framework is certainly viewing IM in a more holistic way, it is moving beyond ‘just’ ideas management or standalone components, often like PLM, or PPM and would significantly advance innovation to be fully embedded within our organizations.

We really do need to resolve this growing need to get technology and systems ‘talking’ innovation, to establish its position and integrity and have integrated interfaces into a total ERP system.

Innovation management today is often standing outside any integration structure. Some may argue it should do but I do think innovation is often missing the critical line of top management sight and suffers accordingly in numerous constraints.

Lacking this holistic understanding of innovation this often makes it hard for top management to gain the confidence or be supplied their required view of innovation and all that is associated with it. They want and expect clear line of sight. We spend far too much time trying to connect innovation into the Enterprise.

Can this change? I believe we are getting closer to a point of having integrated software solutions for innovation.

Integrated Systems  3If innovation management can be integrated into the organizations systems many of the current problems, barriers and issues surrounding innovation might begin to melt away or change the existing unsatisfactory result game of today.

Innovation has many touch points, a myriad of dimensions that need to be aligned and integrated and I genuinely believe the software provider who takes a more holistic view of innovation management can make a significant advancement on where we are today.

I simply like these perspectives offered by Marco through his research and work undertaken with SAP and feel it does makes a very credible initial attempt to frame innovation in a well-thought out way. What do you think?

Alignment is needed everywhere

Alignment of Innovation to Organization's Strategic Goals

Alignment of Innovation to Organization’s Strategic Goals

Working in most organizations you spend a disproportional amount of time on looking to achieve alignment. This can range from aligning your meeting schedules to the bigger strategic issues by gaining agreement on the way forward.

 I would bet you that working on alignment is certainly one of the main tasks that is sucking up a large part of your working day. Interesting enough the higher up in the organization you go, the more you have to seek alignment. Gaining alignment is actually very hard.

In corporate life we are constantly attempting to also link organizational goals with our own personal goals. To make this alignment, it requires the difficult aspect of achieving common understanding of all the parties for the specific purpose you are requiring, so as to achieve a consistency between ‘agreed’ objectives and the implementation of these across those involved.

In pursuit of alignment

We seek alignment to many things but three are critically important to us as individuals. Firstly alignments from others to our creative activities, both in those that contribute to the strategic objectives and those personal ones in the work we do. Secondly, we always need to work on how we set about the way we communicate if we want to achieve anything within a team or our organizations. Thirdly, alignment becomes essential in how we execute, is it going to be heaven or hell or simply nicely in the middle, well done? We just can’t avoid alignment, yet we seem to do a poor job of this when you ask, why is that? We constantly talk more about misalignment.

Part of this reason we see more misalignment going on around us is the magnitude of this constant change that is swirling around us, coupled with the incessant pressure for new sources of  innovation is causing us increasing anxiety to work on the knowing/ doing gaps more and more. Alignment remains one of our best answers to communicate the ‘need to agree and do’.

Achieving alignment, arranging all those planets to be in line, can provide the much needed impact to a whole lot of what we do. Alignment also needs that other magic word of ‘objectives’, that specific need to always set clear objectives between ‘us’ to gain this essential alignment.

Understanding the complex linkages within alignment

To get closer to achieving alignment for innovation, as an example, we need an overarching strategic design, to reduce the ‘disconnects’. Innovation needs constant alignment. One essential need is to provide a well designed strategic plan that will allow the connections and  reconnects needed. so as to allow innovation that greater freedom and scope to contribute into the growth organizations leaders are demanding to keep us all ‘still on track’. We need to seek out alignment through clarification, through talking to each other, to working explicitly from the ‘same page.’

Yet good intent is not good enough as I have outlined before “However, even when executives understand the linkage, they may fail to understand how to ensure linkages between corporate strategy and innovation actually does lie with them to be communicated throughout the organization.  When executives simply request innovation and delegate the decisions and definitions to business line leaders or executives outside the boardroom they are delegating the growth and future of the organization to others

We are constantly fighting the failures within organizations for achieving alignment

There are so many failure points. For instance how often do you see those failures to translate the strategy of the leadership’s thinking (often those vaulting high-level ambition ones) into offering the additional leadership guidance to achieve these? This lack of guidelines or framework reduces the potential for alignment, it stops turning ambitions into specific actions that allow these strategic objectives to be translated into specific realities, that others can really identify with.

We fail if we don’t have the abilities to translate and communicate those objectives throughout our organizations to gather around and work towards achieving makes significant difference. Leaders leave strategy far too much in the abstract. They need to consciously work on the design principles and downstream choices. I have offered the “choice / cascade integrated innovation model” to help in this.

