Millennials see innovation differently from today’s leaders.

Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited (DTTL) have provided a set of interesting results from a survey of the world’s future leaders and what they think about innovation released for the World Economic Forum, January 2003

The top line was only 26% of those surveyed believed their current organizations leaders encourage the practices that foster innovation. This indicates a major shift really is needed in the organizational mindset to give innovation the chance to thrive.

The implications are nicely summarized by this statement from Deliotte’s Global CEO. “Innovation at the institutional level is needed to sufficiently shift an organization’s mindset to allow new ideas to truly emerge and thrive,” said Deloitte Global CEO Barry Salzberg. “While our current business leaders can debate how and where to innovate, it’s clear how much importance our future leaders place on innovation—not just as a driver of business growth but also as a catalyst for solving society’s most pressing problems.”

DTTL surveyed close to 5,000 Millennials from 18 countries. When gauging the perception among future leaders about innovation and its impact on society, 84 percent say business innovations have a positive impact on society, and 65 percent feel their own company’s activities benefit society in some way.

For more information and to view the survey results, visit: www.deloitte.com/millennialsurvey

The critical message – can we wait or shift leaders aside who don’t get it?

“A generational shift is taking place in business as baby boomers, many of whom may have been wedded to the ‘old way’ of doing business, begin to step down from their leadership roles to retire,” said Salzberg. “Real opportunity exists for organizations to step up and create the conditions and commitment needed to encourage and foster innovation in their work environments. And there’s a tremendous upside if we get this right: we can better retain talent, remain more competitive into the future, and more positively impact society.”

The report provides a nice infographic here: http://tinyurl.com/autexyn

So what really catches my eye?

The one chart that stands out for me is the one that outlines the required provisions of innovation conditions and the present delivery “gap” in creating these to foster innovation.

Taking this as the make-up of many of the essential conditions it is worth listing them here

  1. Encourage & reward idea generation and creativity
  2. Provide employees with “free” time that can be dedicated to learning
  3. That leadership encourages idea sharing regardless of seniority
  4. To promote openness and the freedom to challenge
  5. Provide a commitment to successfully advance innovation ideas
  6. Provide strong and inspirational (innovation) leadership
  7. Have a clear vision of the future
  8. Have a (better) understanding of the Millennial generation
  9. Improve or expand use of internal social and informal learning (methods)
  10. Encourage both formal and informal learning
  11. Have a (real) commitment to a sustainable business
  12. Provide (the conditions) and commitment to continued development
  13. Provide (consistent) improvement to internal processes
  14. Commitment to (consistent) and continual product and service improvements
  15. The (vexing issue) of a lack of hierarchy

The ones highlighted in bold gained the highest responding as needed but this is a fairly valuable list to work from in fostering the ‘right’ innovation conditions.

The Millennials felt the purpose of business was to improve society, generate profit and to drive innovation. They overwhelmingly believe innovation is essential for business growth. They feel it is acceptable for business to profit from social innovation and those organisations that are (clearly) seen to be innovative will attract the talent

According to DTTL the findings endorse the importance of leadership and innovation and the impact business can have on society. This creates opportunities for business leaders – both individually and collectively – and for the long-term success of their businesses.

My initial thoughts triggered from this survey

Today’s leaders need to think very differently about their role and the expectations of business, if we are to capitalize on the opportunities that innovation can provide, simply by allowing these opportunities to be shaped more by the Millennial generation, sitting inside or collaborating outside their organizations.

For me, this survey simply  strengthens my view that today’s leaders just don’t get innovation in the multiple ways they should: to enhance their business and to regain growth. The generations coming up into leadership positions are not just aware of innovation’s importance but are being exposed and trained in all the different facets but frustrated those above “simply don’t get it”.

The issue is “can we really wait?” I don’t believe so.

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Heat-seeking innovation

I’ve been listening and watching some of the discussions coming out of the World Economic Forum and the value is worth the investment. I’ve saved the $40k that it is estimated to attend this annual event and I can certainly find the time to absorb what is being said in my own environment. Perhaps the messages are more salient because of this, I don’t know, as I’m highly unlikely to be attending this forum as you have to be invited.

So what has caught my attention is not surprising for its relevancy, to what I do and think about, around the issues of innovation and its ability to lead us out of our present adversities The one discussion that was valuable on this involved a panel that spoke at length about risks in uncertain times. It was headlined as “Leading through adversity” but focused on the uncertainty being faced and where innovation can help in reducing unfamiliar risks and giving us some clarity.

Watch the debate here http://tinyurl.com/a6lqm5h

There were lots of discussions on different types of innovation from Professor Clayton Christensen’s emerging view we have three types of 1) empowering innovation, 2) sustaining innovation and 3) efficiency innovation. Another panellist Anand Mahindra spoke of two types of Pioneering cutting edge and the “More for less” movement found in frugal innovation thinking as the two that need us all to think through. Both good contributors to where innovation needs to fit but our difficulties persist as we all do not share a common language.

