Crossing on a red light at the innovation intersection is really dangerous

How often have we left it too late, we are suddenly under pressure. We need to get to that critical meeting and we take risks, or we simply just left it too late, so we ‘run the red light’. If we get to this point we are not just the ones in danger but we more than often involve others in this stupidity, with potential serious consequences for all involved.

Care on intersections

Organizations so often leave their own futures to the last minute by failing to recognize or acknowledge they are running out of time, the situation they have been so use too for such a long time has suddenly changed. Well, for the vast majority, there was nothing “sudden” about it, they simply left it too late, ignoring all the warning signs and they decided to cross that “red light” as a last minute panic to catch up and be back in charge of their innovation destiny.

Often all organizations want to do is get back in control, revert to being comfortable, managing “as usual” but in the process have missed so much innovation opportunity in these panic moments because they did not plan for it. They just had a simple failure in not anticipating and thinking ahead, they “ran the amber”, not being alert to their surroundings and wanting to learn so as to adapt to changing conditions. Not being open and receptive to reacting and exploring, in different more flexible ways, they simply have no time to manage changing events, they are suddenly out of their comfort zone. They spin out of control and lose all traction.

Anticipation is something that always needs us being in “heighten awareness”

It doesn’t matter if it is driving a car, positioning ourselves to receive a pass on the football field we all need to anticipate, to be aware, to get into this ‘heighten awareness’, into the position to “receive”. Otherwise, we are often left as the suckers or the ones that deal with the after effects. So why is it, that organizations’ are so poor at developing heighten awareness?

As we appreciate “heightened awareness” is the idea of “having a higher appreciation, knowledge of, and consciousness of your connection between the physical plane, and the spiritual plane”. Or in organizations speak, knowing what is going on, both inside your organization and connecting it to the market place. Heightening our awareness for innovation needs consistent renewal and anticipation, being alert to changes taking place in and around in our environments.

It is in this “heighten awareness” we can bring together observation and listening skills from what we can gather from the market place. Often in this state we are discovering unmet needs, jobs-to-be-done that customers need solutions for. You can’t achieve this if you are not alert and clearly drawn into yourself, often in the mistaken belief you know. You know what it takes, how long it takes and you simply relax and suddenly you are caught out, as you cut corners and get caught out by others who have taken the time and invested in this “heightened awareness” plane and thought through their innovation journey.

These are the ones who don’t need to ‘run the red light’ as they allowed enough  time to be totally aware of their environment and  found innovation opportunity on each street corner, because they were alert to what was going on around them. They not only planned the journey, they took the time to enjoy and remind themselves of why they were travelling in the first place, not just to get to the next destination as quickly as possible but to get there through appreciating the how, where and what as their contribution to improving “things”. When we simply get caught up in our day-to-day lives, our world, our needs, we disconnect and then we again, simply, ‘run the red light’ as we need to suddenly, simply, just catch up but often it is just too late.

Developing Organizational Awareness

We do need to be so much more proactive. That is so easy to offer as a “catchy” solution as we can’t add a further one hour into our crowded days so easily but it is strange but whenever we are “proactive” we are stopping, reflecting and starting to structure our days far more consciously. We confront face-to-face that running out of time, that flirting with danger by “jumping the red lights.” We begin to systematically break down short and long-term organizational needs based more on what is going on all around us, so we can lessen the pressures, heighten the understanding and simply allow more tuning in to innovation opportunity that is on that “every corner”. This growing awareness begins to “process” the vast number of variables that must be analyzed before a true solution can be delivered because we have allowed some thinking and experimental time and worked out the journey a little bit more. Our minds actually unclutter as we sort our thinking and build in more proactive.

Being inquisitive, being curious, being aware

Innochat, ( a weekly one-hour, highly fast paced “twitter chat” that goes on each week on Thursday, is a place for anyone who cares to contribute to the innovating topic of that week, and in this past particular week we discussed curiosity. In writing this post I made a further connection in my reflections from these exchanges. Let me explain, Drew Marshall, who facilitated this session, offered a “framing post” around curiosity and one point just struck such a cord for me here: Curiosity in Intersections – the way in which thinking between subjects leads to innovation.