We also fail to communicate when conditions in the market place show signs of real change, we stay aligned to old objectives, we don’t dynamically adapt our strategy and thinking. We allow it to remain static, locked into old, out of date thinking, missing the essentials of new knowledge to flow through adaptive learning.

Then we fail when we simply struggle within ourselves, we can’t personally or organizationally adjust quickly enough. We still find great difficulties to really learn how to pivot in larger organizations or in our personal learning, yet this is becoming essential in today’s world, to adopt to rapidly changing conditions. Take a read within Steve Blank’s postings on pivots, maybe as a start here on a critical aspect of managing today.

Then we can fail because we struggle to align organizational capabilities with our strategic and innovation growth objectives. We are constantly battling fatigue, resistance and ownership. We fail to often take the dedicated time and consistent focus to build our capabilities to establish new ways of working, to regain those creative energies.

We then really fail if we can’t convert strategic intent, this ‘strategic enthusiasm,’ into a clear translation of fresh but sustaining investments into those that can help change our organization capabilities to learn and deliver afresh but with renewed vigour . We need to align our desire with clear intent, purpose and objectives.

I’ve written about innovation failures before, it starts at the top, if you need further thinking in this area  take an additional  read but the critical point here, is recognize and then work actively on all the potential failure points that are stopping your aligning.

Once you recognize these and what they are potentially doing to you, you can address them and remove these blockages to regain the essential alignment necessary.

Overcoming potential failure, alignment might come through more dynamic linking.

To achieve a more dynamic linking we need to find new ways to translate strategic ambition into clearer downstream choices for our innovation activities. I believe we need to offer a more explicit design from the top of our organizations to guide and frame innovation, one that offers an outline of actionable design principles.

The design needs to be specific enough but without prescribing all the details. It is amazing on how much knowledge does reside within our organizations. If it doesn’t, well it is getting easier and easier to go specifically outside the organization where you will find more thoughts to stimulate the potential answers, but I’d tend to place the caveat, as long as you understand the context but these ‘answers’ can show up in so many totally unexpected places, particularly if you wear different inquiry lenses.

We need to translate the organizations innovation ambitions by providing adaptive frameworks to build within. Finally to sustain them there is the leadership need to provide all the necessary ‘capitals’ for building the required capabilities and the capacities to be understood and established, to achieve innovation alignment.

Putting together alignment and objectives needs a specific design

The alignment within the use of the Executive Innovation Work Mat

The alignment within the use of the Executive Innovation Work Mat

I’ve argued that the adoption of the Executive Innovation Work Mat does offer a terrific framework for achieving this triple alignment of 1) communicating strategic ambitions and goals, 2) aligning the conditions to allow innovation to be put to meaningful work and then 3) working towards building the necessary design of capabilities and capacities to execute around these plans.

By working through a better understanding of the innovation ‘parts’ that make the whole we can translate our executive intentions by engaging and then communicating through the work mat so innovation can become explicit to all. You come closer to organization and personal alignment. You create the conditions for more explicit outcomes, aligning activities within the overarching frame of a desired culture, environment, governance and processes that flows through specific contexts, better communicating channels and choices.

You move closer to alignment because you are all working within the same overarching innovation framework creating the common language, gaining the appropriate context and all communicating on this- you are moving closer to alignment.

The Executive Innovation Work Mat can be summarized as a place for real beneficial alignment

  1. The framework can create cohesion and consistency of innovation purpose that will reduce many existing barriers and uncertainties around innovation
  2. The framework itself will generate work flows that links, become more dynamic to explore and promote the holistic needs for innovation to work. In innovation skills, capabilities and competencies needed. They become more cohesive, coordinated and focused.
  3. As the framework connects, in its understanding and as its impact grows, we certainly can ‘see and believe’, our confidence builds. Both formal and informal areas are addressed in parallel, growing all-round identification and alignment.
  4. It can reduce present tensions and increase the dynamics within innovation in dialogues, framing and identifying with the organizations innovation goals
  5. You can begin to align compensation and incentives into your abilities to generate the innovation activities that provide the impact the organization is looking for. You can understand and measure innovation impact far more through a well-designed framework

We do need a unified view of innovation design and I believe to ‘arrive’ closer to alignment there is a clear, perhaps a compelling value proposition that a well-designed innovation framework, like the Executive Innovation Work Mat does offer.