The Chairperson of Bains & Company, USA Orit Gadiesh kept reminding us that fear comes in two different forms: “uncertain”- that tends to freeze us until we resolve some of that uncertainty and “unfamiliar”- where many CEO’s and organizations are presently grappling with. Both are presently “scaring us to death” to quote Clayton Christensen in dealing with the “unknowns”.

Two comments sparked a thought- one by Martin Senn, Group Chief Executive Officer, Zurich Insurance Group, Switzerland was his “interconnectivity of risk” and the other one was dealing with the new issue on the block everyone is thinking through “Market transitions” and the effects in each economy on job and wealth creations started by John Chambers, CEO & Chairman of Cisco.

Preparing for innovation for the future.

These two comments lead you to begin to think about Innovation for the future. We are going to continue to live in unpredictable times and there is an awful lot coming towards us in new business model designs that are going to radically alter the competitive landscape.

We sense entire industries are being threatened. Toppling giants send shock waves throughout the world and certainly the corridors of our business leaders.

This continued uncertainly, this dealing in the unfamiliar, this feeling of something coming from nowhere made me think of “heat-seeking innovation”.

So for a little bit of fun I took a look at some of the comparisons between heat seeking missiles and applied those to heat-seeking innovation. Ok, a little “left field” but it became interesting, so stay with me for a few moments of wanderings. Too much listening to our leaders in Davos perhaps?

Stretching your thinking around heat-seeking innovation

So, I’m stretching our thinking, ignoring much within the design of heat seeking missiles but looking at some of the commonalities surprisingly around us in different ways that we need to build into our innovation capability, building for future innovation to respond too in far more smarter ways.

Heat-seeking innovation relies on piecing together considerable data, rapidly absorbing the individual values to ‘react’ to the unfamiliar and continue to manage the constant and familiar.

Let me explain some parallels with heat-seeking missiles.  With so many new business models occurring, they are out to destroy what is already in place and part of the incumbent CEO’s role is to avoid this fate or be the one to bring the new business model to fruition. They need to ‘seek’ more and ‘risk’ more.

As the name implies heat-seeking missiles home in on the hot areas of a target, the parallel is that our innovation needs to do the same job. Home in and do the job, disrupt (destroy) the existing and gain the advantage through new business models, products and services.

Heat seeker innovation requires us all to get a whole lot smarter.

We need to get a whole lot smarter with our innovation efforts, we need to build innovation systems that are “smarter” in discriminating targets and resisting the jamming effects, internally and externally often deployed to try and influence and alter their mission. We need to use the heat map to focus in and cut out this ‘background’ clutter. We need to stay the innovation course.

Firstly we need innovation combustion

It is the amount of innovation heat, the energy feeding into the system, to quote from one article on heat seeking missiles: “the energy is in the form of a crystal lattice of vibrations that vibrate along the chain”. The more heat one omits you achieve a continuous band that raises the (innovation) temperature and increases the thrust and combustion.

All sources of energy (our people) emit the potential for innovation activity. The more you ’emit’ you achieve growing propulsion in new innovative energy so the more you vibrate (with innovation) the higher the intensity. You need to build the innovation engine that allows the energy source to propagate (our people and their ideas and actions) and champion its value and source of future growth.

Controlling the burn

Propulsion needs a controlled burn time. To get a better speed, to move organizations forward faster levels of heat-seeking innovation, there is a need to have a combination of proximity and impact infusing. Here the CEO needs to lay down all the “guidance systems”, provide the positioning of targets and issues the necessary commands (the innovation strategy aligned to corporate goals) to achieve the desired flight path. Getting close to our customers, our markets and having available core capabilities to deliver desired results does need a certain closeness and determination to infuse the parts.

There also needs to be in place optical filters which I gather for heat-seeking missiles are made up of absorption filters that have wide bandwidth (scanning and assessments) and interference filters that design down to extremely narrow bandwidths (clear innovation focus) and both require good transmittance (communications) and reflecting unwanted energy (a design of a common language and intent) instead of absorbing it.

Reject what is not relevant to getting the heat seeking innovation away (good governance and project management). In other words stop unnecessary interference which comes from our own reflection (dogma’s and mindsets) and laser in on what secures your future. Push through the “flak.”

What we need to set up is targeted directional information to accelerate this impact infusing.

So we need to ensure the following to be put into place for optimising our heat-seeking innovation (missiles) to become operative and deliver their full impact.

We need seeker types

We call these innovation scouts. These are the source for detecting new innovation, targets to zoom in on, seek out their heat and these targets allow up to home in on to defeat with countermeasures, provide the information to avoid, possible seek and destroy as threats, or rapidly learn from as these take evasive actions to improve our own innovation efforts.

We need scanning patterns and modulation

As we build our own capabilities in innovation it is the space in front of us becomes the one to scan for new targets (core, adjacent or new spaces). We need to amplify the signals (weak signals offer tomorrows innovation). The more we ‘do’ innovation, increase its frequency, the better we become at hitting the right targets more accurately.

