Piecing innovation together

Completing the innovation design

Completing the innovation design

When you look at all the (broken) parts within innovation it takes some time to figure out how you can piece it all together to make it a better whole. Innovation and its management is just this place this needs to be pieced together. It often cries out for it.

Most people that work in our business organizations are spending their increasing time in piecing their part of the innovation equation together to make innovation work and trying to improve on the existing conditions to deliver new products and services. They have to work on fixing the system and its many faulty parts, let lone work on their new concept. Is it not about time we stepped back and really thought through the design of innovation and its managing? Why is this so hard to do?

The negative cost of rework.

When you don’t understand the parts that make up the complete system, you end up with an awful lot of rework that really should not have been necessary. This rework is different from experimenting and learning, where you gain positive insight that improves the innovation activity you are working on. No, this is the negative stuff, the attempts to ‘keep the show on the road’, to keep the momentum and commitment focused and so often this requires a lot of messy, fiddling and fudging of the parts to keep it functioning.

Why is it we often forget not just the innovation project we are working on, needs goals and a clear picture of where we are going although this is heavily influences by what we are learning and absorbing on the way, yet the innovation system never gets this constant, focused attention?

Have you ever completed a 2,500 piece puzzle?

Try completing a 2,500 piece puzzle without knowing the finished picture (or objective). In the jigsaw puzzle we always have the corners and as we spend time looking at each of the pieces we see the unique way they fit together. It is by this dedicated focus we can piece together the final puzzle. The point is, if we have a clear picture to help up, we can piece it together a whole lot quicker. Innovation management needs that final picture, the one where we can constantly refer too, to put together all the pieces and complete the puzzle. Its strategic and it needs to be provided by the leadership of the organization for each of us to work within.

The problem we often face is deciding on the type of innovation puzzle itself.

Innovation and its management does need to always figure out is what it is trying to achieve early on. If you don’t have this clear strategic picture how can you set about delivery of innovation that fits in? If we don’t have clear alignment of innovation to strategic objectives and goals, we end up with thousands of pieces of innovation effort all designed to fit but not pieced together to make the complete design as they lack this overarching picture.

I was checking out on Wikepedia on the puzzle and you can apply some of the attraction that innovators have with solving their puzzles. The entry within Wikipedia suggests you should treat puzzles a little more seriously. “Solutions to puzzles may require recognizing patterns and creating a particular order. People with a high inductive reasoning aptitude may be better at solving these puzzles than others. Puzzles based on the process of inquiry and discovery to complete may be solved faster by those with good deduction skills.”

Can you see managing innovation in this puzzle analogy?

We need to design innovation and its management in purposeful, well designed ways. Often we never seem to know what types of innovation are really needed, we lack alignment to the strategic goals, so we settle on less risk and more incremental solutions, smaller puzzles we can quickly resolve and get a ‘notional’ pat on the back for but fail to really move the innovation needle for real growth.

The other thought is how we love to treat innovation as a mystery.

 Tim Kastelle wrote a great article on both the puzzle and the mystery called are you solving a puzzle or a mystery. He rightly suggests that the problems that lead to disruptive innovations are often mysteries. This means that we need a different toolkit to solve these problems than we use when we solve puzzles.

Tim’s article is based on reviewing the book by Jeanne Liedtka and Tim Ogilvie pick up on this distinction in their outstanding book Designing for Growth: A Design Thinking Toolkit for Managers.

Jeanne Liedtka and Tim Ogilvie in their book "Designing for Growth"

Jeanne Liedtka and Tim Ogilvie in their book “Designing for Growth”

He provided this “designing for growth” visual, which I think is great, it is not an aside, it can help in this ‘puzzle’ thinking.

Tim goes onto argue in his article: “We are strongly drawn to puzzles because of how clear-cut they are. Unfortunately, many of the big problems that we face are not puzzles, but rather mysteries. Mysteries are messy, and the methods that solve puzzles don’t work for mysteries, and they might actually make them worse”. This is a great insight that I am sure is built on Tim’s own personal experiences constantly tackling both mystery and puzzles on many occasions.

We are messy in mysteries and equally in solving puzzles

How do we set about designing innovation management systems? Tim provides a great starting point “when the parameters are basically known”. We just need to find the right information to develop the innovation parameters that will guide and frame the problem.

So what makes up the parameters within innovation system design?

The sad fact is that most organizations never bother to fully understand the multiple levels that make up the parameters needed in designing an innovation management system. They just seem to just love the rework, all that negative stuff!  Surprising when there is so much talk on the emphasis on driving out inefficiencies. Perhaps innovation falls outside the mainstream comfort zone for applying efficient design?

