Three years back I took a view on what to focus upon in my innovation activities to meet client needs, they did seem to make sense at the time.
In many ways, I was fairly happy with the outcome, as many of the places I would put my required but limited resources behind, in providing a depth of understanding, were highly relevant, topical and needed, so were good spaces to offer my thinking, advice and solutions into.
Fast forward these last few years and I often wonder where that focus has actually gone – the focus has been a little ‘bounced’ around but for good reason, I feel, yet, it needs a fresh re-calibrating on my approaches going forward.
Innovation has been rapidly changing and much of its basics have been swallowed up by some defining issues that have raced up to the top of the innovation agenda and it is right to respond to these.
‘Breaking’ practices or new methodologies are much harder to master and advise upon, to determine clear positions and propositions.
This certainly involves investing a lot into getting a certain clarity and perspective, through researching constantly, finding fresh insights, sifting through comparisons, discussing and exploring them, so as to eventually determine the value to specific challenging environments and different organisational maturity levels.
Not only that, it is how to related these to different market conditions, so as to offer thoughtful advice to a broad audience of practitioners and leaders within the corporate world. This advisory world on ‘breaking practices’ is necessary yet often undervalued.
The excitement of ‘breaking innovation’ is in the pioneering, experimenting, discovering, sharing and exchanging. If you are always open to this new thinking, it does enrich and advance innovation understanding and that makes it so valuable but so demanding. Many of them have been utterly enjoyable to explore.
There are so many thinkers, experimenters and explorers contributing, that it makes innovation a terrific space to be part of, it is always evolving and challenging much already established but it means a constant attention to understanding it, sifting through often conflicting voices, translating the new practice that others, time-starved, can then appreciate and can relate too, and then see how they can deploy this into their innovation structures.
The ‘lead- lag’ time is sometimes very long and tortuous to make the necessary changes within organisations and get the necessary ‘buy-in’.
Recently I felt it would be useful to complete a re-assessment to recalibrate my position.
A good starting point was to go back and see what I have been writing about in the past three years. I often write down and capture my initial thinking, then it evolves through different steps, experiences to consolidate my thoughts and work through what I felt was my position on a given subject. It gave me a clearer set of possible outcomes and an essential foundation to build upon.
There is this constant, pressing need to absorb, synthesise and translate what is constantly coming towards us in innovation thinking. My focus has been to blend this emerging thinking into core aspects of my innovating beliefs as well as contributing to building innovation capabilities, competencies and capacity, my key focal area.
Doesn’t the innovation needle keep shifting constantly?
So increasingly as I looked back I noticed that I have been providing different sets of posts that were more reactive, reflective and responsive. Sometimes taking stock it does surprise you on how the innovation needle had been moved, again and again. This sometimes makes navigation sometimes difficult, you do need clear anchor points.
Often we were missing the constants required to ‘set in place’ innovation, those anchor points, otherwise, we often are simply increasing the layering on, more and more, not giving enough emphasis on how to integrate these into a newly emerging practice of innovation but recognising the essential basics that are constantly needed, irrespective.
The basics of innovation still form around building engagement, leadership, involvement, in constructing a culture, the climate and environment needed, so as to allow innovation to evolve. Then that constant investment in people, networks and relationships, that need to come together and, finally the structures, systems and governance that are flexible enough to make what we work upon as responsive, agile, adaptive, exploitive and exploratory, to end up with great new ideas, things and finally, winning successful concepts.
The shifts taking place around innovation have been significant in their impact
The shifts taking place has been hugely shaped in how digital transformation continues to grow in its importance. how it is influencing much that is surrounding innovation, as it continues to disrupt in faster, demanding ways, where it deconstructs and then we need to reconstruct our innovation thinking so as to gain from this transformation occurring all around us.
Also, there is this growing concern, actually it never went away, perhaps more enforced than ever today, over the issue of ‘risk and return’ as innovation becomes increasingly complex. As we push to increase the need to push for breaking out of many of our incremental innovation mindsets to tap into real growth opportunities, the pressures continue to build. More help is needed here to make these more of a robust risk / return structure that ‘accounts’ for all the uncertainty in new innovation development.
We seem to be stumbling towards breaking out our innovation activity in more radical, distinctive and adaptive ways. We are certainly treating innovation differently, depending on the sense of opportunity and the desire to work towards the solutions these need. You see progress but it still seems maddeningly slow as dedicated innovation resources are still very ‘thin’ on the ground.
Other real changing forces influencing innovation
The other real forces of innovation change in this relatively short period, have come from a greater explosion of Lean Management principles and incorporating Design thinking into our work. Both being rapidly embraced within our organisations, large and small. How these are fully integrated remains a challenge for most.
Then you have the emergence of platform and ecosystems to build around, the continued onward movement of crowdsourcing and all the variations (or derivation’s) of ‘crowd’ and co-creation’, combined with all the ramifications of the network and relationship building effect we need to leverage. It is this ‘raw’ power of technology that is transforming much,
It is this ‘raw’ power of technology, pushing the flow of knowledge and exploiting the different social mediums that are swirling around us, with many suggested designs and frameworks, that need deeper capture and translation to extract new value.
We all need to think through the value of the pivot, prototype, the constructing of minimal viable products and rapid experiment and design. Then we have the growing value of experimental labs and establishing ‘pockets’ of entrepreneurs-in-residence, both have increased in focus. We are learning faster, shutting down what does not work as we go, adapting faster than before our innovation concepts, by being engaged and constantly informed by customer needs.