Cooling effect

Heat-seeking missiles need to lock into increasing lower level signals and often the heat being omitted by much within the system can overpower the weak signal. We sometimes need to cool our systems to lock into these targets (portfolio pruning), especially over longer time frames and horizons (the three horizons of innovation)

Tracking

Heat seeking missiles have their seekers mounted on a gimbal. This allows the sensor to be pointed at the target while the missile might not be. Like missiles innovation cannot always be pointed at the target, we need to explore other trajectory paths, but at a given time we lock into the target (innovation value chain) and begin to control the direction innovation points in its execution and delivery. The interesting point is the gimballed seeker needs to be able to track the target independently (stay true to course) until you make that decision to lock in and fully align in the final execution.

Hitting the target

We all like to take the most direct path to the intercept, to deliver innovation. Newer missiles are smarter and use the gimballed seeker combined with what is known as a proportional guidance in order to avoid oscillation (our fear and doubts) and stay locked into the best, most efficient intercept path.

So maybe there is sufficient with heat-seeking missiles but in our approach to innovation I would argue we need to develop up a greater ‘design capacity’ for heat-seeking innovation so we can zero in on all that threatens us. We take design to a greater height, take out what is currently known and leave us with the blue sky and the dawning of a new age, simply flying into the “unfamiliar and unknowns” this debate at Davos triggered in my “time out” moment.

Why have some guys in white coats just arrived at my door?

OK, I’m returning to my innovation real world but this had some heat omitting fun for me. I need to watch for others to home in and comment on this. Time for some evasive action and drop below the visible spectrum where heat is generated, and stop emitting useless radiation and all this background clutter to return to the serious job on hand, building our organizations capabilities.

Although I do like the idea of “heat-seeking innovation”. Now let’s take the medication I’m being offered by these guys.

The Innovation Word within the World Economic Forum

I was reading through the World Economic Forum’s agenda for this year’s meeting in Davos, taking place between 23rd to 27thJanuary, 2013 and saw Innovation is back on the agenda, big time. The agenda is a collective ‘innovation tour de force’ to solve all of our current ills for our leaders to work through, to begin to find all the solutions necessary.

The three programme pillars of the 2013 session are in themselves a statement of where we are economically and socially and what we need to work though: “Leading through adversity”, “Restoring economic dynamism” and “Strengthening societal resilience”. The themes are all placing the emphasis on the building, improving, unleashing, rebuilding reinforcing, sustaining and establishing which tells us exactly where our present business and economic woes need to go to be on the economic up.

The rise of innovation

So let’s take a peek at the rise of “innovation” within the preliminary agenda available, it is actually used 47 times within the document but in very specific ways that take it beyond the buzzword into something that has substance.

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Leaders are feeling the effects of Innovation Vertigo says GE

GE have just released their latest Global Innovation Barometer survey and they are strongly detecting “Innovation Vertigo” from the survey conducted through more than 3,000 senior business executives in 25 countries.

This ‘dizziness’ for many is being caused by a growing unease with the continuing changing dynamics of today’s business landscape and uncertainty over the path forward. This is forcing leaders to think differently about how they will achieve growth. The good news though is it does seems that many are beginning to embrace this complexity by exploring new and sometimes unexpected opportunities to innovate.

According to Beth Comstock, the senior vice president and chief marketing officer of GE, “leaders are betting big on more unconventional approaches to innovation to unlock growth”. It seems GE are trying to stay ahead of the pack in unlocking innovation by exploring different markets, partnership structures and business models. Big data is accelerating up the inside as we have seen both GE and P&G, placing increasing emphasis on this, as a potential source of innovation insight they feel is presently missing.

The most important point comes back to these tensions or vertigo being felt, that is showing through in this report, between the desire for globalization and protectionist temptations that organizations sometimes tend to favor. It seems as our leaders are being pushed outside their comfort zones they are having this uneasiness with the pace of change and confusion over the best path forward.

I’d hazard a guess  on what they feel as ‘vertigo’ does go beyond the usual symptoms of light-headedness and dizziness and is possibly far more: that of a chronic lack of solutions beginning to creep into their  psyche as their worlds are spinning out of their control, to stay managing in the ways they have been. Perhaps welcome to our world Mr Leader.

As many of them will be gathering in Davos, Switzerland between 23rd to 27th January 2013 (http://tinyurl.com/afde4w5) I think the higher than usual altitude, will not help their brains or nervous systems as the whole economic system is still out of balance, so having “Innovation Vertigo” is part of a bigger malaise I would expect.

Still, here are the top line summary points of the report

The protectionist debate

There seems a growing undercurrent of wanting protectionism but making sure it works in their favour. This could be trying to get Governments to prioritize promotion of domestic innovation rather than imported but many others continue to feel markets need to be opened even more to promote the imported innovation and attract the (domestic) investment that goes with this, or should.

A growing number of leaders see growing challenges for innovation within local economies, believing that the increased competition and accelerated pace of technological advancement has a negative impact. So this is a growing set of policy paradoxes, leaders want clearer decisions through local governments to determine this and bring it under control.