I certainly believe this can move you closer to spending less of your day working on the negatives of bad alignment into generating positive innovation outcomes, simply because you do have in place an aligning framework that works on dynamically linking all the parts, one you can gather around.

I can’t promise it might not make you business day any shorter but it might make it a far more positive experience,where you are aligning  your contributions and expertise into a specific innovation design, where innovation activities do link into organizations strategic that is needed and achieve this often elusive alignment we all are search for, far more than we want to acknowledge.

I’m more than happy to explain the approaches taken in the Work Mat methodology for Innovation’s overarching design, if interested.

Figuring out a different strategic alignment with innovation being central.

Strategy as we have previously known it is officially dead. Strategy is stuck! Competitive advantages have become transient. We are facing situations where advantages are copied quickly, technology is just one constant change, and our customers seek other alternatives and things move on faster and faster.

In a new book written by Rita Gunther McGrath, a professor at Columbia Business School in New York and one of the world’s leading experts on strategy, she has been exploring the changes rapidly taking place called  “ The End of Competitive Advantage: How to Keep Your Strategy Moving as Fast as Your Business

 “Strategy (in the past) was all about finding a favourable position in a well-defined industry and then exploiting a long-term competitive advantage. Innovation was about creating new businesses and was seen as something separate from the business’s core set of activities.” “Sustainable competitive is not just ineffective, it’s actually counter productive” says Professor McGrath.

She rightly states:“Think about it: the presumption of stability creates all the wrong reflexes. It allows for inertia and power to build up along the lines of an existing business model. It allows people to fall into routines and habits of mind. It creates the conditions for turf wars and organizational rigidity. It inhibits innovation.

It tends to foster the denial reaction rather than proactive design of a strategic next step… A preference for equilibrium and stability means that many shifts in the marketplace are met by business leaders denying that these shifts mean anything negative for them.”

Innovation needs to finally emerge in a new form.

Innovation cannot be separated from implementing an effective strategy, actually it is becoming far more central. Yet our leaders are constantly failing to recognize their essential role they must play to allow innovation to realize its place within the goals and needs of the strategy. They will be in denial by failing to build the innovators organization to manage this  new transient advantage. One that is highly flexible, agile, built around a constellation of emerging business principles that builds upon the ethos of imagination, exploration, experimentation, discovery and collaboration (Steve Denning).

A new structure that has as part of it one that promotes independence, diverse thinking and seeking out individual contributions. To achieve this innovation needs to be fully embraced as a clear competency that does need to be professionally built and certainly well-managed; it needs leadership’s total engagement for establishing new principles, practices, attitudes, values and beliefs that become central to the new way forward to deal with this new transient advantage suggested by Professor McGrath.

Today the rhetoric outweighs the reality for innovation and we need change!

Survey after survey of our leadership within organizations talks up innovation

  • * Over 70% of CEO’s surveyed constantly named innovation as within their top three strategic priorities
  • * 93% of surveyed executives said the long-term success of their organization’s strategy depends on their ability to innovate
  • * For almost 90 percent of CEO’s, generating organic growth through innovation has become essential for success in their industry.
  • * Also over 70% of the top executives identified themselves as the primary driver of innovation

Yet innovation is failing, reality is constantly hitting home in poor results.

  • * Despite increased business investment in innovation, only 18% of executives believe their company’s innovation efforts deliver a competitive advantage.  Source: a new Accenture study (May 2013)
  • * The “absence of a well-articulated innovation strategy” was identified as the most important constraint hampering organizations from reaching their innovation targets, in a study published by Capgemini Consulting in April 2012
  • * Almost 60% of firms surveyed admitted that they have no explicit innovation strategy ( a joint Cap Gemini and IESE study)
  • * Only one-third of the executives report innovation is fully integrated in corporate-level strategies (McKinsey Quarterly, 2012)

Then you go deeper into organizations current position on innovation

The formal management of innovation is largely overlooked and to quote these statistics from an Innovation Leadership Study in March 2012:

  • *Only 30% of respondents agree they have an effective organization structure for innovation
  • *45% do not have a well-defined governance structure for innovation
  • *40% lack clear roles and responsibilities for innovation
  • *39% state they do not have an effective decision-making process for innovation
  • *49% are not having a well-defined process to prioritize and allocate time and funding to innovation projects
  • * 54% of those surveyed indicate they do not have a formal KPI system for promoting innovation

Innovation comes to a screeching halt because it is not totally integrated and fully supported from the top and embedded into the core of organizations. Innovation is failing to deliver on its potential. Can you imagine all that invested time in innovation, on tasks, products, concepts, ideas that fail? There is real waste  if innovation is not fully aligned to the strategy.

