Taking ownership for innovation – the litmus test.

There is always a healthy debate on who “owns” innovation within any organization. Often it can boil down to where the innovation concept is along the pipeline is or who has been designated with manoeuvring or piloting the innovation through its different stages.

The reality of lasting ownership is much tougher; there are huge, often yawning gaps, in innovation accountability. The right answer should of course be everyone but making that statement on its own is a little bit of a cop-out, an easy answer to a complicated dilemma. So let me offer a connected way.

Working through the Executive Work Mat , jointly developed with our friends at Ovo Innovation , this Work Mat was designed for many reasons but principally to gain leadership engagement within all things involving innovation.  One of its overarching principles was the quest to gain alignment from the top, at board level, through its interconnected structure and their strategic inputs so as to establish and make the critical connections all the way down and throughout the organization.

What we needed also was putting in place a fairly rigorous ‘litmus test‘ to establish if this is achieving the positive reaction required and the Work Mats intent.

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Mapping innovation across the three horizons

One of my most exciting areas within my innovation activities is applying the three horizon methodology, for working through the ‘appropriate’ lenses for different innovations and their future management. Let me outline the rationale for adopting this within your organization.

Clarifying our options requires multiple thinking horizons

For me, the three horizons have great value to map different thinking and possible innovation options over changing horizons. You can frame innovation in alternative ways by using this approach. Innovation has multiple evolution points and working with this framework allows you to significantly improve innovations contribution.

It goes well beyond the present value of ‘just’ fitting your existing innovation portfolio and directional management into a one dimensional, viewed in the present, framework. You can see opportunities completely differently beyond the existing mindset and activities, it takes innovation from tactical to strategic, to foresight in your evaluations.

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A little bit of different thinking can influence your innovating future

Following on from the Innovation Futures project (www.innovation-futures.org) that I’ve been exploring recently, I would like to pick up on the way the authors clustered innovation into fourteen broad forms. They felt these offered the major trends and innovation patterns and I felt are worth high-lightening here so we can begin to think through the different innovation options we have available to us. So we can test innovations future within our own activities in a number of different ways.

The fourteen broad forms of ‘emerging’ innovation

Idea Generation – this can come in all shapes and sizes but it is really on how you link it. The interesting emerging pattern is in the way companies are identifying and adopting new ideas with their customers or partners. The ‘hook’ is to gain attention and draw in through often novel engagements the community that is ‘watching’ trends, such as with clothes and fashion, so these can become inspirational and be a source of new designs – a community tool for a specific industry. Idea generation is becoming deliberately designed and placed in clear context, to extract out its greater value from the knowledge that resides in all the places that feed from one another, wherever they are, those closer to the place of consumption, are closer to emerging trends, values and needs.

Innovation Culture – the different ways to allow creativity to flourish is prompting some very distinct cultures. Allowing increasing freedom of what to work upon, where to work, who to attract within your team and how each person works offers a more liberating environment. Equally this has its risks and some level of balance needs to be struck in how do you capture and move this along and not allow this knowledge to simply walk out of the door. How this balance between the chance to have freedom but work within the environment that ‘hosts’ this needs actively managing

User Integration – the user is increasingly becoming a more dominant focal point to drive innovation activities. How to effectively manage this is a real issue for the company to integrate, learn, respond and extract and provide value from these engagements back to all involved. The posting of concepts and encouraging increasing involvement really shifts the design of future innovation when the user applies their influence and when the company responds in making the change because it simply made sound sense.

Crowd-sourcing – the ability to tap into the crowd to accelerate understanding of products or services is a far more open innovation model. It can run from collecting as many ideas as possible to the one where highly specialised skill sets can come together and attempt to resolve a complex challenge. These work well with environmental and community issues especially, social issues where you try to engage across the wider community ideas that then can be worked upon or commented upon by others and eventually, the best ideas are evaluated by experts. Crowd-sourcing is moving across sectors where community engagement is becoming an important social and behavioural change mechanism, that will evolve rapidly more in the years ahead.