The wish to go beyond just product innovation

There is also a growing recognition that incremental innovation is simply just not enough as organizations are suffering from this lack of growth momentum, causing much of the “vertigo”. Business model innovation is becoming more and more the solution with a growing view that a new business model may offer businesses a less risky and resource-intense path to reach customers over the current ‘traditional’ methods.

I read an awful lot into this but top of mind does come the word ‘naivety’ and a chose this word due to its definition: “being naive is often lacking developed powers of reasoning and criticism.”  They might look far more at the “within” and come down from their often lofty heights and recognize they are the ones that inhibit and constrain the existing structures to perform in so many ways, far too many to start to outline here.

I welcome new business models of course, I teach the methodologies associated with them, so they are needed but are these organizations equipped to design, construct and execute new business models?  Also what happens to all the resource-intense ones, do they continue, only to wither and die as new ones are pushed by their own leaders?  No, this might be fanciful but it needs a far more robust debate and thinking through.  Of course focusing on the right forces for growth mentioned to master innovation is the real need for innovating successfully, business needs to master customer and market insights, talent and technology development.

Grasping new business models alone does not change that inherent weakness seen today in existing organizations. Theory and desire might be one thing, reality and sunken investment might be another –  maybe more vertigo then?

Collaborations continue to feature

According to the report, it is the belief that collaboration between businesses is emerging as a means to surpass competitors, enabling faster access to new technologies and markets particularly in emerging markets. Yet despite global acknowledgement of partnership’s power, concerns over revenue sharing, IP protection, trust and talent poaching pose barriers to action. Germany, China, Brazil and Sweden seem to have the most experience at partnerships.

It does seem collaborative innovation has plenty of global appeal as a key to business success, and momentum are accelerating in developing markets and seemingly slowing down in developed ones. The reasons for collaborations are given as access to new technologies, access to new markets; improve existing product and service and speed up time to market. The downsides are a lack of trust and policy protection underpins much of the anxiety over business collaboration and the continuing “old chestnut” of IP protection, which all fit with developing country lag issues on legislation protection.

Government as stewards of the innovation environment

This one also gets me intrigued – stewards – umm. We are in such a “fog” from lack of dynamic leadership at government level, partly due to the complexity and tangled knots we have got ourselves into but also the underwhelming mandate delivered at the ballot box leaves the politics of politics in stalemate. I always get the sneaky feeling business leaders keep pushing government to lead and make policy and then scream and shout, another vertigo moment, if they don’t like the decisions that go with this.

Of course policy environments affecting innovation are caught up in this and the usual call to safeguard business interests adds to the tensions. Business worries over the lack of talent, of loss of knowledge, in IP issues and fear bureaucracy (besides their own) and over regulation (beside their own again) but often we can’t see our business leaders heading the charge to hang onto talent already in place, reduce the knowledge we all have by insisting on many brain-numbing daily activities, called specialisation and filling in information called for by the “system” etc.

Our business leaders want to see “a stronger entrepreneurial culture in the education system through stronger linkages between students and business savvy individuals” but sitting on their hands and wallets until this comes through any changed education system does not solve our immediate and next ten years of problems –  does it? I suspect more vertigo moments for them.

Lastly, guess what, talent is not in the right place

Leaders want to have access to the creativity and technical prowess within their workforce but the lack of preparedness and access to this ‘talent’ is holding them back in “unlocking innovation”. I find it hard here to not become a little cynical on this. Matching jobs and people is hard, no doubt and lining up the right skills to meet the economic needs required today is correct but if all the millions of messages of caution in the past about investing in people, in nurturing what you have, holding onto what you have in experienced people, instead of simply letting them go, many on early retirement packages or just leaving out of continued frustration, I do have a hard time on their concerns. They made the bed……..

Perhaps another symptom of “Innovation Vertigo” is “Innovation knee-jerking”, turning it off and on for the short-term needs and abandoning the notion of continuous, sustained investment in the skills, along with developing the experience base through challenging environments and leading edge investments. Well at least if new business models come into serious ‘play’ then the skills, experience base and challenging environments will all equally be in ‘play’ but not in the controlled ways they would want to see but at the edges of much discomfort for some white knuckle rides.

Thanks GE for providing this, it is certainly helpful to see inside leaders minds.

I enjoy the GE Global Innovation Barometers they often do raise the blood pressure and that of course is a certain tell, tell sign that I might be suffering “Innovation Vertigo” as well. Can I go to Davos as well, please? I do live in the country but more at  solid ground(ed) level, I’d like to be a little light-headed above the clouds.

The report is at http://www.ge.com/sites/default/files/Innovation_Overview.pdf

or with different views here: http://www.ideaslaboratory.com/projects/innovation-barometer-2013/

Building a Core into the Capabilities of Innovation

I think most would agree there is a continuing need is to build the management of innovation into a clear organizational capability, where innovation becomes a continuous effective innovation process. If you don’t agree, then I’d suggest you don’t bother to read on!