In Drew’s blog piece he talks about multi-switching where we need to recognize patterns and discern what these mean. In Drew’s view it is the innovators ability to rapidly switch from one area of curiosity to another. Then he discusses multi-tasking as something potentially different. In multi-tasking an individual is moving quickly from one activity, or task within an activity, to another. Drew points out that the multi-tasker’s brain cannot fully focus when multitasking and therefore takes longer to complete tasks and they are predisposed to error.

We are caught today in a world of multi-tasking and as this seems to be quickening so perhaps we are more “predisposed” to increasing error. We are running the red light more often. We can’t stop the need to multi-task otherwise we just get left behind but we can stop and think more of the “what if?” to anticipate, to be more alert, to raise our heightened awareness. As we cross intersections we do need to be far more aware of the connections, not just of the dangers but of the emerging possibilities.

Organizations need to be alert to the dangers of multi-tasking for this risk of increased error.

We do need a “heightened awareness” of what innovation means and as more multi-tasking, more projects are being pushed on existing “everyday work” the risks of “running this red light” is increasing rapidly. If organizations continue to “push” even harder, then they run the danger of risking more than they expected. More crashes leading to more crisis, to then be managed and then missing out on the alternatives that time helps to allow.

We all certainly need to allow more time

Allowing little time to be aware, to be inquisitive, to spend time investigating, discovering and listening to your customers means you are ignoring the ‘amber’ warning light and suddenly and too late you cross the red light, where you are in real danger of a critical crash- a crash where people leave, because they can’t stand the ‘fear’ or ‘ignorance’ anymore, the fact that there is a new juggernaut crossing your intersection at the same time and you didn’t see it coming and it smashes into you and the result can be fatal.

We must recognize for innovation to thrive, you need to allow time, you need to be fully aware of where the possibilities might be and they are often on every corner. Just don’t cross the red light, rushing to get somewhere and you miss all the positive signals around you and also don’t allow enough time to sense the dangers that might be coming towards you from every direction.

Arrive safely by driving appropriately.

I saw a quote:“I think that growth and spiritual awareness come in slow increments. Sometimes you don’t know its happening”- Mariel Hemingway.

I would argue those that seek and plan, that allow appropriate time and be responsive to others needs, will find “awareness” can come not just in these “incremental moments” but in powerful innovative “waves” due to this heightened awareness. None of us should run the risk of crossing on a red light when it comes to thinking about innovation, always feeling under pressure, desperate, we must allow innovation to “arrive” through the space and time needed for allowing those illuminating moments to (ful)fill your innovation journey.

Critical intervention points of innovation peer-to-peer engagement

I’ve been reading a fair amount recently about the “lack” of innovation leadership within organizations. Where there is smoke there has to be fire I suspect, but does it need to be so?

Internal leadership of innovation suffers from exactly the same critical problem that the people working on innovation suffer from, of a lack of time and opportunity to study alternatives, as all are caught up in ‘driving’ their innovation through their internal system.

This “alternative voice” is often missing and this can so easily come through external advocacy. This is unlikely to come from the innovation consultant brought in to undertake ongoing work as that is very different, this is more critical, more specialized, even strategical supporting role, involving peer-to-peer engagement. This peer-to-peer helps  explore those critical issues relevant to you and where your organization is. Its aim is to offer a different perspective, so as to alter opinions or build new insights, that often cannot be evaluated without considerable deflection from the daily managing innovation that is taking place in often complex and challenging situations.Yet alternatives need to be considered so knowledge can evolve.

Finding a depth of knowledge offered by others can save serious time in considering appropriate alternatives or simply further strengthen your existing innovation understanding.  It is an option that needs real consideration. This can come from a more ‘traditional’ coaching approach that is seeking behaviorial difference but I think this needs to be extended and deepened further into managing intevention points selectively.