If these constantly don’t align to corporate strategies, someone somewhere should be concerned, I mean really concerned. Perhaps as “mad as hell” and we are not going to take it any more. Something has to change or many of these organizations will not exist in the future .

The great disconnect at the top of organizations for innovation is in plain sight for all to see.

So we must see there is a huge gap that does exists between what executives want, and what the business believes and is knowing what is actually going on.  Innovation for its needs actually lie in the senior executive own hands:

  • Executives need to demonstrate that they want and need innovation
  • They must become more engaged and outline (in some detail) their expectations
  • They must create a framework or structure to ensure it exists

Innovation success starts and stops with senior executives. 

They want innovation success but they consistently fail to understand their part within the innovation need-to-succeed. Only senior executives can:

  • Communicate and develop the innovation vision and work towards actively reducing the barriers it faces within their corporation
  • They need to bridge the existing culture with one that promotes innovation, where both short-term need and long-term sustainability are equally encourages and worked upon
  • Influence and encourage the breadth of skills and capabilities needed in innovation to be given the appropriate focus for its organization to successfully innovate
  • Establish the environment and then create and support the incentives where innovation can flourish effectively.
  • Work constantly at ensuring the conditions for success is well-communicated and the clear goals and expectations are articulated.
  • The top executives must understand the investment required for innovation and provide the adequate resources and funding along with clear directions
  • Actively seek alignment of the innovation activities into the strategic needs they see as critical to work towards
  • They need to set the innovation strategic agenda and provide a robust and clear integrated innovation framework like the Executive Innovation Work Mat, for example.

The sad, sad truth is that many of our leaders still cannot get comfortable with innovation.

Many of our present leadership of organizations are actually uncomfortable with innovation; they want to keep it on the periphery of their thinking.  It disturbs much of what they have worked all their careers upon, honing a highly efficient and effective organisation that minimises the risks, reduces the surprises and works away in a highly predictable and steady way.

They often lack any real depth in innovation experience and training. They are fixated on the short-term, often to the detriment of the longer-term opportunities due to tenure and their incentive metrics.

Today the senior executive loves to get fully involved in the urgent needs of the day, moving constantly from one operational oversight meeting into another, spending decreasing time on the important. The pressures and demands placed on them to respond, to react, to comment on day-to-day events, are growing in priority to be seen as ‘being on top of these’  but are they losing the longer-term perspectives and detachments needed for designing organizations differently? To meet rapidly changing challenges and actively working upon new organization designs to give a new fitness and intent? Often these seem rushed and reactive to threats or poor results.

The larger the organization, also the greater the disconnect is happening between themselves and their employees and this is creating increasing growing barriers to understand the pulse of the business or stay tuned to market shifts. Organizations are losing any competitive advantage as they are failing to see a huge change taking place before their eyes as they remain rigid and fixed, locked in the past. Internally alignment is becoming harder. Advantage is only short-lived, yet our organizations are totally encumbered by out of date designs and structures.

Organizations are being challenged far more today and their relevancy needs radical redesigns and stepping back and designing these is becoming critical. The core of our organizations needs to shift towards more agile, adaptive and innovative designs.

The need for a real alignment of strategy and innovation

Innovation stands in service to strategic goals such as growing market share, differentiation and disrupting adjacent markets, serving the consistent changing and demanding customer needs by spotting these and then exploiting them rapidly and effectively.  Creating clear goals and linking/aligning innovation to those more agile strategies is a vital role for CEO’s and senior executives.  Senior executives must establish the manner in which innovation fits within the strategic context established by goals, vision and strategies.They cannot abdicate this role. Change is hard, so is innovation.

However, even when executives understand the linkage, they may fail to understand how to ensure linkages between corporate strategy and innovation actually does lie with them to be communicated throughout the organization.  When executives simply request innovation and delegate the decisions and definitions to business line leaders or executives outside the boardroom they are delegating the growth and future of the organization to others. They are killing the true potential of innovation as it remains unaligned. This cannot continue, we need to bring innovation into the boardroom as core.

If we are in a world of transient advantage as Rita Gunther McGrath suggests, she also clearly states: “Innovation needs to be a continuous, core, well-managed process rather than the episodic and tentative process it is in many companies”.

Identification comes from the top and from our customers

This new innovation core can only be led and fully integrated from the top, aligned fully into the strategies, organizational design and the goals. In rapidly changing market conditions where advantage is transient then we certainly need very different designs within our organizations to respond.