The struggle to date is that innovation remains hard to manage well; we strive to systematize it and then attempt to replicate any success we then have achieved. Often this does not work as the variables that make up innovation can be different for each innovation event or activity.

The make-up of innovation

I think we all recognize that innovation is made up of both tangible and intangible assets. It is the marriage of these two that makes innovation a unique capability to manage in well-structured ways. It is the people engaged in innovation activity that make it work.  Everything else, the process, structures, technologies and management systems are just the contributing enablers.

The important point though is successful innovation has core elements and processes regardless of industry, form, or type of innovation, we are pursuing.  Much of the difference though is in its varying degree’s based on these core elements.

Our search must be to find those core elements that make up the dynamic capabilities within our innovation activities to leverage and strengthen them. We need to build an organizations ability to innovation continuously, making it a sustaining competence.

We as organizations strive to achieve distinct competitive advantage, and innovation is one of those real contribution points this can do this. The need is to make the innovation capabilities and capacities a distinctive, not easy to copy, unique set. These are shaped by the context and content of innovation, the organizations position and its choice of evolutionary paths it has decided to take or needs to take.

This is an area of serious under-development at present, when you compare this with the continued focus on investing in physical assets or the consistent building of many other skills required within organizations. Yet innovation, the source of fresh growth remains significantly under-invested in, within the majority of organizations. This needs changing. Let me put forward my suggestions on why:

Shifting away from the accepted norm

Innovation understanding and building strength in competencies and capabilities takes an organization beyond the accepted norm of managing efficiency, just quality, being responsive and reacting with speed, all challenging within themselves. Innovation represents today’s competitive advantage statement that should be supported by these other requirements, they become subservient to allow new concepts to meet market needs and exceed customer expectancies.

Within any transition we must avoid dysfunctional consequences and think through why the existing systems and structures do have to ‘fold into’ new innovation based ones. We need to plan how to do this. Innovation cannot be buried in the established ways of doing things, it needs to lead and drive the engine for new growth and wealth creation. It can’t continue to take a back seat, it needs to take over the wheel.

Organizations need to shift from the one often still found today, of a higher focus on stability, efficiency and effectiveness, looking simply to maximize the short-term for profitability. This locks then into their current preoccupation with performing routines and formalised structures, as they strive to cut risk and manage the fear of the unknown.

The world is dealing with increasing complexity

The challenge though in today’s world is so different. It is so volatile, potentially disruptive and full of risk. Organizations are simply struggling to shed their clothes of the 20th century and find a way to smoothly manage into becoming more adaptable and agile in form. They are adjusting to offer consistent responses to instability in the most effective ways, to keep adapting to the consistent market challenges,and in so doing profiting from meeting that latest challenge or disruptive opportunity.  The problem is you simply can’t manage this smoothly, it will be highly disruptive as the organization re-equips itself and learns, often in the hardest way possible, through failure .

Innovation in itself is also a force of instability and we need to find ways to embrace much of its uncertainties by understanding its dynamics. We need to have a major shift in our organizational thinking, needed to find the appropriate new balance within those dual ‘tensions’ of ‘stability’ through efficiency, with its opposite, ‘change’ driven by innovation. It is these dynamic forces within the world we work that require us to respond by building that capacity for managing those ‘dynamic’ innovation capabilities, that today’s markets are requiring and organizations are needing to master.

The emphasis needs to point more to building dynamic innovation capabilities

Dynamic capabilities emphasise management capabilities and the inimitable (unique) combinations of resources that are constantly at work across all functions to make them distinctive and valuable.

Distinguishing innovation capabilities that are relevant are based on the type of knowledge they contain. Functional capabilities allow development of technical, practical knowledge. Integrative capabilities allow firms to absorb knowledge from external sources and this is where absorptive capacity and its structure comes into our required thinking. Innovation requires us to constantly learn, develop, mould and manage from multiple situations and challenges. This requires the integration of critical capabilities to successfully stimulate innovation for effective and improving performance.

Many of the identified resources in capabilities have some level of complementary, improving one triggers improvement in another. Equally ignoring one can impact negatively on others. So each component, on their own, have limited effect, it is the combination effect that generates the improving performance. Equally, the needs do change over time and you have to constantly ‘refresh, challenge and stimulate’ these, otherwise you can have core rigidly set in.

Integrating back or making anew

To this end I have produced a conceptual model of what I believe is the ‘make up’ for providing an ongoing innovation performance engine – the innovation fitness landscape and the dynamics of core capabilities. I felt it needed a dedicated website to be the ‘go to’ source of reference. It is a work-in-progress so please recognize this when you visit it here: http://bit.ly/wX5q8R

The need for all of us is recognize and embrace the need to build an organization-wide innovation capability, that should pervade all aspects of the organizations existence, forming its new core innovation value.

Innovation’s Deepening Linkage

For me, 2012 was a defining year. Much of what I wanted to achieve in bringing together a growing but fairly comprehensive innovation tool set has seemingly materialized. The collaborative work that Jeffrey Philips and I undertook has been a significant contributing factor, and I owe him a big thank you for being such a great collaborating partner.