Let me offer a suggested framework that supports this use of engaging with external innovation expertise in peer-to-peer interventions for advancing innovation alternatives.

Exploring the eight critical engagement points within peer-to-peer innovation

The First Loop

1. Reflection: often within your own organization you might lack a sounding board to your innovation thinking. Sometimes, actually far too often, advice that is ‘freely’ given may have its own personal agenda, so it is useful to find someone who can demonstrate that they do understand your perspective and are capable and able, to discuss this thinking out loud in a more open, unconstrained way. This resource can really offer a valuable contribution to enhancing your views, challenging ‘set’ positions and strengthen a broader perspective.

2. Observation: this seeking out opinion can often throw into a much sharp focus what you are capable of doing well and what you are missing. Often this is sometimes better to come from an external view point, which can provide feedback from a set of critical questioning. The aim is to aid you in revealing some crucial gaps and can provide a timely, relevant perspective to avoid potential pitfalls and add value through this independent observation assessment.

3. Identification: it can also be highly valuable in engaging someone in exploring the intermediate steps of all the available options. This provides a valuable objectivity at a critical stage within developing innovation capability. That advice then can help you work through these evaluations and stimulate potential alternatives, often hidden from immediate view or not considered fully enough.

4. Clarification: The values of having some form of external benchmarking and growing awareness of best practice across different industries really can help significantly change your thinking. Within these parts of any discussion this can provide you with a broader understanding of the critical gaps, competitive forces and the alternatives that are valuable to be aware of, across industry and where there is possible adoption within your own circumstances. The value of knowing also ‘emergent best practice’ is also highly useful, often not gained by internal perspective alone. These can come from across industry, or further afield in different geographic application, to stimulate your thinking to fascinating alternatives, fresh insights and new practices and paths to follow, that can contribute to a stronger and often unique competitive position.

Each of these four activities in peer-to-peer discussions can significantly advance your knowledge and belief in managing innovation far more robustly than normally otherwise. They trigger and stimulate and can be enormously useful to the leadership of innovation within organizations and on a personal understanding level.

The Second Loop

We can move beyond the four approaches of reflection, observation, identification and clarification into the next learning loop of applying a more action orientated framework to extend out those peer-to-peer discussions. These are:

5. Problem‐solving application: often within your teams there is a rich knowledge but sometimes it has become too internally focused and lacks that ability to see the broader external perspective and alternatives that we feel an independent voice can bring into the equation. Also external help can offer expertise, resetting the momentum within project or the management of innovation that provides a deeper expertise and contribution that is not immediately available within the organization.

6. Educating through mentoring: often general training fails to transfer that essential and appropriate knowledge back into the organization as it lacks expertise in a given area. This lack of embedding through the application of immediate practice can lead to a absence of personal identification and lose of time. There is a real value in looking for external mentoring for correlation to we look what training should provide by working to achieve specific outcomes on the job, therefore firmly fixing the theory with the practical.

7. Solution Advocacy: the key to successfully external advice is not just in the recommendations and guidelines but the critical part is the issue of transferability into the real world and working through the implications this brings. Encouraging external involvement at this stage, not to do your own teams jobs but to champion and advocate, does greatly aid and increase the value and satisfaction from the engagement, from all perspectives. It provides the increasing ‘knowledge return’ on any investment in your innovation activity by deploying external resources to ‘critical moments’ or activities that need supporting at those vital times, to give it additional momentum.

8. Implementation & Application: supporting the innovation solutions is often the toughest part that needs that extra energy and understanding. Execution is often extremely hard to undertake and often lightly regarded as a normal part of everyday occurrence. This is far from the case. It needs dedicated resources and increased specialisation.  It is often forgotten that it is only at this stage you begin to have a return on your investment, entering the market place and nothing is realised from all those internal efforts until this part is executed. Execution is critical to strategy so as to make it successful and realizable. Applying additional resource and expertise can offer real value. Executing the go-to-market strategy well can add considerable gravitas to your value and to your organizations perceived value.  Previous ‘invested time’ in peer-to-peer engagements cannot be more actively demonstrated at this point. Applying knowledge gained in having the external provider assisting and making interventions at those most opportune execution moments can be highly supportive by raising critical issues, that it is sometimes hard for internal parties to make, without some personal concerns on the implications for often themselves.