Closing Innovation – there is a growing reverse trend to open innovation. Working outside traditional organization borders is making highly selective choices with whom and what you work upon. The level of secrecy, the need to contain public knowledge or work below the radar of your competitors is partly driving this closing off. Many organizations have signalled through their research their intended directions and this openness has potential consequences. Research is increasingly specialised and expensive, so knowing who is working in this area and openly publicizing the intent can possibly cut future competitive edges. In today’s more frugal spending environment organizations are becoming more selective on what and whom they work with, driven far more by speeding up the commercialization process than just purely its research value. Open is reverting to being selective and working in closed but extended preferred networks.

Legal frameworks – The emerging of a more common patent structure across the European Union, the growing use of the “commons licence” is accelerating publication of valuable knowledge for others to build upon. The throwing open of some earlier IP into the broader community for them to freely use, combine and explore, for advancing the IP into commercial application will greatly accelerate. For example  selected medical patents and the research results being more open to different thinking might yield new drugs or approaches to broader health-related issues. This opening up and sharing can extend across public, business and cross-sector activities for re-purposing and remixing knowledge for better value and public use.

Public Innovation – the sharing across the broader community of citizen, business and the public sectors to encourage the development of finding and then working on new solutions needs far more cross-ministerial or professional bodies collaboration. To find ways to engage all  that are involved or can influence outcomes in tackling societal problems will become increasingly important for sharing and developing with each other. The identifying and discussing potential solutions early enough, so the process of exploring this, validating its contribution and learning how to scale this requires this broad and much earlier set of engagements across multiple interested parties, and this will need a far more focused project management, across often complex problems.

Social Innovation – This is for me one of the most “explosive” and exciting areas where innovation can happen across all levels of society At neighbourhood, community and across broader society we need to come together to tackle societal issues. I feel today it is being held back a little by theorists a little intent on redeveloping their personal wheel and not recognizing that establishing common toolboxes, practices and processes, that can be established and applied on more general approaches would benefit all. We seem to be in the stage of constant re-invention and not sharing enough. The organization of specialised knowledge, the understanding of what makes up good or emerging practices, having clear governance covenants and what attributes are valuable for scaling up, all need more work to enable social innovation to realize its real  necessary force.

Open design – the application of modular principles, proving the platforms and connected parts or the building blocks  for encouraging personalised fabrication is promoting more do-it-yourself allows this creativity to surface within each of us. The open design to bring together the software and hardware and make this more ‘freely’ available is again encouraging more collaboration to occur. Allowing more engagement of non-experts to take part will further lead to the democratisation of innovation across the broader society to feel engaged in innovation activity for their own benefit or realizing that creative spirit that lies within us all to explore and share

Global Knowledge Sharing – We are witnessing a rapid change in e-learning now. Education through on-line courses is challenging the established institutions. Again having global sites allowing exchanges, networking, contributing thoughts and ideas is changing the way we see and opening up avenues for new business opportunities. As we exchange between each other, we learn to grow and connect in new emerging ways. Those more supportive environments allow us to achieve within ourselves but also we need to  ‘give back’ in our diverse web of collective collaborations. This movement is tending to allow the aspirations of the individual to be seen and heard, not buried within the confines of the institutions or societies they ‘reside’. Global sharing can be liberating but it can also be bewildering on what sometimes you challenge to tear down does not easily have a replacement. Global sharing needs not just its positive forces to emerge but it needs some new levels of governance and structure to emerge as well, to build it more on a sustaining platform of community value, as well as driven by the personal one. It is easier to destroy than to build.

Attitudes to Innovation – The invention of having innovation marathons, or idea generating activities over a sustaining period of 24 hours or a weekend as these can generate positive advancements on problems or social issues and can much advance solutions when they are well structured in generating, translating and actively working on solutions within these contained periods of intensity.  The slow movement in food might also gather pace in innovation. The speed and intent of innovating is deliberately slowed down, or we simply go back to past innovation as more valued, more familiar. We begin to reject the “march of progress” for a growing hankering for the past as more authentic, more comfortable, more productive, more valued. The movement of ‘slow innovation’ can change our existing attitude of what innovation is actually about the application of use and not adding simply more features, and this might begin to shift the ‘race and pace’ of innovation into more sustaining value, function and lasting practice.