Also during the year I have tried to keep a consistent update on the flow of this work through this blog: paul4innovating.com and wanted to keep publishing selected aspects in association with the recognized leaders in innovation knowledge. I often like to think out loud and it is specifically motivating when others respond positively to what I’m thinking – thanks for that, it is motivating and encouraging.

You may not know but I work through two organizational structures, firstly www.agilityinnovation.com that is 100% focused on innovation and also www.hocaconsulting.com that works on subjects important to growing organization’s capability in today’s world but keeping innovation central to the framing solutions. These combine and underpin my advisory, coaching and consulting work. These need more shaping but do have all the essential content, perhaps too much!

Recently I was outlining my thoughts on 2013 here and here

For me, last year the most important piece of work was around the Executive Innovation Work Mat. This was conceived and designed by Jeffrey and myself in 2012, to help assess the strengths and gaps that exist in an organizations innovation management process, and to deliver a formal “workout” methodology for those that holding senior positions. who are the biggest influences for innovation to be successful or not.

This work mat approach allows them, through its engagement process, to recognize their roles and all the necessary links within innovation they need to influence and think through. This work mat provides the essential framing desired around innovation articulated by the senior team, so it then can be used as the mechanism to discuss and communicate this throughout the organization, so they can gather around it and relate their contributions into the innovation need.

The work mat forms a crucial part of the strategic innovation framework that becomes essential to understanding and then building a sustaining set of innovation competencies and capabilities, so as to deliver innovation required and aligned to the organizations strategy. This work mat can then be used as the communicating framework to ‘cascade’ throughout the organization, with the aim to achieve engagement and be used as the founding ‘mechanism’ to align innovation activities to the strategic intent.

The concept of a Work mat is to ‘wrestle’ over it, to debate and then deliver a formal workout methodology that provides the essential framing desired to be understood throughout the organization to align the innovation activities as much as possible to the strategic direction and goals. It provides the basis for a well-articulated innovation framework for the organization to work from.

Going beyond the Work Mat

Beyond the Executive Innovation Work Mat, I have equally been working on offering a cascading set of frameworks to help innovation executives and teams throughout their organizations to build the methods and structures for strong innovation functions and processes, understandings of cultures, environment and methods. These are expressly established around strong innovation governance, a clarification and set of approaches to establishing different environment and cultural make ups, mostly through focusing on a fairly broad selection of capability and competency approaches, tools and methodologies.

I do believe the make-up of innovation services that are needed to be offered by external solution providers has to be broad ranging and robust. The range and scope can often be highly dependent on the level of executive understanding associated with innovation and the conditions imposed or set.

You can, as the external facilitator, be highly involved or fairly hands off, more a guide and mentor but this is determined through the conducting of a variety of assessments and audits, drawing down on different training programs and workshops and selecting within a toolbox the different methods and practices to satisfy the inquiring mind, rightly so.

I find a mix of advising, coaching and consulting as a real help. In initial discussions you can define the executive team’s role and create an environment where innovation can be sustained in taking this approach but it is demanding on everyone’s time in these early ‘storming and forming’ discussions.

Researching different aspects to underpin innovation  becomes critical, it provides the position and does validate each of the essential components that make up any approach to innovation. Within the frameworks Jeffrey and I developed it was absolutely necessary . From this work you can provide a structured and measured process of the transfer of knowledge that can be assimilated and embedded, and then adapted to the unique circumstances you find in each organization. It all adds up to a lot of dedicated work but I believe worthwhile.

Exploring the Innovation Reference Framework

One layer further that Jeffrey and I went was within developing and structuring a comprehensive framework. This was through the application of our Innovation Reference Framework, which defines the different cascading activities toward building a robust innovation capability or discipline. It examines four key “layers” of innovation – strategy, people, process and types and delves into each one in considerable detail.

This Innovation Reference Framework is designed to ‘map’ back into this Senior Executive Innovation Work Mat to underpin it, with a set of robust approaches to structuring innovation, that enable innovation to be greatly enhanced and linked throughout the organization.

This offers a very useful way into establishing a common language and  you can see through the different modules within the  Innovation Reference Framework a clear understanding  of the essential of innovation. This provides a meeting point for organizational understanding, often missing due to this lack of structure taken here. This can be viewed at:  http://cirf.pbwiki.com.

I do think this framework provides a reasonable, thoughtful approach to developing a robust innovation capability and ensures your team considers all the relevant aspects of an innovation discipline.

As organizations continue to turn more towards innovation to regain their growth and provide a more sustaining future the ability to ‘frame’ innovation in its entirety becomes critical. Clearly building competencies and capabilities requires expertise, time and commitment. Having access into a toolkit of innovation solutions, along with access to a deep knowledge base, combined with cross industry experience does certainly offer a broad understanding of all the essential aspects needed for successful innovation, so it can fit together, but in each organizations unique way.

Innovation is presently gaining greater senior executive attention.