I just think we can design the innovation system, structures, process and their governance so much better to allow those working with their innovation puzzle a better chance to piece it together as they can understand the end goal, of fitting their innovation into the bigger frame of the organization’s strategic growth goals.

For each of us to achieve that, it needs both the puzzle and mystery to be taken out of the innovation system and this is where leadership plays its part. It is by designing and communicating this in an innovative strategic way, may I suggest through the Executive Innovation Work Mat. It offers the framework for the design by providing its distinct edges for the pieces to be put together and offer a completed picture to work within, it starts to set the parameters needed.

Reducing confusion, promoting diffusion for new knowledge in innovation

The third and final part of exploring knowledge and education for innovation

Part three – the value is in changing, doing and exchanging

How are we going to engage more people within the innovation process? Getting people involved is getting people “doing”. We learn far more when we are doing and gaining experience yet organizations are always in seems to me consciously or unconsciously reducing the experimental part to any persons learning.  We need to reverse this and simply encourage the exploring of new skills, gaining new experiences and probing established rules to value them but also to challenge and push them. Innovation is certainly not a friend to rules, established protocols and traditions. ‘It’ looks to attract the diverse opinions, the people willing to speak up and be heard as they often have observed and feel something can be changed and ‘itch’ for the chance to explore and learn from this.

Coupling, uncoupling and recoupling in complex systems

Innovation is a complex system where the coupling, uncoupling and re-coupling of  technology, design, product, organization, art and science, to name just a few of the parts, that need to constantly engage for good worthwhile innovation to happen, is important for us to recognize. Organizations have real difficulties with this ‘fluid need’ to allow innovation to evolve as the natural tendencies are to apply, traditional, established ways to track, to attempt to ‘file away’ something that can be related too within the experiences. This is why encouraging enquiry, by pushing experiences you ‘form’ less and ‘allow’ more to evolve before you make the judgement. Innovation needs to be allowed to stay ‘fluid’ as long as possible before the final commercial ‘freeze’ moment when all the combinations emerge as new to the world.

We also come back to the intrinsic nature of innovation; it needs different resources, skills and knowledge experiences to come into play. It is this very diversity of opinion, if allowed to engage and explore, gives us the chances of advancing innovation, of achieving a more radical solution. Perhaps we ‘promote’ incremental innovation far more than we realize because we don’t go out and engage in broader communities due to not having the time, the inclination or the understanding of its real value. Equally because we are simply not encouraged to do so, hence my argument we need a clear innovation knowledge exchange structure in place working through the absorptive capacity structure.

Openness and Convergence

Besides all the well-argued aspects of open innovation that certainly includes that famous statement that “all knowledge does not reside in one place” the more we interact, cooperate and network we share knowledge. Often the regret is the ‘brief’ is getting tighter and tighter to work from, so as to speed up discussions, the searches and ‘lock-in’ solutions the more we ignore weaker signals that are out there, hinting at even greater innovation opportunity. We chose to push past these due to this incentive, this often ‘hard’ metric that we work strictly on the ‘brief’ unless we simply trip over something so blindingly better.

Although we are certainly evolving innovation the more we open-up we do need to build in some slack time to explore, often go with a hunch and follow our noses. We are in danger of losing this opportunity in our focused intents. Open innovation will not yield all it can promise if we don’t allow for more open knowledge exploration that might be out of the ‘norm’ but still within the parameters of what we are wanting to achieve – innovation that offers compelling competitive advantage – and we often can’t achieve that if we remain blind to those ‘weak signals’ that knowledge exchange that is encouraged to recognize, value and assimilate.

The Dangers Lurking in Innovation

We all speak of enhancing innovation capabilities but it can be both competence-enhancing and competence-destroying. We build on “preferred” routes to enhance our existing capabilities as this is traditionally viewed as the way to become ‘competitive’. Actually the very opposite can and does happen. Significant breakthroughs, changes in conditions, markets or technologies leave us increasingly unprepared. More and more disruption is occurring and with this it is bringing increasing obsolescence.

We do need to acquire new skills, not ones layered on pre-conceived ideas and practices but on ones that promote new “fields of activity” we built into our thinking. We need more intensive innovation that explores at the emerging new edges of innovation management.

A great example of new fields of activity is MIX

A real valuable example of this is the work taking place within the Management Innovation  eXchange (MIX) as an open innovation project aimed at reinventing management for the 21st century. The premise: “while “modern” management is one of humankind’s most important inventions, it is now a mature technology that must be reinvented for a new age”. This is a meeting place where The MIX is designed for all those who are frustrated by the limits of our legacy management practices. It’s for all the inspired thinkers and radical doers who believe we can — and must — find alternatives to the bureaucratic and dis-empowering management practices that still rule most organizations.