Shift in Innovation Gravity – the rapid shifts in the economics of the world is moving to the East, the West is struggling to grow its economies and tacking growing social problems of ageing, the issues of unemployment, decaying infrastructure, rising health costs, educational challenges by not adopting quickly enough to the new learning needs of a rapidly changing world and being more agile and adaptive in thinking and changing. The West seems in a series of ruts while the East is taking on the mantle of leading through desire and determination, experimentation and new knowledge freedom traits seemingly missing in the West. There is a different mental model of thinking emerging in the East applying frugal innovation, reverse innovation, design that meets growing aspiration price points to accelerate new innovation models and experimenting far more. These are attempting to tap into these aspirational desires that are shifting innovation increasingly away from Western monopolies. The shift may even consolidate even into the West becoming the followers not the leaders in many new innovation practices.

Life-cycle thinking in Innovation – the absolute need to apply innovation into sustainability of our resources will become a huge source of inventiveness and creativity. From managing our waste, from converting existing products into new ones, from extending the useful life into breaking down the parts for reuse all are active areas today. As society demands greater care of these dwindling resources of our planet the convergence of our economics, technology, social and environment understanding of what is valued will change. The economic value model will change. This will force designers and innovators to come up with new solutions such as waste-led innovations. The reputation and active participation in managing resource more thoughtfully will have a higher premium. As awareness grows of serious challenges across our planet the cradle-to-cradle aspects of considering the entire life-cycle will drive serious change to product management in its production, monitoring and designing so innovation is designed far more for the ‘extended’ life-cycle.

We need to manage innovation differently in the future

Each of these fourteen broad forms of innovation activity will challenge the accepted ‘norms’ of today’s present innovation practice. The implications need to be identified and thought through but each offers a real future potential for innovation to prosper and grow.

Innovation cannot remain contained within selective groups; it needs to be openly encouraged for wider engagement and identification.

Each of these broad forms will over time transform innovation as we practice it today and that is the value of this timely study of looking at innovation’s future.

Fast-forward into the Innovation Future

In my last posting (http://tinyurl.com/af6vj6k) I spoke of the innovation fog surrounding me and that I was losing my orientation. This had caused me to press the ‘pause’ button so as to wait and allow the fog to lift. Then I could rely on my innovation compass a little bit more with confidence as it points again towards the future of innovation.

Well, only 24 hours later the fog was blown away and powerfully so. Do you believe in serendipity, that gift of making fortunate discoveries? Well it has certainly risen up the “I believe” scale for me. Over the last weekend I was catching up on the emails and I had one sent to me by ISPIM, a network of researchers, industrialists, consultants and public bodies, who share an interest in innovation management.

ISPIM had sent me their latest “Innovation Watch- issue 1-2013” and in this there was a timely (well clearly for me) article from Karl-Heinz Leitner, a Senior Scientist with the Austrian Institute of Technology, entitled  Innovation Futures: How Will We Innovate in the Future?

The article reminded me of his work that he had been co-ordinating between 2009 and 2012, funded by the EU FP7 on a foresight project on the future of innovation (INFU). It can be explored under the web page www.innovation-futures.org where I then spent a few hours reminding myself of this work that I had picked up upon in the past but somehow had forgotten or become buried under other innovation activities that help pay my bills.

So fast-forward into the innovation future

After my comments about hearing different “weak signals” here was a report blowing the whistle directly into my ear. So I climbed into the report, all 144 pages of it (well almost) and emerged out of this journey sometime in the middle of this week after I had completed much of my work-on-hand.

The clear message was the “evidence was there, all around us, that there was changing innovation patterns, more evolutionary than radical”. There are new forms of innovation, novel emerging concepts, ideas and strategies of how innovation is organized or possibly will be.

The report had a very systematic approach with the team looking out across the possible future innovation landscape so this could raise awareness and allow for a debate on these possible innovation patterns and their implications and might give a ‘momentum of change’. Lets work through some of its findings.

The innovation future project process

The process first undertook the identification of these emerging signals of change that were coming through current innovation patterns (the weak signals) with the aim of identifying newly emerging apparent and visible ones that may not have reached mainstream but may have disruptive impacts for industry, the economy and society in the future.

