When you look at all the (broken) parts within innovation it takes some time to figure out how you can piece it all together to make it a better whole. Innovation and its management is just this place this needs to be pieced together. It often cries out for it.
Most people that work in our business organizations are spending their increasing time in piecing their part of the innovation equation together to make innovation work and trying to improve on the existing conditions to deliver new products and services. They have to work on fixing the system and its many faulty parts, let lone work on their new concept. Is it not about time we stepped back and really thought through the design of innovation and its managing? Why is this so hard to do?
The negative cost of rework.
When you don’t understand the parts that make up the complete system, you end up with an awful lot of rework that really should not have been necessary. This rework is different from experimenting and learning, where you gain positive insight that improves the innovation activity you are working on. No, this is the negative stuff, the attempts to ‘keep the show on the road’, to keep the momentum and commitment focused and so often this requires a lot of messy, fiddling and fudging of the parts to keep it functioning.
Why is it we often forget not just the innovation project we are working on, needs goals and a clear picture of where we are going although this is heavily influences by what we are learning and absorbing on the way, yet the innovation system never gets this constant, focused attention?
Have you ever completed a 2,500 piece puzzle?
Try completing a 2,500 piece puzzle without knowing the finished picture (or objective). In the jigsaw puzzle we always have the corners and as we spend time looking at each of the pieces we see the unique way they fit together. It is by this dedicated focus we can piece together the final puzzle. The point is, if we have a clear picture to help up, we can piece it together a whole lot quicker. Innovation management needs that final picture, the one where we can constantly refer too, to put together all the pieces and complete the puzzle. Its strategic and it needs to be provided by the leadership of the organization for each of us to work within.
The problem we often face is deciding on the type of innovation puzzle itself.
Innovation and its management does need to always figure out is what it is trying to achieve early on. If you don’t have this clear strategic picture how can you set about delivery of innovation that fits in? If we don’t have clear alignment of innovation to strategic objectives and goals, we end up with thousands of pieces of innovation effort all designed to fit but not pieced together to make the complete design as they lack this overarching picture.
I was checking out on Wikepedia on the puzzle and you can apply some of the attraction that innovators have with solving their puzzles. The entry within Wikipedia suggests you should treat puzzles a little more seriously. “Solutions to puzzles may require recognizing patterns and creating a particular order. People with a high inductive reasoning aptitude may be better at solving these puzzles than others. Puzzles based on the process of inquiry and discovery to complete may be solved faster by those with good deduction skills.”
Can you see managing innovation in this puzzle analogy?
We need to design innovation and its management in purposeful, well designed ways. Often we never seem to know what types of innovation are really needed, we lack alignment to the strategic goals, so we settle on less risk and more incremental solutions, smaller puzzles we can quickly resolve and get a ‘notional’ pat on the back for but fail to really move the innovation needle for real growth.
The other thought is how we love to treat innovation as a mystery.
Tim Kastelle wrote a great article on both the puzzle and the mystery called are you solving a puzzle or a mystery. He rightly suggests that the problems that lead to disruptive innovations are often mysteries. This means that we need a different toolkit to solve these problems than we use when we solve puzzles.
Tim’s article is based on reviewing the book by Jeanne Liedtka and Tim Ogilvie pick up on this distinction in their outstanding book Designing for Growth: A Design Thinking Toolkit for Managers.
He provided this “designing for growth” visual, which I think is great, it is not an aside, it can help in this ‘puzzle’ thinking.
Tim goes onto argue in his article: “We are strongly drawn to puzzles because of how clear-cut they are. Unfortunately, many of the big problems that we face are not puzzles, but rather mysteries. Mysteries are messy, and the methods that solve puzzles don’t work for mysteries, and they might actually make them worse”. This is a great insight that I am sure is built on Tim’s own personal experiences constantly tackling both mystery and puzzles on many occasions.
We are messy in mysteries and equally in solving puzzles
How do we set about designing innovation management systems? Tim provides a great starting point “when the parameters are basically known”. We just need to find the right information to develop the innovation parameters that will guide and frame the problem.
So what makes up the parameters within innovation system design?
The sad fact is that most organizations never bother to fully understand the multiple levels that make up the parameters needed in designing an innovation management system. They just seem to just love the rework, all that negative stuff! Surprising when there is so much talk on the emphasis on driving out inefficiencies. Perhaps innovation falls outside the mainstream comfort zone for applying efficient design?
I just think we can design the innovation system, structures, process and their governance so much better to allow those working with their innovation puzzle a better chance to piece it together as they can understand the end goal, of fitting their innovation into the bigger frame of the organization’s strategic growth goals.
For each of us to achieve that, it needs both the puzzle and mystery to be taken out of the innovation system and this is where leadership plays its part. It is by designing and communicating this in an innovative strategic way, may I suggest through the Executive Innovation Work Mat. It offers the framework for the design by providing its distinct edges for the pieces to be put together and offer a completed picture to work within, it starts to set the parameters needed.