A cautionary warning: you are paying to listen and learn- do!

In all of these interventions I’d only ask that you resist ‘shooting the external messenger’ until you have heard the important message he or she is delivering, it might really make the difference between innovation success and failure. It would be a real pity if you lose a wonderful ongoing external resource that’s value is seeking out and extending their innovation knowledge so you can benefit.  They can be positioned as an  advocating source to the many ‘alternatives’ that are certainly available, that you,due to your role just have limited time to explore. I’d recommend you leverage this resource, nudge, nudge.

This specialised innovation knowledge provider can suppliment and nourish your innovation appetite to build on what you already know. It augments what you often don’t have time to evaluate yourself.

The separation effect required for innovation

Exploit and Explore 3I have recently been in some different discussions about the merits and balances required to manage incremental and radical innovation. Partly this is in preparation for a workshop later this month but partly from a conversation, I am having with a sizable, well-respected organization, with its head office based here in Europe.

In the conversation within the organization we were discussing the breakdown in their treatment of incremental and radical and they suggested this was being managed within an “ambidextrous structure” yet I was not convinced. I have to point out this was only a part of a broader story on the difficulties of managing conflicting innovation demands that they were having.

One key constraint in their thinking I felt was not having distinct units as they were trying to manage incremental and radical through the same process and that, for me, is a basic mistake.

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The Innovating Era: Creative Destruction or Destructive Creation?

Creative Destruction

We have been entering some perilous times recently and I can’t imagine when Joseph Schrumpeter outlined his groundbreaking efforts for explaining “creative destruction” he or anyone else, could image this being flipped around to what we are facing more today, that of “destructive creation”.

Schrumpter saw “creative destruction” as the renewing, through new innovation, society’s dynamics that would lead into higher levels of economic development and welfare. At the same time recognizing that this destroyed a few of the incumbents to the benefits of many more newcomers and increasing value creation for broader society.

Today it seems we are caught in the reverse of this- the process of “destructive creation”- where it benefits a few rather than the many. This sets out often to destroy or greatly diminish the usage value of existing products and services before it is optimal to actually do so, and in the process incurring often significant costs not taken into account at the time. These unforeseen issues have consequences that negatively affect parts of society not foreseen or contemplated at the time.

The shift has placed the emphasis on the role of destruction rather than creation in driving innovation activity. This is getting uncomfortable, innovation then becomes not so good for you perhaps? This is becoming the game for a few to make money, to corner markets, to dominate and wanting to achieve monopolistic positions and not so worried over the wealth creation aspects of creating jobs, building communities, cherishing certain values.

We need to be on guard in understanding the fundamentals within innovation as it should advance for the good of society, not be actually working to its detriment. Actually who is benefiting from the distribution of new wealth? The developed world is seeking desperately ways to regain growth but it needs to be more equitable, not in the hands of a few that determine our choices but increasingly seem unaccountable for their actions.

Firstly a couple of examples of “creative destruction”

A really good one was the arrival of the personal computer, the economy significantly profited without significant economic upheaval. It raised productivity and ushered in significant value for many.  The typewriter of course quickly became obsolete for this “creative destruction” and certainly the organizations investing in this lost out.

Another one has been the general advancement of technology. For example within the telecom sector where we were able to benefit from massive increases in managing data, calls and volumes around the world to connect us all up into a global economy. Old switch boards, chunky mainframes and old communicating technology were thrown out and this advancement in technology allowed the scarce resource of people to be employed differently and more productively. Technology has provided huge advancements but it also has its downsides.