The work identified 68 signals of change pointing towards emerging innovation patterns and were already visible but not in the mainstream but had a positive trending to them.  Out of this the INFU research team generated and visualised twenty (20) innovation visions. They arrived at these by formulating, amplifying and combining some of the original signals.

After this the team provoked discussions across a community, conducted interviews with industrial and academic experts, provided an on-line survey to discuss and access the innovation visions.

The end result through clustering and consolidating the twenty even further down they ended up with a final result of eight (8) final visions or nodes of change.

These eight visions were confronted with different socio-economic framework conditions and global mega-trends to finally synthesize scenarios of these final and possible innovation futures.

So the report views these as the drivers they presume to have the most decisive influence on the future evolution of the innovation process. Of course this future landscape will be shaped by individuals, society, organizations, the eventual economics, and by policy but these final eight seem to be emerging.

Firstly the dimensions of change – the consequences and implications

Before we get into this final eight there are seemingly common opportunities, risks and consequences that were observed coming out of this work. These can be summarized in seven statements offered as having consequences and implications to manage:

  • There will be new forms of coordination and mediation – existing models will be challenged by growing coordination mechanisms, such as self-organizing communities or web-based co-design platforms. These today are seen to be on the rise. The emerging ones will present challenges on who is in control of these. The present reality is that our business organizations are not well set up in the emerging competences required, suffer considerable inertia and in-grained difficulties and barriers to change their cultures, to learn and adapt.
  • There will be a wider participation with the increasing trend of citizens and customers gaining increasing relevance to influence innovation, both in deciding the priorities and contributing to the innovation process. Co-creation will require more instruments, tools and techniques’ to enable this effectively. They are warning too much participation and too little coordination may slow down the innovation process and this growing consensual solutions ends up offering even lower innovativeness.
  • The motivation for innovation will be changing. The dominant aspect up to now has been company profits but with growing and complex societal and environmental problems becoming increasingly important, these will influence and become far more the driving force to innovate. This will push organizations to develop even more new (hybrid) business models to integrate all the parties making up part of these complex solutions, in the balancing out of the monetary with the non-monetary returns. We will also test the limits of participation.
  • The increasing use of technology and software will seek ways to automatise innovation far more, where the current “creep” of algorithms, web crawler technology or simulation techniques to access market potential and others, will have the increased implication on the place and what’s left in space for human creativity. Equally the increased security issues and maintenance of these will be equally at some degree of variance with human imagination.
  • There will be a growth of grand challenges but as eco-innovation pushes up the agenda we will likely see a growing movement towards sustainable solutions balancing production and consumption far more, or imposing constraints so more circular flows of cradle-to-cradle innovation becomes the possible model to control. Again we need to reflect on where scaling, transfer and standardisation come into play. Seeking optimisation becomes one of the biggest challenges to tackle.
  • A possible move towards an innovation society? We will also begin to change within society on the perception of creativity? Do we become more of an innovation society but as we explore this we might have growing negative aspects of innovation fatigue or heaviness in the leadership expecting innovation.
  • Lastly the significant shifts taking place of where innovation will eventually reside. Will the West become more of the fast follower, the adapter to the innovations emerging from the East? Where will the regional shifts take innovation, how will this evolve? Is the current innovation approach regarded as too ‘Western’ and the East modifies or changes our thinking and approaches to how we innovate? We are equally moving more towards GLocalisation in design, approaches and solutions. The race to anchor ‘specific capabilities’ into a country or a region will become more intense.

I think these all have growing implications for thinking through innovation. They each offer challenges, risks and opportunities. What is sure the pace and direction of innovation will change as the pressure to consider societal needs become increasingly important.

We need to also look far more at the unintended and negative consequences of the consistent, increasingly relentless demand for innovation. It risks having a growing undesirable aspect that needs increasing awareness and factoring into the push for “anything new”.

