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.

These are my thoughts on this.

To achieve the alignment of innovation to the organizations strategy goals and objectives is so critical to have the best chance to deliver the necessary impact needed; to gain growth and improvement on the existing position. We need to test for alignment, we need to see if innovation is being adopted, if innovation is cascading through the organization. Is it having a positive effect on how the organization and its people view innovation? How do we harness all the necessary efforts for a positive ‘reaction’?

The innovation litmus test 1

The Litmus Test required for Innovation.

There are two handy definitions of a “litmus test” and why I think this can be applied nicely here in evaluating the value of the Executive Work Mat. One, a litmus test is used in chemistry to test and establish the acidity or alkalinity of the mixture- I think innovation does prompt plenty of ‘reactions’ so this works well. The second, is a litmus test becomes a critical indicator of future success or failure, exactly what the Executive work Mat is attempting to influence in managing the innovation efforts.

The other  aspect is the ‘cascading’ or ‘waterfall effect’ we need.

To enable the Executive Work Mat to permeate down the organization, it needs to be “cascaded.” This needs to be completed though developing a common language as well as having a constant communications and variety of dialogues, so as to make better connections up and down the organization on the levers, resources and issues to ‘enable and promote’ innovation.

Often a cascading affect is regarded as more of an unforeseen chain of events that suddenly effect the system, they trigger often an unfavourable ‘reaction’.  The effects of any cascading can be analysed and these are often through consequence / impact analysis or even event trees.  One can view this within my litmus test explanation in this case, as an impact analysis assessment, to achieve a better alignment and move towards a more positive set of reactions:

  1. Working through the logic of the work mat, what works, what doesn’t?
  2.  Is it being understood and aligned with the objectives laid out?
  3. What are the main contributors (and inhibitors) to managing this effectively?
  4. Is there the exercising of regular sets of dialogues to monitor its effectiveness in place?
  5. Is it supporting and enabling a more effective allocation of resource?
  6. Does it assist in the design of the innovation system, if not how can it?
  7. The work mat becomes in itself a diagnostic tool to identify and correct causes and inhibitors as well as accelerate the parts that provide real sustaining impact

The Seven Parts of the Litmus Test – a short summary

Translation points in value, impact and alignment – the value of the Executive Work Mat is to gain alignment, to promote value and achieve a better positive impact from innovation.

The Leadership Commitment – how leaders chose to engage, to encourage and promote innovation activity is critical. They need to mentor, coach, listen and respond to the concerns, opportunities and offer their contribution and judgment.

Peoples involvement – In some recent research by Deloittes on what is required for successful collaboration they felt three conditions needed to be in place. These I really resonated  with, in where I feel any litmus test for innovation should focus upon when it comes to people:

  • Do they Belong: people collaborate on behalf of organizations they feel connected too.
  • Do they Believe: people collaborate when they commit to carrying out specific actions
  • How do they Behave: people collaborate when they share a common understanding of how things are done.

Designed-In – the effectiveness of any innovation system is within its design, its processes and functioning. Here within the litmus test you are looking far more at establishing, generating, exploring, validating and using what is available and learning from it. It is in the care and thoughtfulness of the design.

Engagement & Understanding Outputs – the ability to communication, to find a growing common language of innovation is vital to sustaining success. It boils down to the relating, the responding and the respecting of this. Identification and dialogue allows innovation to flow more freely. Respect generates growing trust. Trust is vital to innovation.

Risk & Rewards – Always the risk and fear working on innovation naturally comes up, it consciously needs to be addressed. To assess the exposure, the barriers, the balances and checks needed, the learning from success and failure needs openly exploring.

Finally, we always need Outcomes – Any effort or initiative has to have outcomes measured on its return of effort and cost involved. It is focusing on effective implementation, on execution, on gaining a ROI and on achievements you can raise the awareness and value of innovation. Outcomes become essential to drive and sustain innovation. People hunger for success, leaders also.

innovation litmus test 2

Adoption and cascading become our litmus test for delivering sustaining innovation

So for me, to achieve a lasting value out of the suggested Executive Work Mat you need to do these litmus tests and impact assessments to gauge the successful cascading and alignment effects. You are looking for the connection between engagement, alignment and ownership through growing identification.

If you have not yet considered the Executive Work Mat then I would simply encourage you to reach out and make that first connection, knowing a positive result from the ‘effect’ can make or break your organization. I’m certainly looking for more workouts in supporting your innovation fitness efforts. Interested?

5 thoughts on “Taking ownership for innovation – the litmus test.

  1. Hi Paul.
    One of the confusions around the “ownership” question is that ‘everyone’ owns innovation, and when everyone owns something, it is usually neglected or turf battles erupt. One reason for this is the definition of innovation. When we speak about owning innovation, do we mean the enterprise capability to innovate, the definition of strategic intent, or the ownership of specific innovation projects to create new products and services?

    In the Workmat, when we talk about innovation, we are talking about the enterprise competency. Clearly that ownership has to flow from the top, since enterprise innovation competency combines the enterprise and strategic issues or intent. This means the CEO or deputized executives must “own” enterprise innovation competencies and intent. Other executives and managers may own innovation activities or initiatives in their respective business units or product groups, and hopefully operate within the enterprise innovation capabilities.

    We must encourage organizations to stop thinking about innovation as a discrete project, and start thinking about it as an enterprise competency.


  2. I can only agree with you, the quicker innovation is treated as an enterprise competency the better, regretfully this is far from today’s case for most.The work mat tries to weave the parts and assign ownership in the excellent ways you describe.

    The work mat can play a crucial focal point to define, align and engage. What we know today from countless surveys is that innovation is often not being clearly led from the top and until that truly happens, achieving the enterprise competencies remain often too fragmented and dispersed, let alone aligned and integrated into the strategic goals and objectives.

    Ownership is collective, its assigned parts need designating and that is part of the Work Mats goals in getting closer to a more integrated approach


  3. Pingback: Ubiquitous leadership = ubiquitous innovators | Game-Changer

  4. Pingback: The Cascading Effect Needed for Innovation Success | Paul4innovating's Blog

  5. Pingback: Innovation is like a tropical rainforest | Paul4innovating's Blog

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