It is absolutely time that innovation comes fully into the board room and driven from the top. Innovation needs to be recognized fully as the key to more prosperity, more growth and added value – achieving that is the mandate of the board and this requires an explicit integrated innovation framework, no less that reflects the changing reality of the era we are in. Then others can simply get on with the job of responding by delivering the innovation outcomes that are constantly aligned to the needs within the changing landscape and demands placed on all, to read, react and respond differently and this needs total integration from top to bottom through an overarching set of integrated frameworks.

A different alignment is required.

Alignment is just not the internal need any more; it is having clear external alignments as well; in knowing the customers needs and reacting to these faster and with clear competitive intent, aligning with others on different platforms and collaborations.

Having an innovation geared organization that has clear goals, principles, values and attitudes that is working towards a consistent range of organizational possibilities. One that is ready to capitalize on breaking opportunities, aligned to exploit these. Then having in place the capabilities to build rapidly out on these to exploit these through new learning, new insights and growing connections so extending the possibilities even further.

A constant evolving strategy perhaps, one that will give the organization a new more demanding competitive advantage, that is built on anticipating and managing constant change, never standing still, always evolving, being in perpetual transition.

A different ‘sustaining’ capacity built around innovation as the continuous core, constantly evolving, adapting, learning and adjusting. In perpetual innovation motion.

Seeking common cause through innovation

Although it is simple to state, creating a common language for innovation is very hard, demanding work. To begin to create it, then to gain a broader identification with its make-up and then to build upon it requires some dedicated time and effort, but above all, it needs recognition of its importance to obtaining a sustaining innovation entity.

Yet there is incredible sustaining value in achieving a common language. In the work that Jeffrey Phillips and I have been undertaking we see the Executive Innovation Work Mat  and its seven connected parts we really saw language, context and communications, as central to any innovation initiatives to work towards.

The Executive Innovation Work Mat

Languages unites us or divides us

Language can have the power to unite us or potentially divide us. Developing a language to unite us in our innovation efforts goes some way to reduce disagreements and egos, that can block success. To create an environment for innovation, to offer within a set of governance, process and functional structures, to build a culture responsive, we need this common cause, this central innovation language, our clear unifying context.

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

We all have different meaning and interpretations.

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

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

Our reasoning for specifically highlighting common language and context

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

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

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

Common language is a constant dialogue and exploration

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

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

Why should we have a common language for innovation?

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

Knowledge more than ever plays its part

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

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

Delaying decisions can help

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

Collaboration platforms need a soul or DNA to be valuable

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

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

His compelling energy framework has interesting potential

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

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

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

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

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

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

Innovation struggles to integrate fully within the organization

In the past few weeks I have outlined the existing gaps at the leadership level on innovation engagement and innovations continued lack of being integrated into an organizations strategy. Time and time again there are new reports, surveys and different comments made on this serious disconnect still going on that needs clear resolution.

It is always pleasing to sometimes be on the same track as the Big Consultants, for working on and moving beyond the trends they are spotting and highlighting, into some clear tangible solutions, to help resolve these. Recently McKinsey Quarterly conducted an on-line survey of just under 3,000 executives on issues surrounding innovation. The report is entitled “Making innovation structures work”- see the link below.

They confirm much that I have seen or gained through my research and point very specifically to the key difficulties organizations are presently having around innovation.

This report feeds directly into the solution work I’m undertaking

The results feed directly into the work I have been undertaking on the leadership gap and the suggested framework of the integrated executive innovation work mat that has been discussed in considerable details in the past few weeks. These have been on this blog site of mine, as well as ovo innovation’s  my collaborating partners, and also on  innovation excellence’s web site, where we had a whole week of featured articles, discussing the work mat component parts, or as we entitled it, the essential seven domains of innovation that make up this work mat.

So what stands out in the McKinsey report?

The innovation structure is evolving; organizations rely on exploring various organizational models to ‘house’ and execute innovation. They work with multiple structural models to drive innovation efforts and often have separate innovation functions, located in multiple locations. It seems there has been an insurgence of structures in the last three years that are currently being worked through.

 Presently there is no uniformed view on innovation organizational design

According to the report, the innovation’s function has shifted in the functions location, in its financing and ownership and increasingly reporting into a C-Level, or even directly into the CEO.

The designs involved include innovation centres, a dedicated new-business development function, emerging business opportunities and technologies groups (often separate) and having advanced technologies institutes as part of the mix.