The problem both of these examples have though is they are technology lead. Technology has been racing ahead. With the active encouragement of “policy innovation” and its stimulus we have been building more complexity as technology became more powerful. Complexity is everywhere. You add in scientific advances it has been a powerful combination effect of promoting social change- often radical social change. All positive, or has it been?

Today, we are dependent on complex technological systems to manage much, often incomprehensible to most if not all of us. Let me give you a couple of examples of the growing downsides we are seeing.

Let me provide some examples of “destructive creation”

Destruction form of creation

Derivatives- that dirty word that we have been struggling with over the past few years, that has been causing much within our current global downturn. At its heart was a system no one quite understood that created mortgage leverages, financial convertibles and it was in this proliferation of complexity and uncertainly these highly leveraged investments had become totally incoherent to us. The “destructive creation” part then kicks in often in unexpected ways with tragic consequences for many in lost jobs, lost homes, lost lives and lost investment money for  many, while a few made massive gains.

Asia was another example; its lightening speed in its growth had lead to a recent financial crisis simply triggered by capital account converting that shifting into a myriad of different financial instruments. The downside of that had not been anticipated in policy intervention and we had a significant scale of financial destruction that was not creative but destructive in its effect to the economies for some time. Again many people lost out, for some, recovery from this effect never occurred -it changed their lives, often to start again.

Although we are told there are sound risk models in place to assess and antiscipate, we certainly can’t look upon the promise from these with the same naivety in the future after a number of recent events. Much seems unpredictable in hidden consequences. But I would ask “have we lost the plot a little here”, perhaps we can’t really predict and control anymore, when the complexities we have built still continue and add even more layers. We need to accept more ‘destructive creation’ will occur.

The destructive effects presently going on in Europe

Let’s take Greece and its ‘melt down’ of the past twelve months. Could we have predicted the massive social unrest and serious economic decline in the approaches taken by the parties responsible for managing an orderly recovery?  How many times are we hearing “structural adjustment” to cover massive upheaval and watching a civil collapse happening on front of our eyes. Thousands of previously healthy businesses in Greece are being starved of finances, of demand and caught up in such social upheaval. This is destructive creation for the many who have got caught up in the ‘collective adjustment’ applied.

How will the Euro shake out in the coming months when our leaders just seem unable to get their heads around its complexity? This is a proliferation of complexity fuelling uncertainty. Is this because we have been great inventors and innovators or poor at working through all the consequences as analytics alone can’t explain these things in coherent ways, we just watch “destructive forces” being applied in the name of social and structural adjustment sweep away whole swaths of creative good as well.

The pursuit of growth and wealth is fine but are we balancing the conflicting values, consequences and upheavals well enough in the equation, otherwise it tips from this “creative destruction” over into “destructive creation” and that is not a healthy place for innovation to be.

The obsession with innovation- myself included!

Presently our Governments are obsessed with innovation- it sometimes feels it is the only game in town for future growth. Let’s just keep adding novelty and ever increasing value to get our economies going seems to be the mantra.  The problem is we seem to be destroying more than we can build at present, yet a ‘few’ gain from these seeds of “destructive creation” while a majority don’t. We need to flip this back to “creative destruction”.

How much of a society cost are we prepared to pay? Should all this be laid at the door of innovation? We need to inquire about, to explain and understand these forces, both the positive and negative far more. You can get to a certain point where you hit innovation saturation and we will begin to reject it unless we see its value invested within our community, not in others far away.

The replacement rate is speeding up

The other part of “destructive creation” is the attention we are all paying to the replacement rate. The way we discard our mobile phones, cars, household goods and creative increasing ‘toxic’ waste has its destructive creation part. These were foreseen, even have been actively encouraged to promote our economic well being but are they?

I know Steve Jobs and what he built at Apple is regarded as a beacon of success but there is a darker side to this. High rates of innovation, often not truly needed, can be disruptive to the larger society as a whole. A few jobs, many outsourced into low cost environments is leading to a jobless growth in the rest of the industry, it is destroying the usage value (useful life left) of existing products to the benefit of the few, rather than the many.  Some might call this a “shutdown game” establishing conditions that negatively affect values of other products, or is that still called offensive marketing, knowing exactly what the customer needs? I’m not 100% convinced.