Organizations are beginning to engage in new, often different but exciting experiments to reinvent the way they firstly conceptualize then translate to see how they fit to create the future. There is growing recognition that the old business-as-usual approaches have not produced the desired results or has simply run their course in alternative productivity and efficiency approaches.

Innovation is at a point where it is becoming embedded as a transformation method for its sustaining value and potential for discovering and exploiting new growth. Many are being forced beyond taking just the incremental route within innovation.  Innovation is increasingly recognized as essential to establish in more formal, structured ways as it is the catalyst to provide both the broadest possible relevance to all our futures and the ability to manage the parts that we can specifically impact. Impact comes from more breakthrough, disruptive and distinctive innovation and this needs careful managing and senior managers specific focus. I’m trying to be the equipment source and translation point for this.

Entering 2013 ready to do battle

I enter 2013 knowing it is going to be an extremely demanding year, to compete for attention, for funds, for gaining access and people’s time is not going to be easy. Having the structure, processes and understanding of innovation to the level I have will help me justify and hopefully get me through the door but business development is never easy, is it?

Surfacing the challenges and road blocks to innovation.

Jeffrey Philips wrote recently a blog entitled “what really blocks innovation” that he has seen at executive level towards innovation when introducing the work mat approach he and I developed. He put these into four framing boxes that make up the potential barriers. I agree with all of what he says and more.

I’d like to go a little deeper with a suggested way to surface these deeper personal hidden blockages that you do find in working with innovation, that the work mat brings out. It is surprising as they often have real commonality once surfaced and then you need to find the dedicated time to allow them to be fully discussed, as they are critical to unlock.

Often in innovation adoption there are so many hidden barriers that need drawing out and resolving. Take a read of Jeffrey’s observations, as they clearly triggered my own approach of how to deal with them which I thought I’d share here.  As Jeffrey states there are “very different perspectives, different goals and even different definitions between and among members of many executive teams.” The key is to surface these.

We both totally share this point that Jeffrey raises, that “sustained innovation can only occur when there is clarity about goals, alignment within the executive team to the goals, deep commitments to appropriate staffing and resource allocation, and the willingness to lead into risky or uncertain initiatives.  When these factors are present, innovation can flourish.”

To get to this point we need to draw out those real hidden concerns that inhibit innovations adoption at executive level. We need to trigger ‘collective’ discussions so the team can relate and share their concerns and offer up solutions that breaks through those barriers.

Surfacing hidden barriers is hard work

To surface hidden barriers that might be blocking innovation does needs a conscious effort, a consistent questioning, validating and exploring to “peel away” and get at the root of the problem. Often it is simply the fear of moving from the current established practices into new ways and that stepping over is very hard and often very personal. When it comes to getting an executive team to recognize this and then make a collective team move is extremely hard, it needs a lot of debate, facts and recognition, that this behavioral change- as that is what it is- needs to be taken if they believe in innovation.

This is one of the real value points of having an external adviser as the facilitator and where the value of the Executive Work Mat starts kicking in. It is very hard for a member of a team, including the CEO, to instigate a change of the magnitude needed for innovation to really be embraced and adopted without specialized help.

Innovation requires concerted, dedicated efforts to take hold, to become fully embedded and run through the veins of the organization as the new blood type. Those famous antibodies kick in from all sides to protect the status quo, keep doing “business as usual.” The external adviser has the tough job of grappling all those objections to the floor, hence why we call it a work mat.

Stimulating the innovation carriers

I’ve outlined previously about the issues surrounding the hidden human dimension of innovation: It is the pivotal role of people as innovation carriers – their networks, collaborations, knowledge flows, interactions and tacit knowledge – and how innovation itself is a potent competitive force that drives productivity”. To allow innovation to flow within organizations requires the senior executives to address their own potential inhibitions so they then become the innovation carriers and allow the true force of innovation to be unleashed.

It is through engagement that allows innovation to happen. We need to make innovation the social process it needs to be but this starts from the top, leaders have to come together and decide to lea. They need to surface their own hidden barriers to innovation otherwise many others within the organization simply stumble along in their own interpretations of how innovation fits within the grand scheme of things. Or they simply “wait” or never change as they don’t see the direction coming from the top of the organization. Leadership is required for innovation to really make that transformational hold.

We need to re-frame innovation as a series of challenges

Let me explain part of the power of the Executive Innovation Work Mat. I think it is important to offer any change deriving from the work coming out of the work mat as innovation challenges that need addressing, as necessary issues to be aligned and clarified. The work mat can only trigger, its outcomes need resolution and commitment.

For me managers relate to challenges, they are trained to respond, to investigate, to surface the issues and find ways to tackle the problems. Innovation management is no different. Part of the design of the work mat is to surface the gaps that exist that requires executive resolution so to allow innovation to be fully integrated within organizations and aligned with strategic goals and objectives.

Also the work mat although stemming from initial work at the Executive and Senior level of organizations needs to have a “cascading effect.” The work mat outcomes need articulating, communicating and eventually becoming the adopted common language framework of the organization to gather around so alignment can potentially happen.