It still seems where it ‘sits’ partly depends on the time the innovation function was set up. The older structures, set up more than ten years ago 46% of those surveyed report that innovation “sits” at corporate headquarters compared with 65% at the organizations with younger functions. Younger functions also focus more on profit but presently have fewer market successes as they have had less time.

What is the innovation they are working upon?

These are with functional focus on identifying new business opportunities, such as blue-sky innovation and developing potentially disruptive technologies and those report directly into the CEO at around 44% of the functions at present. That maybe the wrong side of the 50% mark I’d like but we seem to be making progress of linking innovation directly to the leadership of our organizations, or are we? Read on.

The factors of success

This is the area of most interest to me. Although it is prefaced by a matter of maturity (whatever that means) there is a ongoing debate on how separate or aligned with corporate strategy an organizations approach to innovation should be. To quote from the report “What is affirmed that strategy (particularly one that is focused, clearly articulated and integrated) is key to successful outcomes. At companies where innovation is fully integrated into strategy, executives are SIX times as likely as those without an integrated strategy to say their separate functions meet their financial objectives effectively, actually very effectively or extremely effectively”

Equally where there is a successful integration there is a sharing of the organizational elements across the portfolio. This includes sharing strategic priorities and focus, knowledge and insights, research insights and analysis, leadership teams and approach to governance with lastly a good talent flow and exchange.

The challenge for innovation is still around strategy though

Only one-third of the executives report innovation is fully integrated in corporate-level strategies,  and nearly half say integrating the separate function’s strategic objectives with those of their core businesses is one of their functions most significant challenges.

Those that achieve effective outcomes have clear leadership support

Fifty-six per cent of all the executives surveyed identify C-level and leadership support as a driver of success (second only to strategic focus). There is a more than interesting effective outcome split within the report (exhibit 4) that the level of interact frequency with the C-level team makes a real difference.

Surprisingly but fitting with my own observations and research, is the frequency of interactions between the separate innovation functions and C-level leadership. From this report those deemed as “very frequent” is only at 40%. Can you image the wealth creation, new growth potential that innovation provides yet C-level engagement is only at 40% for very or extremely frequent in discussions? So is innovation that important to the C-level really?  Something is wrong here, badly wrong.  “Somewhat frequently” comes in at 17% and “rarely or not at all” is 22%. This is the leadership gap we have suggested needs addressing, urgently. Clearly innovation “sounds good, a good sound bite” but is not top of mind for C-level as they would like us to believe, it seems.

Then McKinsey outlines the involvement with separate innovation functions at the C-level as actively involved in the innovation process, from idea generation to commercialization, is only 38%. Those involved in the evaluation and feedback on major innovation decisions, about strategic decisions and priorities of investment makes up another 35%, yet only 26% serve on an innovation council or committee and 14% report that their leadership is not involved with innovation functions at all.

So we are still badly lacking that deep C-level engagement, although the line into them is improving. The need is to get the C-level strategically engaged at least and convince them to provide the innovation framework for others we are proposing, so they do become fully involved and those responsible to work within innovation can conduct their work through the framework we are suggesting to strengthen the C-level engagement and cohesiveness of strategy with innovation activity.

Divergence and philosophical tension in innovation

So the McKinsey report is more than helpful (and timely) on providing a snapshot of practices, successes and challenges but they do suggest there is a divergence and reflection on the struggle and philosophical tensions surrounding innovation. For instance, equal shares of those surveyed, state their function exist to turn a profit, or have no financial targets at all. Equally there are large splits on measuring individual performance with only 30% having the same performance metrics as the rest of the organization, while 32% have innovation-specific metrics and some (23%) seem to straddle the middle of the two. The lack of leaning to one form of measurement or the other needs resolution or is it evenly split due to the nature of the innovation activity the function is working upon?

The one aspect within the report I find really shocks and disappoints me

The concern lies in the number of dedicated employees on innovation, 35% of executives (out of 2,927) have ten or fewer full-time equivalents working within their function and 30% saying at least 51 full-time equivalents dedicated and working on innovation.

That is staggering low in my opinion for the area that is reportedly consistently within the top three priorities of the CEO. No wonder we have the slow innovation cycles, the poor success rates and the lack-lustre performances from innovation if these are the dedicated numbers working on innovation.  This is appalling. I just wonder how many efficiency and effectiveness people are employed across some sizeable organizations yet innovation seems grossly undeserved by these results. Putting your future into too few hands, to work on breakthroughs, those new disruptive areas means you must be forced to end up with incremental innovation for maintaining performance, and we all are seeing that clearly emerging time and time again, from most organizations not balancing their innovation activity in a well- structured and thoughtful way.