It has moved well beyond the “how” into the “what, why and where”. The “when” still is subjected to different levels of impatience it still seems. Speed is dominating at present then “Scale” and the constant worries over the”Execution” of the new value proposition.
Reflecting on all of this – so what does this all mean? Reacting to this in new framing ways.
Within my numerous posts responding to breaking practices, I have wanted to capture the changes occurring. What is clear, we are seeing a growing momentum towards more ‘collective’ agility, higher fluidity, adaptive enterprises with a growing mantra of adjusting, exploring and quickly responding, to the needs seen in rapidly changing markets and equally across our shifting customer base, to service present and future needs, bringing together a growing interplay around innovation, offering a fluidity in its perspective.
This we have termed the new interplay surrounding innovation and centres around the interplay in three essential change points we need to focus upon. I attempted to capture these initially in this post a visual of nine primary components as the framing point to gather around. The final point of change in emphasis has been on measuring innovation, we need to shift to successful and ultimate outcomes and rethink our measures, in my view, on a new innovation balance sheet thinking.
There has certainly been a lot of innovation change, requiring fresh thinking and this has been the main reason why I have responded accordingly over the past few years.
Even with all this advancement in innovation, you do have to stop and ask are we just layering on more content, more complexity than organisations can honestly cope with?
Are we any clearer about what we do and why and how and where we do it?
We often skip over the basics, ignore that many that need to understand innovation within our organisations fail to understand its parts, its process and its different timing. We still lack a common language of understanding and this is still holding us back. In many ways, it is ‘freezing’ much to move innovation forward strategically.
I feel the most important contribution to building a common framework of understanding and through this, a common language has been in the work Jeffrey Philips of Ovo Innovation and I collaborated upon. This has been in determining the importance of alignment between innovation and the strategy of the business and formulating an approach that engages the leadership into establishing the vital innovation connections needed to be put into place. This we called the Executive Innovation Work Mat and makes the critical connections required for innovation to have a clear corporate identity and offer the conditions to build and thrive from this framework.
Our continued failure to manage risk correctly for innovative concepts
Then, the one really big elephant always rumbling around in the board room is how do we manage risk. Risk management for innovation is still a really uncomfortable area and we often fail to appreciate the ‘risk differences’ and due to this, many promising ideas for innovation investigation or progress get ‘canned’ because it is hard to make the returns, in our obsession with hard numbers, especially in the early stages, to meet the corporate hurdle rates. The risk management for innovation needs urgently addressing in far more imaginative ways, to allow for greater innovation activity and exploration to contribute into a greater growth phase than we currently are struggling to provide.
Do we still have a rotten innovation core? Possibly…….I think yes, well, it is still immature.
It is clear innovation is constantly advancing, yet and this is my reflective thought here, it can have countless layers of fresh paint but if the basic foundation is not solid, it only hides the truth underneath, one that needs fundamental addressing that innovation has a rotten core until you peel away these layers and fix the basics.
Fixing the basics comes back to much within my initial focal points that I worked through some years back. The trouble is I do so often get worried that a reoccurring theme gets a little, dare I say it, boring.
Yet if we do not fix the foundations it might seem boring to keep going back to resolve these but the fundamentals of anything, including innovation, is getting these built on a solid platform, otherwise, it becomes a very expensive vanity ride for many. So should I feel guilty, worried or concerned by continually reverting back?
The attraction of riding the new wave
Like most caught up in innovation I do get often caught up in the wave of new innovation, actually, I love it, it keeps the passion burning brightly in discovery, curiosity and intrigue, in learning, experimenting and exploring, as these are often the clients need to understand and evaluate against.
Yet it does seem to me many innovators within the business organisation do simply miss the basics within their own thinking or organisation and fail to fix these. They keep moving on, restless, wandering the innovation plains looking for these new feeding grounds but are they just feeding themselves, or actually failing badly in feeding all those ‘left on the reservation’ that make up the larger organisation? Not securing their futures by sustaining the innovation forces, seeing innovation as their personal adventure and not a sustaining organisational one?
Those that do pay attention to the basics in innovation and its management become so much better placed to be the disruptors. Why, simply because they have their people’s engagement and identification as central to their innovation activity, they know the basics, they have experimented and learnt, they make the connections, they get it, work it and shape it. Just like the potter at a wheel, innovation is like clay, temperamental; it has a tricky relationship of the shaping, defining, applying lots of practice to get just right with plenty of practice and some ‘learning’ from failure.
So am I cresting or riding the waves? What is the difference?
So perhaps many of my past messages or focal points are as relevant today as when I drew them up, yet as we continue to introduction improved methods, different approaches and more adaptable and flexible practices, my biggest fear becomes an increasing reality that many executives are simply not any clearer on how to manage their innovation.
Cris Beswick founder of thefutureshapers, put it nicely to me a couple of weeks back: “because the basics around innovation are not common knowledge so senior teams are somewhat paralysed in terms of being able to move forward strategically, despite the need”
It can be a dangerous assumption that we ‘think’ innovation is well understood, often it is not, it continues to be a serious source of frustration and disappointment, at all levels. This ‘fixing the basics’ still needs a clear focus to resolve, to forge a pathway for others to understand. It needs a constant balance between extolling the old, exploring the new. Blending practice.
I hope I can keep attempting this translating and embedding innovation practice, I keep trying, yet it is for other people to judge if this has paying value to their innovation understanding. I believe it does.
* This post was updated and amended on 12th July 2016.