Addressing hidden barriers and personal blockages through ten challenges

So for each executive to address innovation I believe lies ten challenges they need to question within themselves so as to answer and then collectively discuss. These allow a clear framing dialogue to unblock innovation and bring together clarity of where innovation needs to fit within the organization going forward.

The ten challenges can actually have a vital part to play in cascading this down the organization, for everyone to reflect upon and address. They become part of the communication mechanism to form a common language for innovation. Different views can surface for the challenges but they all need addressing.

The ten innovation change challenges

Addressing the issue of unfamiliar responsibilities – new and different ways of working, of understanding, of allowing innovation to take hold and flourish is often demanding new ways of responding, often adding to increasing responsibilities. This needs surfacing

Innovation demands new directions – making significant changes to the way the organization is run is very challenging, potentially disrupting and needs thinking through at the top level well.

Inherited problems always surface – addressing countless and inherent problems is messy and requires dedicated resolution. Changing a culture to become more innovative can be a massive step in structure, organization and policies.

Problems within the organizations make up – inadequate experience and resistance to change especially surface when a person is not equipped to deal with it. Installing innovation capacity, capabilities and competencies needs figuring out

High stakes of innovation – demanding breakthrough innovation makes everyone feel increasing vulnerable, increasingly visible and leadership has a real responsibility to manage this risk and set of fears. They need to be ready to ‘positively react and encourage’ both in supporting winning solutions and extracting positive learning from failures.

Scope and scale of innovation – Managing in scale and scope is demanding and requires well thought through systems and processes. To scope innovation needs robust business case approaches, its flexibility in its management and then to scale this up requires well established approaches and clear commitments to its engagement and execution.

External pressures multiply – everyone has an opinion outside the organization, let alone inside. Balancing these different interfaces and the pressures from these as you explore innovation needs managing well. Avoid that trait of just keeping raising expectations and actively work at the alignment for the ability to deliver on the promise.

Influencing without full authority – key activities within innovation usually demand that you become reliant on others. You need to spend (seemingly) inordinate time explaining and gaining others buy in and their own identification with concepts so as to move emerging innovation concepts along the pipeline. You need to find often imaginative ways of attracting across the resources needed. This is especially hard for senior managers to adapt too, the need to attract across, instead of simply expect, demand and simply take.

Work more with a listening and feedback culture – this can be totally different from the way business has been conducted today, through a more hierarchical structure. Flattening organizations to allow greater two way flow sucks up time; it simply undoes or unpicks command and control over time. It takes time to establish and gain the confidence and momentum. You need to allow more for debate, it shifts and alters the hierarchy and structures and that is a big step into an unknown, yet it is necessary for organization change, to allow innovation to truly flourish on a more sustaining basis.

The need to develop work group diversity – innovation asks for more diversity in opinion, it draws out more in thinking, in discipline, in alternative approaches and solution. This often leaves senior executives feeling they are less in control, reliant on other and that can feel scary and surface their own insecurities, buried increasingly as they moved up the organization and took on responsibility and accountability. It challenges often their very notion of management as they have known and experienced it. Innovation in its management challenges many past notions of managing.

To summarize

Each of these ten innovation challenges needs to be surfaced at the right time within any executive work mat discussion. Each one, individually can block innovation from advancing. Finding that right moment is not easy to draw these out but it is certainly necessary, otherwise those hidden barriers never come to the surface and get resolved.

The real barriers to allowing innovation into organizations to flourish are these blockages. The job of the work mat and within the sessions is not just to align the seven parts of the work mat as simply an academic exercise itself but to really wrestle and grapple with those tough questions, that leadership engagement for innovation and what it really means to deliver a cohesive framework that the organization can work from with growing confidence.

Reducing concerns, addressing risks and making considered decisions are what senior executives are trained and schooled to be good at. To allow innovation to take hold, the key is to work hard at surfacing the known and hidden dimensions blocking innovation. These ten challenges can ‘break open’ the road blocks. Clearly any innovation journey, if seriously undertaken, needs some really dedicated work. The Executive Innovation work mat facilities this as the central gathering point and that is why Jeffrey and I really believe in its value to innovation’s future within organizations.

We have to often remember senior managers are used to being successful by competing. The genuine change in their mindsets and understandings they need to often undertake for innovation is sometimes difficult to adapt too and sustain, as they are often on a steep and unexpected learning curve themselves.

Like all aspects of change, this is only achieved through engaging them to practice, to use the work mat as the communicating mechanism for positive reinforcement as the strategic innovation framework, where all involved can learn and benefit. This calls for a collective and real collaborative effort but the return is worth it, they are making the decisive contribution to establishing a sustaining innovation within their organization. They are beginning to change the way the organization needs to work.

The original list of the ten challenges has been adapted from “creating learning experiences without changing jobs” by Cynthia McCauley at the CCL in 2006. I’ve  applied it for a way for surfacing innovation issues and personal concerns at executive and organization levels.