Risk, poor incentive, under-resourcing innovation and fear still dominate. When will stakeholders start asking more direct innovation questions to the boards of organizations?

The last part of the report deals with the difficulties aligning innovation.

The significant challenges in meeting strategic objectives are hampered by a range of difficulties, the highest as a % of respondents was 53% on the competition coming with short-term priorities from other parts of the business, 42% for difficulties in integrating functions strategic objective with those of the core business, 29% in difficulties in defining the functions business case or value proposition to company leaders, with 19% seeing the challenge of being separated from the rest of the company.

The conclusions  drawn from the report.

The report concludes many of these issues are cross-cutting and perennial challenges not just for innovation but for the organizations as a whole.

It reaffirms the absolute need for strategy to precede structure when organizations decide to create new innovation functions and the enabling effect an engaged C-level support brings in driving innovation success. Also it suggests that a real care to tailor the function to existing organization objectives and culture are important.

The report recommends the following:

1)      Organizations should not rely on a single innovation function, it must integrate with the entire organization

2)      There must be first a well-established and clear strategic focus

3)      A clear garnering-in from top management

4)      That C-level support is a key factor for innovation success

5)      The measures should focus more on the performance and success on the functions role in the innovation value chain, not necessarily financial targets as these can be an unreliable measure or guarantee of success.

This report is timely

After the last few weeks in laying out the business case for having an integrated framework for innovation through our executive innovation work mat, this McKinsey report reinforces that we are on the right track.

I feel even more confident that this framework we offer to bridge the innovation leadership gap can make a solid, maybe significant, contribution to reducing some of the issues and challenges that have been raised within this McKinsey report.

The McKinsey report can be found through this link.

Identification sits at the core of innovation

There are so many aspects to get right in innovation. These can be ensuring the culture, climate and environment for innovation are working well, it could mean setting up processes, well-designed procedures and structures, it can be providing innovation governance. Each part has a vital part to play in being combined for innovation, so it can function but these are not the core. Our identification with innovation is that core.

The core lies in the scope and definitions, the context that innovation is set and the identification with these. How often do organizations fail because they rushed into innovation, along those classic lines of: “let’s experiment and learn as we go” as their mentality.  We fail because we don’t take the necessary time to examine the significant differences in innovation terminology, in the different ways or types of innovation, in gaining from ‘evidence based’ research and experimentation. What we expect to see from our day-to-day work seems not to apply to our innovation selection criteria. We experiment indiscriminately, poking a stick around the opportunity haystack looking for that elusive ‘golden’ needle.

Random selection and discarding practices

Organizations have been randomly selecting, then discarding practices constantly, in a never-ending search of more of other organizations best practices, without understanding what these truly entail, or what this truly requires in commitment. No wonder innovation continues to receive a bad ‘rap’ when you often have the innovation blind, leading the blind. There are so many facets within innovation that need a much deeper, extensive understanding that is so often lacking. We love to collect or synthesise and then quickly dismiss what doesn’t work, dispensing with some valuable utility on the way, as we move onto the next ‘complete’ package. Then the cycle repeats itself, perhaps not immediately but in its quiet eroding way that throws innovation even more into question and doubt.

Lost identities, lost opportunities

We have lost our identification, yet this one word strikes at the core of innovation as the essential to have. Everything we do should have an overly binding context to it. If we don’t place innovation within its appropriate framework we fail to contextualize our activities, the intended fit, which offers the real relationship we need. We need to fit our work to the strategic goals.  If this is simply missing then innovation is likely misfiring, or not hitting the targets because it is scatter-gun in approach and its interpretation.

Innovation cries out for an integrated innovation framework.

Offering an integrated innovation framework is the place where we can gain the necessary identification. It is central to what we should be doing; it establishes the boundaries within which innovation should take place. This is the one essential place for leadership engagement. If innovation is never placed in its context, then how do we expect the results often asked for by the CEO? Innovation is adrift, it is actually unsupported, and we don’t achieve that precious identification.

If we don’t  have provided that innovation framework, we leap into innovation, often in good faith, as asked, so we become often hyper-active as we all find our own ways forward. Eventually we stumble along and finally work out our own language and understanding of what innovation means, different to even the persons sitting at the next desk. Just take a look at all the different definitions of innovation you will find, just in one large organization alone. This lack of a clear context is so harmful we add further unnecessary complexity and over time frustrate the organization and confuse the majority.