Principles of the MIX – Everyone Wins When Everyone Shares

“The MIX represents a pioneering attempt to use the open innovation model to help accelerate the evolution of a critical social technology — its management. Rather than struggling in isolation to reinvent the processes and practices of management, MIX members can leverage the expertise and insights of a global community of like-minded innovators. The success of the MIX hinges on the willingness of its members to share their ideas and experiences, which depends in turn on a belief that more can be gained by sharing than by hoarding. Truth is, there’s a lot more management innovation going on in the world at large than in any particular organization. Thus the MIX gives every progressive management innovator the chance to share a little and learn a lot”.

Certainly learning favors the brave

We certainly need to educate across innovation more than ever. It needs not just greater recognition of its vital parts, it needs to be recognized as a value enhancing and organizational life-changing event we need to move towards increasingly. Innovation needs to be recognized as a clear discipline, a new expertise that is as powerful as Marketing became some decades ago.

The more we embrace change, recognize innovation demands more of our time, the more we seek out knowledge that ‘feeds’ innovation and we ‘push’ for learning far more about its impact and its complex parts, the greater chance we have of thriving in a challenging world.

The expectation ‘bar’ needs to be raised and those practicing within innovation, dealing in some of its parts do need to raise their game. Learning and Education always should start at home. The more we learn, have open interactions and form linkages the more we will be ready to advance innovation into what it must become, innovation management, recognized as a discipline and highly valued for what it contributes in wealth and growth potential.

We need to find the determination to underpin the capacity for innovation, lying within us all, and that comes from knowledge and education through collaborative learning. So what is your capacity for innovation really like?

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.

Will we ever learn to manage innovation?

I was asking myself when are we ever going to really learn about how to manage innovation? Reading through the latest global survey results from McKinsey entitled ‘Innovation & Commercialization, 2010′ at http://fwd4.me/cRK and you must wonder with all the activity (and hype) surrounding innovation why we do not make the type of positive progress you should expect in innovation management.

There are very positive signs innovation is emerging stronger than ever from the recent bout of economic ‘flu’ we all have been going through. The report starts on the high note “84% of all executives say innovation is extremely or very important to their companies’ growth strategy”- yippee! The darker side is the ‘but’- “little has changed in the way they generate ideas and turn them into products and services plus many other challenges remain remarkably consistent”- oh dear!

Do we ever learn?

The core barriers to successful innovation have not changed according to this survey. What will make the connection if innovation is so important yet not changing in the way we manage it? The answer does lie in the reports tentative suggestion “formalize processes” but that does need a more detailed grasp of what makes up innovation management and much of corporate management does not seemingly have the willingness or commitment to learn this.

How can we change this lack of progress in learning?

I’ve been working on this in different ways that include some detailed researching, collaborating with like minded people and exploring the different aspects that do connect the multiple strands that make up innovation.

McKinsey’s report does confirm (thankfully) that the biggest challenge is organization and suggests “improvement in understanding in this area would make the most profound difference in innovation performance.” So I and my collaborating partners are on to something here.

I have been amazed at the different attributes needed to make the multiple types of innovation work, be this open innovation, business model innovation, design-led, needs driven, operational, service excellence innovation, technology focused or research & development innovation. Add in simply ‘management innovation’ and you really begin to see the complexity to grasp for improving the chances of a sustaining success in innovation as more likely. No wonder it becomes difficult for CEO’s, HR Managers to structure and organise their innovation efforts in better ways but you can.

More on this emerging work will be outlined later in future blogs. For this blog let me suggest simply:

Steps to help  improve the innovation process include:

  • Recognizing, allocating and aligning the talent to the required task and training them in the required attributes needed to be in place for the ‘type’ of innovation needed
  • Ensure leadership is clear in its needs to achieve and which options within the innovation types available can best be applied to realise this.
  • Have a process that is well thought through and tightly managed so as to reduce the ad hoc parts right down so the necessary ‘resource energy’ is channelled appropriately to meet the strategic needs.
  • Keep constantly attentive to the relationships that go within and beyond the company walls and focus on the techniques that reduce ‘destructive tension’ and replace this with ‘constructive tension’
  • Simply recognizing innovation does require a formalized process and the appropriate attention and efforts are constantly at ‘top of mind’ and clearly understood within the organization to align strategic- innovation priorities and this ‘need’ is paramount to succeed.

If innovation is a real priority then management within organizations does need to invest and learn about it more. They do need to have this necessary fuller understanding of the process from beginning to the end and what makes it tick repeatedly, and work effectively and efficiently, otherwise the next survey will be telling us the same repeating story, that little has changed in innovation understanding in a world of arguably constant change.

It is strange if this lack of learning continues on the required understanding of what does need organizing and recognizing in structuring the required innovation management. I, for one, would like to change this.