The eight elaborated innovation visions and open questions arising

I have not discussed the 20 innovation visions here, I will do that in a further posting but for now we focus on the eight consolidated innovation visions labelled under the “nodes of change” that achieved a degree of consensus- These were then explored in “mini- panel visions” to indicate a depth in the details associated with each, their drivers and barriers to begin to sketch out a desirable future based on these innovation futures. The eight selected were:

Deliberative Innovation

It seems widely expected that citizens will play a greater role both in governing and implementing innovation activities. How will the new type of “deliberative innovation” be governed, what will be the outcomes?

Innocamp Society

Innovation Camps where people gather for specific innovation tasks of a certain duration are becoming increasingly popular. Many experts see a high potential for such camps as key enablers of creative solutions both in a business and civil society environment. Often the idea is linked to the open source society where a number of products and services are developed in close interaction among users source society where a number of products and services are developed in close interaction among users

Social Experimentation

Social innovation is becoming more recognised as highly relevant for developing innovative solutions addressing societal challenges. New modes of innovation are required to align social and technological innovation activities. Participatory experimentation will play a key role but what are the right instruments and levels required for successful solutions?

Automatised Innovation

A number of new techniques such as semantic web analysis allow for automatising parts of the innovation process from idea generation via design and testing. What are the implications for economy and society?

Widespread Innovation

Innovation is becoming mandatory for more and more people in companies and other types of organisations. How can we avoid “innovation overload” and “innovation divide”? What does it mean to live in an environment that is constantly innovating?

Open Innovation City

Cities are increasingly expected to play a major role as innovation drivers. In particular systemic sustainability innovations may best be implemented on a city level. What are adequate mechanisms for cities to reap the benefits of this potential?

Global Innovation Chain Integration

Innovation is expected to become globally dispersed. But what will be the mechanisms to integrate all the distributed and diverse elements and to match ideas and solutions with problems and needs?

Waste-Based Innovation

The establishment of innovation patterns that are fully consistent with a circular flow of resources was unanimously assessed as top priority in the INFU experts’ dialogue. However, many challenges are associated with this vision. How can novelties emerge out of used products, what kind of consumer types are associated with the pattern?

I’ll leave the summing up to Karl-Heinz Leitner, the coordinator for the project

“To summarise, the future of innovation will be more open, socially, and environmentally driven, while being faster and global at the same time. However, it would be too easy, too simple and too generic a conclusion to leave it that way.

INFU (the study) has revealed a much more diverse and broad future for innovation, indicating some tensions and ambivalent developments. We will see more participation, even though the question arises as to when the limits of participation are reached and when too much participation just results in lukewarm solutions, or may slow down the innovation process altogether.

Due to the enormous acceleration of innovation, companies tend to “over-engineer” their products in order to be competitive and thereby lose track of their main objectives: to be able to reap the benefits of their innovativeness and to meet their customers’ real needs at their best”

My final thoughts

For me, of course there are many futures but innovation is clearly “top of mind” to seek out growth, to create future wealth, with many of the forces we are seeing today as those that will shape the long-term future of innovation. Yet there is going to be increasing tensions different than the ones we are discussing today. The questions of saturation, of tackling pressing societal issues, the growing trend for community or crowd participation can have negative effects on generating worthwhile innovation that is truly beneficial to society.

The whole issue of unintended and undesirable consequences gets largely brushed aside, sacrificed on the positive hype of  the good of innovation. Are we going to see increasing ambivalence, mixed emotions as surely much of our current innovation remains misdirected and purely profit motivated? Will the pace of innovation slow down or continue to speed up? Who will decide?

Innovation to be managed for societal good, needs a far more coordinated effort from all those involved: our business organizations, their customers and what they really need, from our citizens, scientists, from communities we belong too and finally through policy makers. It is through policy shaping that innovation can be directed but will it be forced or go willingly?

Future uncertainty can also bring on a certain new fog can’t it? Oh boy!

The fog surrounding innovation

I’ve been in a little bit of an innovation fog recently, I’m possibly losing orientation. I hear so much sound around me but it is becoming disorientating, I’m not sure where to tread.  Am I heading in the right direction, or going off on a tangent, away from much that is “the place to be”.