People disconnect because they lack what is needed to connect! They continue to work hard, often very hard, but sometimes never truly understanding how their tasks and roles contribute to the strategic direction. We need to make sure each person makes their specific connections to an integrated approach for themselves. To achieve these connections you need a shared understanding, a common framework and a common language, to reduce the mental traps and misunderstandings of what innovation is individually meaning. We need everyone to try to get onto the same page.

Educating formulates the understanding

Educating, informing, clarifying constantly simply helps formulate understanding and aids execution. We need to find ways to communicate a common language, a common way to frame the needs expected from innovation.  That needs to come from the top of organizations and then built up by a growing contribution from all as they become engaged. If you can achieve this, you can move to a growing consensus but this takes time. You can eventually achieve a common identity that begins to move ‘mountains’ through collective achievement, that is both distinctive and unique to your organization. A uniqueness that can never be copied, perhaps just admired or envied.

CEO’s that are seen to be successful achieve connections, what is often called that emotional connection through describing the context, setting the values and vision driven criteria and by often pushing the organization towards ‘impossible goals’. It is amazing how this brings alignment as long as it is consistent, constant in its messages and widely shared and understood. Then the leadership makes it their business to position individuals and the decisions over what, where, when and how in the context of this, to allow them to make their decisions, as individuals and within their teams. Innovation activity becomes ‘orchestrated’ not micro-managed.

The value of the middle makes for the new connectors we need.

Middle managers tasks should be increasingly become more those 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.

Through this new work they achieve this ‘shared understanding’ or set about correcting any areas of concern through their own dialogues with senior managers of where any shifts have taken place or seem in conflict with the understanding. This is identification again, for it lies at the core of innovation. Making sure everyone has a ‘sight-line’ and identification into this innovation framework so they stay well-connected. Communication and relationships becomes the key.

Today we are living in a world of knowledge-intensive innovation

To build distinctive competences for sustaining those often elusive competitive advantages, is very much context specific. We need to provide learning events as competence is actually firmly embedded in the specific context in which it is created. If an organization lacks that context of innovation then how can it acquire the appropriate knowledge to give it any advantage? If the CEO and his leadership team can’t articulate the context, then they can’t expect winning at the innovation game. It is not their people failing to deliver innovation, it is them, as leaders, failing to deliver this integrated innovation framework where context sits and identification is gained to seek out knowledge-specifics needed.

Until the CEO identifies with his core role in innovation, the organization remains rudderless.  If he can’t supply what is expected, then it is more than likely the corporate strategy will be ignored, as it has not been placed in its appropriate context.  It fails because it is not communicate in ways that can be understood, it lacks personal identification.

Without the appropriate identification of the opportunities seen for growth not communicated then how can the right innovation be applied? Innovation stays disconnected to strategy. It is arbitrary based on interpretation and choice designated down the organization hoping it aligns. Context set in a clear framework for innovation changes that. It gives innovation a real chance to contribute.

Boundaries and Freedom

How we harness our innovation activity does not need the advocating of tighter controls, it needs articulating the potential and releasing people by underpinning how that will be managed through innovations organization. Ideally this can come through having a clear governance structure and providing the right environment that is needed, so as to allow others to do the work that needs to get done and see how they contribute in meaningful ways. Management’s dictates or rules should not stand in the way, they should be swept aside.  What should be put in that critical space is a common set of agreed organization definitions, a real clarity made up of what connects and why and then ensuring the resources are made available to achieve the innovation ‘called for’. This calls for a focused yet adaptive and flexible leadership, that constantly looks to engage and provides the clarity necessary within a corporate  innovation framework that can cascade down the organization. Leaders need to actively ensure through clear designation that everything is in place for all the appropriate conversations, and is equally ready and listening to the new ‘pulse’ of innovation, they are generating from this new intensity of focus.

Identification becomes the core to innovation

Eventually with enough of this leadership engagement, constantly being articulated and framed for the challenges identified, there emerges a common consensus and organizational language around innovation and its intent. It connects and gains both organization and personal identification and this ‘identification’ sits at the core of innovation.

We get closer to achieving a consistent, more vibrant innovation as it becomes more routine and embedded, for it becomes increasingly linked to everyone’s goals, a certain oneness and because of this, it is sustaining. We identify as we understand what our contribution will be, then the leadership has done its primary job, its aligned innovation purpose to the goals, by laying out the parameters to achieve this.