Getting innovation through any process of understanding is hard. Knowing what is required to generate innovation throughout an entire organization is even more so.
We need to deploy the cascading effect on innovation
Often we fail to understand our role in contributing to innovation, we need a cascading effect. For me the “cascading effect” for innovation is “a sequence of events in which each produces the circumstances necessary for the initiation of the next”. It is the presenting of an idea, a concept, prototype, a piece of knowledge that provides the catalyst to be exploited in a broader community as the next step and so on. It cascades. It is where we fit within the innovation web.
Innovation often has to go through a set of stage gates, or cross thresholds, set by others or judged to be the essential cross over points. When you achieve these cross over points you induce more resources, more attention and momentum. The more it successfully progresses, it eventually gains a higher resilience and then the innovation picks up more for this “cascading effect”.
The more thresholds you cross, you gain space, time, increasing attention within the organization and an increasing identity of what the innovation can achieve. The more it creates a ‘reaction’ or achieves ‘growing interactions’ then the more it ‘cascades’ for producing a cumulative effect moving through the successive stages. We gain increasing identity and strength the more we get involved in the cascading effect.
Influencing the dynamics within the innovation system
When I have discussed the Executive Innovation Work Mat I have argued you need to achieve this cascading effect as part of the Senior Management Litmus Test for Innovation Engagement. You need to influence the dynamics within the innovation system; you need to reveal increasingly the challenges and roadblocks to innovation. You need to reduce these challenges down by actively promoting innovation. You do need a well thought-through plan.
Innovation does need structures and systems. It is complex. As we get increasingly involved in innovation activity we meet more of the unforeseen, the uncertainties of working on something new where there is a need to make a decision, often on a limited set of factors than the ideal. We need to reach out for help, for understanding, for assistance.
So ‘the cascade effect for innovation’ often does have to deal with many unforeseen chains of events that need working through, as they can be negative on the system by taking away vital resources from other more valuable, commercially viable projects, or they can be breakthrough or transformational in pursuing.
By having in place a clear Innovation framework you have a communicating mechanism to discuss many of these unforeseen events. It guides innovation activity. The framework can establish a common language; it can offer a sense of the common cause for this to work. We need to ‘cascade’ this down the organization so everyone can get ‘the picture’ and understand its component parts as well as provide the communication platform across and back up to frame issues as they occur.
I suggest this is based on the Executive Innovation Work Mat, it can offer much in helping innovation if well thought through. Our resources are finite and innovation often suffers even more from this than many other aspects within business. We do need to provide an organizing innovation framework coming from those that set the strategy. This provides the general roadmap, the direction, the frame where innovation contributes to strategy. If we don’t have a well-articulated innovation strategy, how do you expect innovations that ‘drive’ the strategy forward to meet its aims?
We have the need to cascade innovation from the top down
We do need a strategic framework to moderate and accelerate meaningful innovation. Often we don’t, this is not provided. For me the framework or work mat moderates innovation and goes much towards reducing the multiple interpretations, and the variety of initiatives often described or justified as innovative but definitely missing the strategic mark.
The majority of people within the organization and who work alongside it would appreciate a greater understanding of the core concepts, principles and direction that their innovation activity should take. To understand what is valued, essential to defend, promote and improve. To clarify what is highly strategic to describe and ‘form’ around helps innovation to perform its required task, of delivering new growth that aligns into the strategic needs.
Equally, many within organizations where innovation is left more ‘open’ do run the risk that there is an over-emphasis on idea generation. By placing the emphasis point further along the innovation value chain that it is the exploring the benefits that flow from ideas, not the ideas alone, can make a significant difference in improving the quality of innovation and reducing the belief that quantity was the important aspect.
Then we also have to cascade innovation from the bottom up.
The richness of innovation lies not just in the well planned but in the sudden discovery, the pursuit of a game changing innovation concept often stumbled upon. Many of these come from the bottom up. In research labs across the globe, the researcher should have permission, an open endorsement from above, to investigate and explore innovation, not just in their field of ability but equally encouraged in a broader sense, as well.
There are many benefits in building into our daily activities valuable time to explore, to allow employees to investigate ‘something’ that initially may not seem to fit with any prescribed plan of predetermined concepts but from this “free time” emerges something that can evolve and fits perfectly within a good corporate strategy.
Equally there are countless innovations that emerged from nowhere, that had no relationship with the strategic directions, yet have been successful. Are these wrong, should they be ignored, killed off or just simply allowed to happen? Usually some survive and thrive against all odds, starved of resources, yet they somehow ‘emerge’ and become outstanding contributors to an organizations business.
Organizations need to stay totally alert to these. The issue is the way you approach this. If you insist on innovation that only ‘maps’ back to the innovation strategy, you drive out an awful lot of entrepreneurial energy, you miss many a potential innovation that might have been you next block buster. We need to find a balance here but it needs visibility and curiosity and allow for time for emerging, unexpected innovations, to permeate before they are finally judged.
The combination effect of wanting to innovate and being able too is the desired end result
Innovation provides organization the very concepts that drive growth, contribute to profits in new ways and allows individuals within the organization to identify with success.
If we don’t offer a sound innovation framework, innovation remains haphazard, left to chance. If we build into peoples work time the chance to explore innovation that ‘fits’ the overarching strategy, we combine the best of both aspects. What we want to encourage is innovation that allows for both a purposeful approach to innovation that ‘seems’ to align to the direction laid out in the strategy but also to allow for those moments when you stumble upon something that has real promise. We need to allow for both.
Opportunistic and planned innovation can sit side-by-side.
So if innovation can be either opportunistic or planned. To allow everyone to become engaged, to partly dream, to be allowed to explore and can be confident that they can ‘cascade’ both up and down the organization to achieve this innovation effect, then we need to seek out both. As we “cascade innovation” we need to build and align it to the strategy, the Executive Innovation Work Mat can be the very vehicle to allow that to happen. We need to achieve a uniformed view on the overarching design of our innovation activities and that does need to come from the top.
Designing a new strategic innovation framework at the top of organizations can help close the many gaps we see today in innovation, especially in achieving its need to achieve a growing alignment to an organizations strategy. We need to move from many present ‘disconnects’ to ‘reconnecting’ and “allowing” innovation to be more cross-cutting, more informative to allow all the people involved in its production that greater freedom and scope in their understanding so as to contribute into the growth organizations leaders are demanding.
The “cascading effect for innovation” has a two-way flow.
We need to encourage bottom up innovation, those that are close to markets, the raw ideas and who can make more connections than those far removed. We also need the overarching innovation framework so everyone has a growing understanding of where, how, with whom and why innovation needs to head in a ‘given’ set of directions and what are the critical components that enable this to ‘connect and happen’ and provides the ‘how’ it can work. The components of the Executive Innovation Work Mat, can promote this “cascading effect needed for innovation” to flow both ways and move closer to a well-aligned organization that marks a successful business.