The more I read, the less I understand, yet the more I read, the greater my awareness of innovation and all the mountains we have still to climb. It is a never-ending journey it seems, yet I’ve found I have pressed the pause button. I need some time to allow the fog to lift but can I afford too?

There is this increasing intensity of innovation wisdom being produced daily, you can just get utterly and totally all-absorbed in all the nuances, all that advice. So much that is written is offering the ways forward on past approaches, highlighting where we are going wrong on past experiences, and in some cases providing the “cure all” simply all within one article based on their narrow view of the solution, set in a specific context. It can bring you to a stand-still but much more than this, it can all be highly dangerous.

Funnily enough, if you do stop and listen, even when there is so much swirling on around you, you begin to hear different voices; you begin to discern new sounds. Often those people who are alert to these faint sounds  like to group these under “weak signals” or “future plausible directions”.

“Futures studies is the study of postulating possible, probable, and preferable futures and the worldviews and myths that underlie them. What is likely to continue and what could plausibly change.”  (Wikipedia http://tinyurl.com/6bf34a )

A little postulation for possible and probable futures has a long way to go in innovation.

I sort of like this. The key word for me is “postulate” suggesting (for each of us) that the assumptions – the countless words, the proffered advice –  all has grains of truth, and form a small part of the argument or theory of innovation – trying to make the business case for change. Are they or holding us in the past?

It is really getting harder to sift through all this advice, this deluge offered in the name of innovation to pick what is sound and valid and applicable to our needs expected from innovation? Much within these messages is actually holding us back. In truth, much of it should be totally ignored. It is missing the future, it is far to rooted in the past.

I often do wonder why innovation is so elusive and seemingly hard.  Should we simply agree to manage innovation as individuals differently, or should management recognize finally that innovation is actually different and turn their serious attention to it? We do need to allow those in the organization to think, to have time to personally think, to be creative, and to become fully aware of each of our own powerful contributions to all our future well-being through innovating.

The need for emerging fusion needs amplifying.

Innovation relies on engagement and exchange, on relying on people wanting to be involved. We need to cut through the chatter, blow away the fog, the swirling advice and go back to basics, otherwise we continue to confuse. We are actually discouraging serious investment in all that makes up innovation as it seems, on the surface and in all the countless, often highly conflicting opinions, as just simply impossible to get our ‘heads around’ yet we do need a seismic shift in our thinking.

Where we do need to take innovation is in combining all of its fusion points that we have available to us. Those that can combine aspects of art, design, engineering, technology, social awareness and in all the different disciplines of science by coming together and coalescing in unique ways is where we will see the great innovations of the future, those that will tackle this set of economic, social and political problems pressing in on us. It is at the intersections spoken about in a terrific book that still occupies much of my thinking “The Medici Effect” by Frans Johansson that will give us in his words: “the breeding grounds of breakthrough ideas.”

What is very clear to me is the management of innovation needs to change to take on our growing set of global and local challenges in completely different ways. We do seem to need a new generation of top managers to blow away the cobwebs of 20th century management thinking.

The weak signals I seem to be hearing

I hear new sounds that give me hope on innovation emerging out of its “dark age” of our crude attempts to fit innovation into existing structures that are no more “fit for purpose”. We need some more enlightenment through the evolution of innovation’s management and all it means.

Possibly I do hear the growing sounds of a new age of enlightenment concerning innovation that is presently confusing and confounding me. It is being mixed in with much that is old, of past value. Perhaps we all need to become more discerning. But we do need to push the advancing of numerous new theories, experiment more to learn new ways because the way innovation is presently structured in organizations is simply not working, as well as it can do.

Maybe if we can gain a new momentum for the management of innovation so we can lift the fog, mine, and I bet yours, if you pause long enough. Until then I think this fog will drift in and out until there is enough behind the reforming wind to allow us to ‘advance’ again. It would help me gain more of the “true north” I need again in my innovation orientation.

So I have to cut out all the extraneous noise and begin to strive even more for the way out of this current fog. Where is that compass of mine? It points towards the future of innovation, which is so very different from the past, where so many seem to be trapped and suggesting our answers still lie. How wrong they are, I must follow those ‘weak signals’ to lead me out of this current fog, ignoring much that is stuck in the past.