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.
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.