Shareholder value is our focus point but what about the shut downs, those old, empty, rusty building that seem to be increasing not decreasing. We are faced more with de-industrialization issues than seeing re-industrialization coming from the present ‘destruction’ forces unleashed upon us all today. What is the cost of disruption and destruction of whole communities in social costs, in our investments for the future when we can’t ‘feel’ or see the benefits of “creative destruction” emerging?

There are many industries that start out thinking they are on the path to “creative destruction” but somewhere along the road got flipped into “destructive creation”. Often this was not the intended path but it became the consequence. Adding more just reinforced the greater destruction leaving it less creative, except in pockets of expertise.

Pressures suddenly built. Competition fell away, they went into troughs of uninspiring innovation for some time. Consumer software upgrades come to mind here, killing off perfectly good software to force us into upgrading but actually pushing us to search for alternatives, killing off useful gained knowledge and continued utility. Where is the cross over point in “creative” and “destruction”?

The quicker we adapt, the sharper we suffer declines somewhere else- technological choices and social consequences- new gadgets vs. decline in privacy for example. Yet the total industry consequence of one party dominating in “destructive creation” is only seen that much later on when the total decline cannot be stopped. It is often not one parties fault unless they are deliberate in their design but we are losing the ability to understand all the consequences of decisions, with unforeseen knock-on consequences .

For instance, if our banks don’t change as society is perceiving they should, and the policy makers seem unable to work through the complexity of this level of change, then society has two choices: remain with the present system where a few seem to gain over the majority, or seek out a change in the financial lending system so society again puts back “creative” at the front of “destruction” to benefit the broader community.

Let’s be honest, the banking industry has not been so innovative in many ways, besides enhancing wealth creation by the use of financial instruments or just to constantly sustain the existing ‘world order’. Will an alternative to our existing financial system evolve and or disrupt, but at what destructive cost?

Disconnects are all around.

There is, when you look around, a lot of seemingly partial and disconnected aspects to our advancement. Where are we in our debates on climate change, stem cell research, toxic chemicals, landfills and plenty more.

How will we manage the feeding of the world in years to come? How will we manage the old and sick. How will society re-integrate growing groups who are getting disenfranchised? All of these can be destructive or built on constructive ways that ‘create’ orderly change. Yet, they seem bogged down in complexity, opposing forces and we are not breaking through these in new order ways. We somehow must.

There are always it seems contesting sides and consistent daily arguments from all sides in complex arguments about how the world would work and why their solution provides the answer. The problem is we simply don’t know. We seem to be losing comprehension of the bigger picture. I’m not sure when you try to describe the big picture it really is so coherent and that is one of our big problems.

Issues are just far too complex.

We are facing more uncertainly and incoherence than ever. Should we call a moratorium on innovation or is it just invention? Can we afford too?

It is interesting observation, we do seem to have moved back to enjoy narratives, myths and cult stories more than in the past, is that a yearning for something from the past in our  lives where one person tells a story that just made sense as it seemed full of wisdom and real good for many?

I think we, as humans, have been reduced down and until we can regain mastery over the complex, needing a structural and societal adjustment or we otherwise will continue to suffer the consequences of “destructive creation.” I think we might start yearning for the good old days of just “creative destruction.” Is technology leading and we are lagging? Can we regain control?

So some commentators have suggested that we have to reawaken our imaginations and really think deeply about our values. Then innovation can perhaps return to being context-specific working in positive enhancing ways to improve society as a whole and not be used for a selected few. All I hope is it will let us ensure we put the emphais back far more on the “creative” innovation part and not the ‘destructive’ nature we have been moving towards recently.

Certainly inspired and some points drawn from a paper “Destructive Creation and the New World Order” by Paul Harris & Daniel Sarewitz